The short answer to that is “yes.” I tend to take reviews of games with a grain of salt, as I often have a different view of what I enjoy and most reviews are based on just one person’s opinion. As this is a game I have been patiently waiting for since it was announced way back in 2006, I felt like I owed it to myself to give it a shot and judge for myself. Like most people, I am not made of money and can’t just drop $60 at the drop of a hat, especially on something that could potentially be a waste of my money, so I rented it. That was a great idea on my part, because it would have been a waste of my $60.
Let’s begin with what I did like, because it’s a pretty short list. Right out of the gate I will tell you that Dwayne Hicks and Bishop (although a different model) are both characters in the game, voiced by their original actors from the film. I am a HUGE fan of Aliens, so having Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen on board doing voice work was actually pretty cool, although I felt bad that they have their name slapped on the box for this thing. Their voice work lends to the heavy use of nostalgia to power this game, as well. Throughout the campaign you will be paraded through the set of the Aliens film, including the derelict ship from the first film and the sequences cut from the second. It’s all pretty cool if you are a lore nerd of the Aliens series.
Another interesting film tie-in are the collectibles in the game, which to be honest aren’t handled very well at all to the point of feeling like an after thought. Never the less, they are pretty cool. Scattered throughout the game are “Legendary Weapons,” which are guns straight from the film. You have guns like Hicks’ shotgun and Gorman’s pistol, and they generally have different handling characteristics from the standard weapons and have custom skins. I thought they were legitimately cool, although sloppy in their placement which makes it seem like they were an afterthought to try to tie the game into the movies. It was a poor attempt at cohesion, but I enjoyed them still. Now that we’ve crossed out the stuff I did like, let’s take a look at the stuff that I didn’t like. Sorry, Hicks, no offense.
The very first, obviously glaring problem you encounter in this game is that it look like it’s not done. It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, but the game just looks like ass almost as soon as you fire it up. Granted I did play it on the X-Box (only way to try it on PC would have been $60 or piracy), it still just didn’t look good. What bothered me even more is that the environments were so detailed! There were unique switch boxes, and panels and terminals and corridors, it was brilliant! There was one part where you were in an airlock that was equalizing and the plastic film inside the room flapped around! Little details like that, but the overall game just didn’t look good put together. The lighting for pretty much the entire game was just dumbed down, and detracted from the atmosphere. I think there are some patches coming from the community to put in some better lighting on the PC version, but of course you can’t access that with a console.
I have read some alleged first hand accounts of the production saying they basically ran out of time on the game, but that doesn’t really excuse them for the absolutely ridiculous plot of the thing. Basically (SPOILERS, but not really spoiling anything because it’s dumb) Weyland Yutani comes back to LV-426 to harvest the aliens. There is a whole corporate espionage thing, but it’s pretty dumb and you have to fight mercenaries. MERCENARIES. IN SPACE. IN AN ALIEN GAME. That’s right folks, you don’t get to shoot aliens the whole time, you get to shoot at people. Because there aren’t enough games that exist already where you shoot people!!!!! They had to add it to this game!!!! Roughly 50% of the game is spent ducking behind boxes, shooting at Weyland Yutani mercenaries, who are more lethal than the aliens.
Let me say that again, THE MERCENARIES ARE DEADLIER THAN THE ALIENS. They are also harder to kill. This plays into the whole horrid AI system you’ve been hearing about, and I gotta tell you it’s a doozy. More often than not, the Aliens are less lethal than the humans. Aliens run mindlessly at you, paying no attention to pretty much ANY other threat around them. Your squadmate you have with you the entire game will be firing at a pack of aliens and they just run past him straight to you. They often sit out in the open on their hind legs just standing there hissing, letting you just blast them into oblivion. As a matter of fact, the common AI move is to stand in the open and do nothing. Well, the humans will shoot at you, but you can just shoot them back. Aliens just stand there and die.
The aliens aren’t scary in the slightest. There was only one point in the game that was remotely frightening, and only then it was for mere seconds. Most of the time you will just run down a dark hallway, paying no mind to any danger that may lurk because you can just obliterate it in seconds. The alien’s janky animations only detract from the terror, making them more like clowns than anything else. The only time they are remotely scary are when someone you know chases you down with a knife in an abandoned warehouse after they’ve killed your family. Even then, they aren’t even scary.
Of course, with any game you can look past some of these things if the gameplay is good and it’s fun to play. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really apply to this game. The gameplay is fairly clunky, and is about as generic as can be. It’s the typical first person shooter, but tries to be a cover-based shooter when it’s nowhere near that. The controls are pretty clunky (I’ll just attribute that to playing on a console version) and the combat is pretty sloppy. The guns handle pretty well, though, so I will give it that. There is a very tacked-on feeling leveling system which contributes very little to the single player mode. You get commendations at each level which you can spend on upgrades for your guns. There are actually a lot of guns in the game, but you only really need to use the Pulse Rifle and Shotgun. Every other guns is pretty much useless.
I played a few minutes of the multiplayer, but it didn’t grab me at all. The leveling system seemed to be built pretty much to supplement the multiplayer, as you can unlock gun skins (which look terrible) and character appearance upgrades (like hats and stuff). I played a few games as both a marine and alien, and it seems way more fun to be the alien. You flip-flop between the races on each round, giving everyone a chance to play both sides. It’s pretty much a standard Aliens multiplayer, but I didn’t find it fun at all. I’d much rather dig up a copy of AvP and play that.
Of course, everyone can sit back and criticize these things and pretend to be game developers. But I realize that dozens of people had their hand in creating this game, and I firmly believe that a good chunk of those people said “we can’t release this.” I’ve read a bunch of articles chronicling the dev cycle of this game, and it’s disheartening. I had high hopes for this game, but it was just funneled into a tube of mediocrity to hit a target date. What is more disheartening is a rumor I had heard that Borderlands 2 was favored by Gearbox, so Aliens fell to the wayside. A game I loved contributed to the downfall of a game I had hoped to love.
Of all the directions you could go with this franchise, and this is what we get! We could have gotten a dark, atmospheric, terror-driven survival horror shooter game where your enemy was lethal and to be feared. You could be crawling around dark corridors, avoiding contact with xenomorphs because you are afraid you’d lose each encounter! You could be exploring the deepest, darkest reaches of the Sulaco trying to figure out a way to survive the infestation or exploring the deepest, darkest hive on LV-426 in search of your lost comrade. Instead, we got this. That’s the biggest disappointment of all.