ACM is an ugly, repetitive and dull experience that will alienate even the most devoted sci-fi fans out there.
Set after the events of "Aliens", ACM sees the player assume the role of Corporal Christopher Winter, a space marine responding to a distress call from the U.S.S. Sulaco only to find the spaceship is completely overrun with xenomorphs. Winters and his squad soon outgrow the Sulaco and move on to the other key location for the "Aliens" movie – Hadley's Hope on the surface of LV-426. Those who've never seen the Alien movies probably won't get a lot of the references in the game's story and dialog, and that's too bad since there's little else there. Colonial Marines relies completely on the player's familiarity with the subject matter, and doesn't really bother bringing anything new to the table. The story (if you can really call it that) merely serves as an excuse to drag the player along from point A to point B, without any real reward or progression.
You'd think gunning down waves of xenos would be its own reward, and at first it kind of is. Surviving the first encounter with the deadly aliens is exhilarating, giving the player a glimpse of "the game that might have been" – a game with foreboding atmosphere and intense, almost horrifying combat. Instead, Colonial Marines soon devolves into what could only be described as a dumb shooter with generic weapons and paper-thin plot and character development. There's just nothing there besides the barely competent shooting.
The combat itself leaves a lot to be desired. First of all it's really easy; just point and shoot at the enemies that are right in front of you. No tactics, no thinking – just shooting. The Xenomorphs pose a little bit of a threat, since they tend to appear out of nowhere, but once the game introduces human enemies, the combat quickly loses its luster. Oddly enough, human enemies are the ones who'll get you killed the most; not because they are clever or tough, but because fighting them is oh so boring. So boring in fact, that you'll probably try spicing things up by using some of the few unique weapons in the game, like the flamethrower which doesn't really do anything and only ends up getting you killed.
Plus, the marines' iconic motion tracker (as seen in the movies) completely takes the edge out of patrolling the dark creepy environments. Before every encounter with a group of enemies (human or otherwise) the tracker will sound a little beeping noise, indicating something is moving ahead, thus erasing any notion of tension. It seems like the game does everything it can to prevent the player from feeling any sense of accomplishment. Even the boss battles against the bigger types of Xenomorphs are a simple matter of run-and-gun or the occasional strafe-and-gun.
If you don't want to go through all of this alone, Aliens: Colonial Marines offers the option of cooperative play. To start a co-op game, you must have four players in your team (unless you switch over to a private game and invite specific friends) that take the role of additional space marines in your squad. This means there is now a small squad of trained marines with you at all times (your friends and your A.I. companions), causing the narrow halls of Hadley's Hope to feel even more claustrophobic, and not in a good way. Playing ACM with friends should be confined to what the game passes as the competitive multiplayer mode. Every one of the four available modes pits a group of marines against a group of aliens, whether it's a fight to the death in Team Deathmatch or just for survival in Survivor. Playing as a xenomorph can be a nice break from the marine-only campaign, but on the whole, both cooperative and competitive modes feel as if they were slapped onto the game as an afterthought, just to check it off the list.
It's not all bad, though (though mostly it is). Aliens: Colonial Marines does manage to do a few things right. Half way through the single-player campaign (which is fairly short, by the way; no more than five hours) a surprising sense of urgency starts to envelope everything you're doing. Despite the bad combat and almost non-existing story, the game does create a relatable atmosphere for the player to get immersed in and continue to push forward. It's mainly because the goals set up for the player are so straight-forward and simple, they do a great job at leading the player forward and moving the entire game at a very quick pace.
If only the visual presentation was in anyway able to add to the game's atmosphere, it might have been its one redeeming quality. Unfortunately, ACM's graphics look so outdated and glitchy it is impossible to pretend as if you stepped into the Alien universe. The environments are too dark and bland, characters (both human and xenos) are robotic with clunky and jerky animations, not to mention the dull dialog and poor performance by most of the voice actors. The familiar sounds, like the noise of the pulse rifle or the inhuman screams of the aliens, do provoke a slight sense of nostalgia and warm memories of the superior movie. It's still so surprising how a game by a respected studio like Gearbox can look so awful.
Aliens: Colonial Marines doesn't do justice to the fan-favorite Alien franchise. If you are looking for a dumb shooter to keep you busy for a day or two, maybe give it a shot, but otherwise you should stay away from it like fire. ACM mostly lacks anything that can be associated with its subject matter (apart from the actual aliens), and offers nothing new or exciting of its own; mostly.