With the abject failure of Aliens: Colonial Marines, now seemed like the best time to revisit an old classic. While Aliens Infestation for the Gameboy DS is a fun 2D side-scroller and 2010’s Aliens vs. Predator is nowhere near as bad an FPS as many claim, neither are what you’d call fantastic games. To see a truly great example of what can be done with the xenomorph license you’d need to look back to the early 2000s when Monolith Productions were allowed a shot at making a sequel to an already big success with Aliens vs. Predator 2.
However, rather than being a review this is to be a comparison. A step by step detail of each aspect of both games to detail why one is a lauded success fondly remembered by fans and the other is a hated wreck. Both for reasons obvious and otherwise.
Being a direct continuation from one of the strongest films in a famous franchise, Colonial Marines had its work cut out to live up to fan expectations. At its core I think this is a major part of the problem.
The title didn’t have had much of a life of its own and instead felt like some add-on to a much bigger production. As a result it got all of the baggage that it could have done without. It needed to explain away the presence of Xenomorphs on the planet after Ripley and co. nuked them to hell and back. LV-426 was going to be without its most identifying location with Hadley’s Hope having been obliterated and most of all it needed to have a story following on from the film. Even after all the characters had been killed either in Aliens or Alien 3 and there was practically nothing left to follow directly on from. It needed to quickly justify the Sulaco suddenly being in orbit again, having colony still be there and characters to follow on from the last film – All of which it did with simple hand-waves.
While it doesn’t excuse its overall quality of writing it does give justification for a few of its shortcomings and leaves you wondering why Gearbox didn’t take a more obvious route: Have it set in an alternate reality. With either the events of Aliens following a different path from what was seen in the film or have the game play out the film but repeatedly throw curve balls at the players. It would have allowed Colonial Marines to be more of its own story. Had it rely far less on fan service, and quite frankly that’s what was desperately needed.
Aliens vs Predator 2 by comparison was very much a story of its own. Any connection it had to the previous films of either franchise was tentative at best and distant with Alien 3 having taken place fifty years prior. The only direct link it had was that Wayland-Yutani had managed to recover the Engineer derelict’s flight telemetry and used it to find another world infested with Xenomorphs. After which it decided to study them for its own use – simple and direct. Effective without having to hand-wave away certain characters and locations surviving the previous saga when we saw them die/be destroyed.
Atop of this the characters in the game stood alone. They were not being overshadowed by the more iconic figures of Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez or risked having direct comparisons made between them. This allowed them to be fleshed out and have interesting histories without previous continuity hanging over them. This allowed boss battles to be meaningful, something I’ll get to later, as the player knew their background and connection to the protagonist. Even when the player characters themselves were blank slates you could be distracted from that by the environment which you were exploring. One new with fresh ideas whereas by comparison we, again, knew just about everything which had taken place of LV-426. Plus rather than just being limited to one character to do this there were multiple ones available. Each story linking in to one another and allowing a much greater level of replayability and longer life than Colonial Marines offered.
Also when sequel baiting was present it was only a brief moment in one ending for one character, not any huge dramatic revelation.
If you’ve seen any gameplay by now you’ll have heard the many problems with the enemies present in Colonial Marines. The Xenomorphs are effectively cannon fodder. While Alien fans might have complained that Aliens took an iconic villain and reduced them to mook status, this game really shows how much more dignity they had in the film.
The Xenomorphs are reduced to simple rushing of your location from head on. They never seem to try and hit you from behind or ambush you from hidden location. Much of this can be put down to the environment but for a creature best known for ambushing its prey and acting as intelligent beings they seem desperate to get shot. Much of this can be put down to their spawn point locations and programming but there’s also another factor in which many are turned into simple jokes.
While given the ability to crawl up walls and run along the ceiling,Xenomorphs seem to have this notorious habit of getting caught in jutting pieces of debris or in corners. Many clips and .GIF parodies have shown the menacing creatures flailing madly, phasing through one another or seemingly dancing on the spot.