Talking Movies [Alien Day]: Alien: The Director’s Cut

Audiences were first introduced to the horrific, biomechanical Xenomorphs in this classic science-fiction horror film in which an unsuspecting cargo crew investigates a beacon on the barren world of LV-426 and, as a result, the 26th of April is widely celebrated as “Alien Day”, a day to celebrate one of the greatest sci-fi/horror franchises ever created.

Released: 31 October 2003
Originally Released: 25 May 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
20th Century Fox
$11 million
Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphett Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, and Bolaji Badejo

The Plot:
When the crew of deep space haulage vehicle the Nostromo are awoken from stasis to investigate a possible distress signal, they find themselves terrorised by a biomechanical lifeform (Badejo) that gestates inside a human host and emerges as the perfect killing machine!

The Background:
Alien was the brainchild of writer Dan O’Bannon who, after working with director John Carpenter on the sci-fi/comedy Dark Star (Carpenter, 1974), desired to craft a more realistic and far more terrifying sci-fi horror that would be set entirely in space. O’Bannon’s work on Dark Star impressed fellow writer Ronald Shusett and the two collaborated on the project, which was initially titled Memory, then Starbeast, before Shusett suggested the simple and evocative title of Alien. Pitching the concept as “Jaws (Spielberg, 1975) in space”, the duo were inspired by the surreal and nightmarish work of Swiss artist H. R. Giger, who was later brought onboard to help design the Xenomorph’s various life cycles and the unsettling architecture of the alien spacecraft. Thanks to the success of Star Wars (Lucas, 1977), sci-fi was now a hot commodity in Hollywood and, eager to capitalise on that, 20th Century Fox greenlit the project and brought up-and-coming director Ridley Scott onboard (and even doubled the budget based on his storyboards alone).

Alien merged Giger’s disturbing artwork with Star Wars‘ aesthetic to birth an influential sci-fi horror.

O’Bannon and Shusett left the genders of the film’s characters intentionally vague and malleable and Scott sought to expand upon the “lived-in” nature of Star Wars by presenting the crew as “truckers in space”. He often filmed the cast’s rehearsals and pushed them to develop both a natural chemistry and a believable animosity towards each other to make their interactions more authentic, which ended up augmenting one of the film’s most gruesome scenes. Upon release, Alien was a commercial success; it made over $11 million at the box office but received somewhat mixed reviews at the time. Since then, of course, the film has not only inspired an entire series and sub-series of sequels and spin-offs but is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time. In 2003, to commemorate the film’s release on DVD, Scott returned to the film, restoring previously excised scenes and digitally remastering it for this Director’s Cut version of Alien that is, for me, the quintessential version of this classic sci-fi horror.

The Review:
Alien begins with the crew of the Nostromo being pulled out of stasis when their ship’s computer, Mother (Helen Horton), picks up a potential distress signal from a nearby planet, LV-426. Almost immediately, over something as simple as a meal, we’re introduced to the complex dynamic of the Nostromo’s crew, which is made up of a group of egos and conflicting personalities who are just about able to work together to keep things ticking along. We don’t really learn a huge amount about each of them beyond a few disparate pieces of dialogue but, through their individual and combined interactions, it’s immediately and abundantly clear that they’ve worked together for some time, certainly long enough for some friction to have developed between certain crewmembers. Captain Dallas (Skerritt) has very little actual authority on the ship; a jaded veteran of many long-haul trips, he begrudgingly goes along with any and all orders from the mysterious and shady “Company” even when they go against their standard protocol and what their ship is technically capable of.

From the banter and class-based tensions, it’s clear that this crew is very familiar with each other.

While navigation officer Lambert (Cartwright) is sceptical of their new orders, Brett (Stanton) and Parker (Kotto), the Nostromo’s engineers, are concerned with more practical considerations; namely, compensation for their efforts. Feeling undervalued and underappreciated compared to the other members of the crew (especially as they are largely responsible for keeping the ship running), they attempt to weasel their way out of landing on LV-426 and it falls not to Dallas but to the Nostromo’s science officer, Ash (Holm), to point out that they (and the entire crew) are contractually obligated to investigate any distress calls and the potential of extraterrestrial life or forfeit their entire earnings. This does little to improve their already dour mood and brings them into further conflict with Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Weaver), a by-the-numbers officer who likes to do things by the book. She also butts heads with Ash, who not only keeps her from following Dallas, Lambert, and Kane to the derelict alien spacecraft after she determines the distress call to be a warning but also breaks quarantine procedures by allowing the away team back onto the ship even though Kane (Hurt) has an unidentified alien parasite attached to his face.

Kane brings an unexpected, and unwelcome, visitor back from the derelict spacecraft.

This “Facehugger” attacks Kane when he discovers a cargo hold, of sorts, on the derelict craft that is full of ominous-looking eggs. Allowing his curiosity to get the better of him, Kane is left in a comatose state and the crew are left unable to help him since the Facehugger threatens to choke him to death or dissolve the Nostromo with its acidic blood. Dallas is left practically impotent in his helplessness, Ash becomes consumed with researching and investigating the parasite’s capabilities, and Lambert is left enraged that Ripley was willing to sacrifice them just to maintain protocol. The tension amongst the crew is momentarily alleviated, however, when the Facehugger simply falls off and dies and Kane seemingly makes a full recovery, only for him to unexpectedly and viciously explode at the dinner table when a ferocious little “Chestburster” forces its way out of his body, killing him in the process and fleeing into the darkest recesses of the ship.

As if a seven-foot alien killer wasn’t bad enough, Ash turns out to be a Goddamn robot!

Despite the shock and terror of this sudden development, the crew scrambles to track down the Chestburster and are horrified to find that the creature has quickly gestated into a seven-foot alien killing machine! With no reliable means of tracking the Xenomorph, and being picked off one at a time, the crew struggles to unite against this common foe; tensions between Parker and Ripley escalate and things only become more complicated when Ash is revealed to be a life-like android placed on the ship by the Company to ensure the Xenomorph’s recovery. This revelation goes a long way to explaining Ash’s odd behaviour throughout the film; he willingly breaks protocol at every opportunity, which Ripley finds aggravating and suspicious since he is supposed to be the science officer, and seems morbidly obsessed with the alien life form in its various stages of life. When the Company’s true motivations are revealed, Ash drops all sense of subterfuge and attempts to kill Ripley; the ensuing melee reveals his true nature in a startlingly shocking scene that leaves him beheaded at Parker’s hands! He’s reactivated just long enough to deliver an ominous threat regarding the alien’s capabilities and to gleefully reveal that their lives are expandable compared to the alien’s acquisition, leaving the remaining survivors with no other choice than to try and evade the Xenomorph in order to set the Nostromo to self-destruct while they escape in the shuttle.

Some impressive practical effects and camera work add to the film’s timeless aura.

Undeniably, one aspect of Alien that remains intact and impressive to this day are the practical effects; model shots and miniatures do a wonderful job of conveying the weight and scale of the ships and space, and a fantastic use of lighting (particularly shadows), smoke, and flashgun lights help to increase the dread and allure of the titular alien. These are only further bolstered by the intricately-designed, heavily claustrophobic sets; clearly evoking a 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1969) aesthetic mixed with Star Wars’ more gritty set design, Alien definitely feels like a lived-in future where technology is as vaguely anachronistic and unreliable as it is advanced while also effectively coming across as a monster or slasher film in space thanks to the ship’s darker, grottier areas. Easily the most impressive set of the film, though, is the derelict spacecraft where Kane discovers the alien eggs; a combination of miniatures, model shots, and even children create a sense of awesome scale that is made only more foreboding by Giger’s disturbing set design and the presence of the half-fossilised “Space Jockey”.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One thing to note about Alien is that it was made at a very different time in cinema, a time when sci-fi and horror was a much more atmospheric affair and involved a lot of slow, ominous shots and tense, foreboding music all designed to build a sense of dread in the viewer. This is best evidenced in the movie’s overly long and slow-paced opening, which includes a full cast and credits and a deliberate tour of the Nostromo to help familiarise us with the ship’s aesthetic, narrow corridors, and the lived-in nature of the film’s sci-fi. Consequently, the film requires a certain mindset; rather than bombarding you with action, viscera, and loud explosions, it’s much more of a methodical exploration of the slow dissection of an already tumultuous group stuck at the mercy of a vicious creature.

Much of the Xenomorph’s origins and biology is left intentionally vague.

The whole first act of the film is specifically designed to introduce us to the idea of the unknown, the dangerous and terrifying prospect of what may be lurking in the furthest reaches of deep space. It’s made abundantly clear by Parker and Brett that the Nostromo is not built, or properly equipped, to be investigating strange signals, much less landing on alien worlds, which proves to be true when the shuttle suffers severe damage simply by landing on LV-426. Of course, their concerns are either ignored or outright overruled simply by Company protocol, which dictates that “all other priorities are rescinded” when compared to the Xenomorph. At this point, the Xenomorph itself is a mystery al its own; the derelict spacecraft is beyond any sense of human understanding, to say nothing of the gigantic skeleton of the Space Jockey that serves as an ominous warning to deter the crew. Where did the eggs come from? What purpose did they serve? How did the Space Jockey get infected with a Chestburster? These are all questions the film purposely leaves unanswered and which only add to the sense of mystery and terror as the alien’s true origins and purpose are unknown and, ultimately, inconsequential since, once its aboard the Nostromo, all that matters is trying to survive rather than working out who created it and why.

The Alien’s phallic design makes it as disturbing as it is terrifying.

The Xenomorph’s design, however, is no accident; consciously designed to evoke uncomfortable feelings of visceral terror, each stage of the creature’s life cycle resembles genitalia in some way and its threat is as sexual as it is physical. The Director’s Cut is notable for included a previously excised scene in which Dallas is revealed to not have been killed by the Xenomorph but, instead, is being transformed into one of the same eggs Kane discovered on the crashed ship. This would have suggested a complete, self-sustaining life cycle and only added to the mystery and horror of the alien; obviously, the sequel abandoned this in favour of an egg-laying Queen but I still feel like this concept works in the overall context as the extended Alien canon showed that the Xenomorphs were capable of undergoing further, life-sustaining transformations. Still, the Facehugger effectively rapes Kane, pouncing on him and impregnating him against his will and causing a phallic, carnivorous parasite to puncture its way from his chest. Even when fully grown, the Xenomorph remains disturbingly phallic in its design and the way it approaches and kills its prey; from its long, phallic head and tail to its dangerous retractable inner mouth, the creature stalks, overwhelms, and consumes its victims with a disturbingly serene grace that is punctuated by a sudden and brutal aggression.

The crew are undone by their own character flaws as much as the viscous alien threat.

In the Xenomorph, the crew are faced with the threat of the unknown in physical form; thanks to the network of air ducts, the abundance of shadows, and its sheer tremendous ferocity, the crew are effectively powerless against its will. It’s not even as though they can rely on any futuristic technology to assist them as the Nostromo has very little in the way of armaments; all they’re left with is a crude motion tracker and the one piece of technology they do have (Ash) ultimately proves to be just as dangerous as the Xenomorph itself. Thanks to the class-based tensions that already existed at the start of the film (particularly between Parker and Ripley) and the sheer terror of the situation (primarily embodied in Lambert), the survivors are unable to properly get their shit together fight the creature. The Xenomorph itself remains mostly hidden in shadows and tantalisingly kept off-screen for large portions of the film to only increase its shock value and horror when it does appear; appearing as little more than a living shadow of talons and teeth, when it is seen, it is an incredibly impressive piece of practical work that remains as terrifying now as it was back then.

Thanks to being able to keep her shit together, Ripley ultimately triumphs over her androgynous stalker.

What make Ripley such an effective protagonist is the way in which she embodies all of the traits of the different crew members and balances them out so that no one emotion or personality overwhelms her. She starts the film very much a semi-stuck-up stickler for the rules (though it must be said that she was right all along and Ash never should be broken the quarantine procedure); like Dallas, she is used to simply following orders but, while he boldly chooses to lead team to the crashed ship and venture into the ducts in some foolhardy attempt at heroics, she opts to follow protocols designed to keep them alive. Kane’s sense of curiosity is also present in Ripley, but it’s tempered with a caution that she is level-headed enough to keep from spilling over into aggression like Parker. As we see in the sequel, the entire experience scars her enough to leave her disillusioned with the Company, similar to Brett and, while Lambert is basically reduced to a quivering wreck when faced with the Xenomorph, Ripley (despite clearly being terrified out of her mind) is able to hold herself together enough (and be adaptable enough) to find ways to stave off and, ultimately, kill the creature. Consequently, Ripley encompasses the traits of each member in the perfect storm of survival, turning her into an independent and forthright heroine. Adaptable and desperate, she is not only able to naturally assume command of her more emotionally unstable crewmates but also temper her fear with a determination that makes her as relentless as the alien, meaning that she is fully capable of holding her own against the Xenomorph’s vaguely androgynous horror despite being more reactive than her more proactive characterisation in the sequels.

The Summary:
Alien is a thrilling and exhausting experience; thanks to a masterful, deliberate pace, the film masterfully builds a sense of dread and tension through some long, lingering shots and a fantastic use of lighting and ominous, understated music. The characters are all fantastically realised; speaking over each other and full of conflicting egos and personalities, there’s a sense of familiarity and tension that really helps to make the entire film believable and the characters immediately relatable even though we don’t learn a whole hell of a lot about them. Similar to the alien, what we learn of the characters is told throughout the film and the way they act, and interact, with each other and the escalating horror they find themselves facing. The vast expanse of the unknown is given tangible, disturbing form in the Xenomorph, which attacks and brutalises its prey through means as uncomfortable as they are ferocious and, in many ways, the entire film is an allegory of the dangers of the unknown and sexual assault. At its core, the film is about a group of working-class Joes forced into a nightmarish situation and their ability (or inability, in many cases) to adapt and react to this threat determines who lives and dies.

Alien remains a timeless sci-fi/horror classic that is as relevant now as it ever was.

Ripley, as the only one capable and adaptable enough to balance emotions and characteristics that otherwise overwhelm her crewmates, is left the sole survivor but the cost of her victory is high as it is only through the sacrifice of everything and everyone she knows that she is able to triumph. In many ways, Alien was incredibly ahead of its time; it’s easy to almost forget that it’s a science-fiction film since, fundamentally, Alien is a twist on the classic slasher or haunted house formula and technology plays a very small role in battling the Xenomorph. Thanks to the efforts of Ridley Scott, and his cast and crew, one of the most terrifying monsters in all of cinema was effectively realised and while subsequent sequels somewhat diminished the Xenomorph’s ominous threat and menace, that doesn’t take away from this more terrifying and deliberately-paced first film in the series, which has stood the test of time and remains, despite some outdated onscreen technology, a timeless classic.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.


Are you a fan of Alien? What did you think to the additional scenes added to the Director’s Cut? Which member of the crew was your favourite and why? What did you think was the backstory of the Xenomorph and the Space Jockey at the time? Did you guess that Ash was an android? Did you expect Ripley to end up as the sole survivor and, if not, who did you think would make it out alive? Which of the Alien movies is your favourite and why and how are you celebrating Alien Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, stay frosty and drop a comment below!

Game Corner [Alien Day]: Aliens: Colonial Marines: Limited Edition (Xbox 360)

Audiences were first introduced to the horrific, biomechanical Xenomorphs in the classic science-fiction horror film Alien (Scott, 1979), a tense and suspense-filled monster film that kick-started an entire franchise. In that film, and much of the subsequent Alien media, an unsuspecting cargo crew investigates a beacon on the barren world of LV-426 and, as a result, the 26th of April is widely celebrated as “Alien Day”, a day to celebrate one of the greatest sci-fi/horror franchises ever created.

Released: 12 February 2013
Developer: Gearbox Software
Also Available For: PC and PlayStation 3

The Background:
Hooo boy, where to start with this one? So, if you’ve played games, follow games news, or watch online reviews or videos about games the chances are that, at some point, you’ve come across people talking about Aliens: Colonial Marines, a first-person shooter (FPS) that was heavily pushed as being the official, direct sequel to Aliens. Though originally conceived of by Gearbox Software, multiple development studios worked on the game between 2007 and its eventual release in 2013 since Gearbox was busy dividing their attentions between multiple other titles at the same time. This, perhaps inevitably, led to some disagreements regarding the design and direction of the game. Further compounding matters was the fact that Gearbox were dissatisfied with TimeGate Studio’s work on the PlayStation 3 version and, having already delayed the game significantly by this point, were forced to work against a strict deadline to finish the game for its intended release date.

Aliens: Colonial Marines had a long and troubled development and contained many oddities.

Interestingly, Aliens: Colonial Marines actually sold really well upon its release (perhaps because of the strength of the Aliens franchise) but was the subject of widespread scathing criticism; critics were unimpressed with the graphics, bugs and glitches, poor textures and lighting effects, and its lack of continuity to the Alien franchise. While there were some who praised the game’s aesthetics and features, others criticised the intelligence of the game’s enemies, which had been corrupted and neutered thanks to a simple typing error in the game’s code. For my part, I’d heard all the horror stories surrounding this game and was still intrigued; being a big Aliens fan, and considering the game is dirt cheap and easy to come by, I figured it couldn’t really be as bad as I was being told, especially since I’d heard similar stories about Aliens vs. Predator (Rebellion Developments, 2010) and found that to be nowhere near as bad as I had been led to believe. Not perfect, for sure, but then again I’m not the biggest fan of FPS games so my expectations are quite low by default.

The Plot:
Seventeen weeks after the events of Aliens, the Sephora receives a distress call from the Sulaco, which has inexplicably returned to orbit around LV-426. Corporal Christopher Winter is amongst the Colonial Marines sent to investigate the ship, discovering that it (and the planet below) is infested with Xenomorphs that have wiped out an entire regiment of Marines and that the malicious Weyland-Yutani corporation have once again secretly been plotting to acquire the creatures for their bio-weapons division.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is, like many titles in the franchise, a first-person shooter that is, for the most part, very similar to the Marine portions seen in Aliens vs. Predator and other FPS games. In a refreshing change of pace, you play as a character who isn’t silent for a change; Winter, like many of his fellow Marines, may look and sound like your typical overly-macho jarhead but it’s nice to actually have an FPS protagonist who isn’t as silent as a graveyard and can actually, properly interact with the game’s other characters.

Blast those Xeno bugs to mush with your FPS skills.

As you might expect, all the typical FPS clichés are present and accounted for: you can carry two weapons at a time, changing between them with the Y button, in addition to a limited number of explosives (frag grenades, firebombs, and claymores, specifically) and a pistol with unlimited ammo, both of which can be accessed by pressing right or left on the directional paid (D-pad). You can jump with A (though, thankfully, there isn’t really much in the way of platforming sections), crouch with B (doing so behind boxes or other parts of the environment to avoid incoming fire), sprint for a short burst by pressing in the left analogue stick, and execute a melee attack (generally bashing enemies with the butt of your weapon) by pressing in the right analogue stick. If Xenomorphs or Facehuggers pin you down, you’ll have to mash X to fight them off and may be reduced to your pistol for a few moments as you struggle to your feet; you can also shoot at explosive canisters to take out multiple enemies at once, which is always handy.

Don’t use the weapon wheel in the middle of combat or you might end up skewered!

Holding down the Y button will bring up the game’s weapon wheel; from here, you can equip different weapons as you collect or unlock them, which is useful but this weapon wheel doesn’t pause the game so, if you need to switch out our Assault Rifle for the Pulse Rifle in the middle of a skirmish, the chances are that you’re going to get injured or killed so it’s best to switch your weapons in safe areas. Most weapons have a secondary fire function as well, ranging from an explosive short or flame burst to a paralysing effect to your shots, and you can toggle your torch (or “flashlight” for you Americans) by pressing down on the D-pad.

The motion tracker helps alert you to enemies and objectives.

You’ll want this flashlight activated at all times since Aliens: Colonial Marines is a very dark game and you’ll need all the light you can get in some areas. I knew about this ahead of time and also cranked up the in-game brightness but, honestly, I actually didn’t mind the game’s darker areas and moments as they are all highly reminiscent of the source material and really added to the game’s fidelity to the movies and the sense of mounting dread and tension since you can never really tell what’s lurking around the next corner. Thankfully, you can whip out the franchise’s iconic motion tracker by pressing LB and a mini tracker will beep and appear onscreen when enemies are near. Neither are massively accurate and you can’t shoot and use the main tracker at the same time but it’s a welcome addition and better than nothing since the tracker also points you in the direction of your objective and notable characters/objects.

Gameplay occassionally slows down to have you defending barricades or using stealth.

The game features a relatively simple heads-up display (HUD) which tracks your armour, health, ammo, and experience points (EXP). Each time you kill an enemy or find a collectable, you’ll gain EXP and can spend these points on a variety of upgrades for each of your weapons. Your health is measured in three sections and will automatically refill in each section; however, should you lose a section of health, the only way to refill it is to grab one of the Med-Packs scattered across the game’s locations. Ammo, new weapons, and armour are relatively plentiful, often found stashed in the game’s quieter rooms or dropped by human enemies. The game also features some pretty generous checkpoints and, upon reloading a save, you’ll be gifted with full armour and health, which is always appreciated. The bulk of Colonial Marines’ gameplay is centred around exploring familiar environments from the first two movies, blasting a variety of Xenomorphs and human enemies as they rush at you, and some very basic missions. You’ll be cutting open sealed doors with your blowtorch, interacting with switches and consoles, finding flight recorders, taking out Weyland-Yutani scientists before they can activate alarms and set off poisonous gas, rescuing other Marines and personnel, and generally trying to survive and get to the bottom of Weyland-Yutani’s questionable schemes. Despite the game’s dark areas and the repetitiveness of many of the corridors and locations you find yourself in, the game is quite linear so you won’t find yourself getting lost that often but you can always refresh yourself on your current objectives by pressing the ‘Back’ button and just follow nearby non-playable characters (NPCs) if you get a bit stuck.

Set up and disable sentry guns to help tip the odds in your favour.

Occasionally, you’ll be charged with defending an NPC or holding out against wave upon wave of Xenomorphs as your fellow Marines attempt to cut through doors, signal for help, or start up the iconic Aliens dropship. These sections can be rather tense and frustrating since, while NPCs are helpful and will shoot at enemies (and make for great bait), they aren’t the most reliable computer-controlled allies I’ve ever had and it can be tricky to get a good shot at the agile and stealthy Xenomorphs. Often, you’ll also be tasked with grabbing and setting up an auto-turret in these situations, which can be extremely helpful, but you’ll also have to watch out for these turrets as Weyland-Yutani mercenaries have set them up to fire on you, requiring a bit of subterfuge as you take the long way around to disable the sentry guns. Aliens: Colonial Marines’ main campaign is divided into missions; as you complete each mission, you’ll be awarded with more EXP and given the option to continue or back out, allowing you to play in brief bursts if you desire. The game’s action is further broken up by a handful of instances where you must climb into the iconic Powerloader to open up a blast door and battle a particularly frustrating boss and, of course, numerous interruptions to the flow of the gameplay. These generally take the form of platforms collapsing beneath you, parts of the environment randomly exploding, or the risk of explosive decompression; in each instance, you’ll be forced to wait for the game to return control to you and then continue on though, thankfully, there are no disorientating moments where your senses are thrown off by concussive explosions.

I encountered few, if any, glitches in the A.I. of the bog standard enemies…

Overall, the game isn’t especially difficult; there are four difficulty options available and I finished a playthrough on “Soldier” (or “Normal” for us normal people) in about eight hours. As you might expect, the game lags a little thanks to its long loads times; many of these are unsubtly masked by long, drawn out periods of dialogue between characters or doors that need cutting open but you’ll also notice it whenever you die and reload a checkpoint. Considering all the horror stories I heard about the game’s buggy A.I., I found the enemies to be quite relentless and formidable; I never had any instance where enemies harmlessly ran against walls, got stuck against the environment, or passed right by me that weren’t intentional and I actually found myself dying quite a bit when the Xenomorphs attacked as a group (oddly, I found I accrued more deaths on the game’s easy mode…), though there were instances where the game’s dodgy coding could be exploited to my benefit.

Graphics and Sound:
Aliens: Colonial Marines’ attention to detail is impressive, to be honest; every area looks and feels exactly as it did in Aliens or has been modelled to closely mimic James Cameron’s lived-in aesthetic. As you explore the Sulaco, you’ll find acid burns, claw marks, blood stains, and smashed lighting and other objects all over the place, which really adds to the immersion and the tension. You can even spot the lower half of Bishop (Lance Henriksen) in the Sulaco’s landing bay, alongside numerous Xenomorph husks, bloodied corpses, and dead Facehuggers. However, I will admit that I noticed some poorly-rendered textures, odd graphical hiccups, and that some of the voices would get cut off or be muted during dialogue.

The attention to detail is top notch but Hadley’s Hope is looking a little too intact…

In many ways, this attention to detail actually backfires somewhat as you progress through the game; as ridiculous as it is to conveniently be exploring the Sulaco, I can just about forgive it thanks to the very basic explanation the game provides. What I can’t quite forgive, though, is the fact that, after crash-landing on LV-426, you end up exploring Hadley’s Hope, the colony that was not only the primary setting for Aliens but was also completely obliterated by a nuclear explosion at the end of that film. Here, though, the colony is in exactly the same shape as it was at the start of Aliens; it looks exactly the same as it did when the Marines explored it in the movie, all the consoles work (to an extent) and all the movie’s locations are intact and recreated. You even come across Hudson’s (Bill Paxton) corpse, the medical bay, the area where the Marines set up their turrets, and explore the sewers, all of which show no signs of being vaporised as they surely would have been. This is great in terms of recreating the familiar locations of the movie but not so great when you stop and consider that the colony should have been reduced to a smouldering, highly radioactive crater.

Of course you get to explore the derelict spaceship.

You also get to explore the derelict Engineer ship from Alien; similar to Alien Trilogy (Probe Entertainment, 1996), the ship has been quarantined by Weyland-Yutani and they have been investigating it, putting up floodlights and scaffolding and what-not in an attempt to harvest the Xenomorph eggs. This means, of course, that you also get to visit the massive egg chamber and the decaying remains of the Space Jockey from that film, which is always a delight, and I could have sworn that I spied the floating mapping device the protagonists used in Prometheus (Scott, 2012). Although all of the Marines resemble little more than action figures, the Xenomorphs come off looking much better; I always find it odd how games of this generation can render alien monstrosities so well but struggle with human likenesses.

Humans might look like garbage but the aliens look really good, at least.

While the game’s environments are dark, moody, and atmospheric, this all adds to the immersion and the tension since Xenomorphs can pop out from grates or smash through windows and doors at a moment’s notice, which really helps to keep you on your toes. Even the sewer section is made more exhilarating by the dank aesthetic, the presence of numerous, dried out Xenomorph husks, and the fact that you are stripped of all your weapons and must stealthy make your way through to avoid detection. Like many FPS titles, the majority of the game’s cutscenes are rendered using in-game graphics and without deviating from the first-person perspective, meaning full-motion cinematic cutscenes are few and far between. In terms of sound design, though, Aliens: Colonial Marines knocks it out of the park since everything is ripped straight out of Aliens; that means the familiar beep of the motion tracker, the recognisable bursts of the Pulse Rifle, the high-pitched squeals and growls of the Xenomorphs, and even the sounds of the computers and environment are all present and accounted for. Additionally, not only does Lance Henriksen return as Bishop but the developers somehow convinced Michael Biehn to return as Corporal Dwayne Hicks which, while welcome, makes absolutely no sense even in the game and seems to be based purely on the fact that the third movie is so unfairly hated.

Enemies and Bosses:
You’ll never believe this but the most common enemy you’ll encounter in Aliens: Colonial Marines are the Xenomorphs! The regular drones are modelled after those seen in Cameron’s film, sporting ridged skulls and clambering all over walls and ceilings. These guys will pop out from vents, grates, and even from behind doors, slashing and clawing at you, leaping at you, and trying to pin you down to take a bite out of you. Thankfully, though, like in Aliens, these bugs are easily dispatched (and will often blow into chunks) with a few shots and are most dangerous when attacking in groups or from the shadows; while they do bleed acid blood and melt away upon defeat, this doesn’t seem to damage you (or, if it does, I didn’t really notice).

You’ll come up against a few new types of Xenomorph in this game.

There are also a couple of Xenomorph variants to contend with as well, such as the Lurker Xenomorph, which is more akin to the one seen in Alien; this smooth-skulled bastard creeps around and attacks from the darkness before darting out of sight, making it a particularly bothersome enemy. You’ll also come across a number of eggs scattered throughout the game’s environments; you should shoot these on sight with your pistol and be aware of Facehuggers in the immediate area, which are small and particularly difficult to get a good shot at. In the sewers, you’ll encounter the Boiler variants; these are heavily-degraded husks whose senses have been dulled by radiation poisoning and remain completely still until they hear movement. You must sneak past them, stand completely still if they hobble near you, and then activate a series of switches to lure them towards noises, whereupon they explode in a shower of acid. You’ll also have to contend with the Spitter Xenomorphs, which spit acid at you from a distance to whittle down your armour and health, and combinations of each Xenomorph type at various points.

Wey-Yu mercenaries will hide behind cover and blast you at point blank range.

You’ll also have to contend with some human opposition as Weyland-Yutani send in a bunch of heavily-armed mercenaries to take you out and secure their investment. These assholes dart around, use cover, and fire at you with the same weapons available to you, packing Pulse Rifles, shotguns, tossing grenades, and even wielding Smart Guns and heavier armour. Thankfully, they go down just as easily as the Xenomorphs and any nearby aliens will also attack these humans, which is helpful, but the mercenaries are a constant source of frustration as they tend to blast you with a shotgun from behind when you least expect it.

The Raven makes for a persistant and frustrating boss.

Aliens: Colonial Marines only features four boss encounters (each of these uses the term loosely since you aren’t given the luxury of a health bar to check your progress) but each one is a little different and frustrating in its own way. The first boss you’ll have to contend with is the Raven, a large, Praetorian-like alien that appears to have burst out of Hudson’s chest. This thing is all-but-invincible and must be evaded and ran from when you first encounter it as you don’t have any of your weapons. Eventually, after darting through the sewers, dodging its wild swipes from floor grates, and racing across the barren wasteland of LV-426 while numerous drones try to cut you to ribbons, you make a final stand against it in the iconic Powerloader for, perhaps, one of the worst and most annoying boss fights ever. The Powerloader is slow and clunky and it’s never made entirely clear what you have to do or if your hits are even landing, not to mention the fact that your turning circle is abysmal and Xenomorphs swarm at you to whittle your health down. In the end, the best thing to do is concentrate on the Raven, whacking it with your left claw repeatedly and try to get it to glitch against the environment in a corner; land a few hits and then try using your right claw to choke it until, eventually (seemingly randomly), a cutscene will play out where Winter breaks the fucking thing in two.

Work your way past the APC’s heavy artillery in order to take it out of commission.

The next boss sees you taking on an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) that is manned, and protected, by Weyland-Yutani mercenaries. Like the Raven, this thing is completely bulletproof and will cut you in half, or blow you to pieces, in seconds with not only its heavy weaponry but also the firepower of the minions which protect it. I found this section particularly trying since you’re exposed in the open a lot, despite the abundance of cover (bullets and explosions can be seen to penetrate much of the cover anyway) and it’s really easy to get caught in a crossfire. It’s best to find a good vantage point, drive the APC back by shooting the nearby fuel tanks, and pick off the mercenaries (particularly the flamethrower and RPG-wielding assholes) to clear the way to the crane controls and crush the APC once and for all.

Luckily, you can use a game bug to make the Crusher far less threatening.

The third boss is the Crusher Xenomorph, a gigantic bull-like variant with a huge, armour-plated head that charges at everything head-first and will crush you under its elephantine feet. As if that wasn’t bad enough, swarms of Xenomorphs fill the area to distract you, making it hard to get a good shot at the Crusher but, luckily, you can again glitch the boss to make things a bit easier. When you enter the area where the boss spawns, head to the barricade on the left and hop on the crates and then on top of the barricade. The Crusher will stand completely still by the APC and no Xenomorphs will spawn in, allowing you to fire at it with your explosive shots and either significantly wound it or kill it outright to make the fight ten times easier.

It all ends with a game of hide and seek with the Alien Queen.

Finally, as you might expect, you must face off with a Xenomorph Queen. This gigantic bitch is completely bulletproof and you won’t be able to deal any damage to her at all; instead, you must use the conveniently-placed environment to hide and avoid her claws, tail, and sight, working your way around the hanger and towards a series of switches. You must then activate each switch to prime a cargo launcher, rushing back to cover and grabbing the respawning armour if she hits you and trying to not get sucked out into the atmosphere at the same time. Once the cargo launcher is fully primed, simply stand behind it and wait for her to get in front of it and activate it and that’s it. Of all the parts of the game, and the many battles I’ve had against Xenomorph Queens, this was by far the easiest and is simply a question of patience.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Naturally, as both a FPS title and an Aliens game, you can acquire numerous weapons and items to increase your odds against the Xenomorph hordes. When you spot a weapon, ammo, or item, though, it’s not enough to just walk over to it; you actually have to press X to pick them up so make sure you do this or you could enter the next fire fight shorthanded!

Customise and upgrade your weapons with EXP.

Winter begins the game with a handy stock of frag grenades, the iconic Pulse Rifle, a service pistol, and a shotgun for close-quarters combat. You can also acquire a number of other weapons as well though, including the Assault Rifle and Submachine Gun, the sniper rifle-like Battle Rifle, and the tactical shotgun. Each one comes with different ammo capacities, firepower, and accessories to purchase and equip with your EXP. These include increasing your ammo capacity, adding laser sights, or underbarrel grenade launchers and flamethrowers. It’s a good idea to swap out for a different weapon when you find a quiet moment in order to preserve your more powerful weapons, though this can result in your shots being a bit less effective and a bit more haphazard depending on which weapon you select.

Grab the Smart Gun and dice those Xenos up with auto aiming and auto tracking!

You can also find three super weapons scattered throughout the campaign, generally right before a story-based objective; these include the Smart Gun (which automatically targets and tracks nearby enemies), the Incinerator Unit (a flamethrower perfect for setting alight groups of enemies), and the RPG Launcher to take out anti-aircraft guns. When you grab each of these weapons, you’ll still keep your existing weapons but won’t be able to use them unless you drop your current weapon; none of them can be reloaded either so choose your shots wisely. Finally, you can also pick up six Legendary Weapons throughout the campaign; once you find them, they are all added to your inventory for regular use (with two exceptions) and, while you can’t modify or upgrade them and they take their own unique ammo type, they generally tend to be a bit more powerful than the standard weapons. You’ll find such memorable weapons as Hicks’ shotgun, Scott Gorman’s (William Hope) pistol, Hudson’s Pulse Rifle, and Jenette Vasquez’s (Jenette Goldstein) Smart Gun; finding all six will net you a cheeky Achievement but, luckily, they’re all pretty much sitting out in the open so it’s not hard to miss them.

Additional Features:
Speaking of which, Aliens: Colonial Marines includes sixty Achievements, fifty of which in the main game and ten more made available through downloadable content (DLC). The majority of these are tied to story progression and the game’s multi-player but you’ll also net them for finding various goodies in the campaign (including a number of dog tags and audio files, the six Legendary Weapons, the head of Rebecca “Newt” Jordan’s (Carrie Henn) doll Casey, and even a stash of Xenomorph eggs painted up like literal Easter Eggs), completing missions under various time limits and restrictions, and for beating the game’s higher difficulty settings.

Pick up the game’s DLC for more multiplayer maps and a whole new solo campaign.

As alluded to above, Aliens: Colonial Marines features a multiplayer component; one allows for two players to play through the main campaign in co-op, which is achieved through a split screen, and the other is a typical deathmatch mode that, for some reason, cannot be played locally. Here, you can customise your Marine and Xenomorph’s appearance (unlocking additional attire, weapons, and attacks through successful play) and take part in various team-based missions across a variety of the game’s maps. Additionally, there’s a pretty decent amount of DLC available as well, including additional map packs for the multiplayer mode and an entirely new single player campaign, “Stasis Interrupted”, which explores the fourteen week gap between the end of Aliens and the start of Colonial Marines. This campaign sees you controlling a new Marine character, features a bunch of additional Achievements, and even has the player journeying to Fiorina “Fury” 161 in a desperate attempt to rescue Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Finally, if you own the “Limited Edition” of the game as I (and, I’m sure, many) do, you’ll gain access to a number of classic characters and weapons from the Alien franchise, and some additional customisation options, to use in the multiplayer mode.

The Summary:
Once again, it turns out that all of the horror stories and negativity I’d heard about a game is nowhere  near the truth; sure, Aliens: Colonial Marines is by no means a perfect game but it’s far from the unplayable wreck I was led to believe it was. Instead, it’s a pretty by the numbers FPS title, offering little new or innovative from the genre, but elevated above much of its competition by a fantastic use of the Alien license.

Though not perfect, the game is far from the unplayable, buggy mess I was led to believe.

The game’s attention to detail is staggering and this very well may be the best one-to-one adaptation of Aliens ever; everything from the sounds, the weapons, and the environments is all ripped straight from Aliens and the game goes out of its way to recreate the look and feel of the film through the use of atmospheric lighting and almost slavish fidelity. It’s just a shame, then, that the developers didn’t think a little harder about the game’s narrative aspects in relation to its source material; as a midquel between the second and third movies, the game makes little sense, favouring fidelity and fan service over a coherent and consistent plot, which honestly drags the game down more than the minor graphical and A.I. bugs (of which I saw very little in the game’s basic enemies).

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Aliens: Colonial Marines? Did you find it to be a broken mess of the game like so many others or did you, like me, find it to be a perfectly serviceable FPS title? What did you think to the game’s story and the way it brought Hicks back? Did you encounter any odd glitches or game-breaking moments? If so, what were they and how often did they crop up? Which of the Alien movies or videogames is your favourite and why and how are you celebrating Alien Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, stay frosty and drop a comment below!