Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Multiplayer Review: Another glorious day in the Corps!

Multiplayer Review: Aliens: Colonial Marines - a game played with/against other people and stuff.

So I'm back again and I'm here to update you with my thoughts and experiences of A: CM’s multiplayer. If you read my review on the SPG then you’ll know that I, like many other reviewers, knocked it - and rightly so. 

Now, Gearbox has claimed that the multiplayer is where they spent most of their development time along with another studio, and if that is true then it explains a lot.

Still, does it salvage the train wreck that was the SPG? Is it the much needed evacuation from the atrocious depths of incomplete game play and nasty looking visuals?

Speaks for itself really.

A:CM allows a relatively stable drop-in/drop-out 4 player co-op, or 2 player split screen. Obviously nothing says ‘team building exercise’ like playing through a god awful campaign with complete strangers - but the end result is still the same. The game sucks. This just allows you to share it with other chumps who pre-ordered the game.

It's as good as we look. Oohra to ashes!

Online multiplayer, on the other hand, is a bit of a different shit filled bag.

I’ll be straight with you. The multiplayer plays well and, amazingly, I didn't hate. No that’s a lie, I did hate it - just not all the time. It is a solid experience with a lot of bits and pieces that actually brought me real moments of pleasure; but the overall state is still lacking.

The experience points and upgrades you collected through the SPG as a Marine are transferable. Great, right? Wrong again. 

You have four game modes to choose from: ‘Team Death Match’, ‘Extermination’, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Escape’. In each mode you play through two bouts; once as Marines and once as Aliens. So someone had the bright idea to deny players the pleasure of choosing a side, thus giving the players on the Marine side an advantage of 25 levels, plus. Genius

What this means is when you start as a level 1 Xenomorph – and remember you don’t actually play as one until this point - you have the ferocity of a kitten playing with its own shadow. You’re Corporal Hicks’ play thing! Furthermore there are obvious, frustrating, learning curves when commanding an Alien like: getting used to the third person perspective, having no target locking ability or finding out your Alien will attack in the direction of the cross hairs and not in the direction that it is facing. 

What’s more, there are three different Aliens to choose from!... Ok, actually that isn't so bad. In fact its variety is one of the best parts about the multiplayer. HOWEVER! It becomes doubly frustrating when you’re trying to learn how each Alien plays but you quickly get reduced to mush by the 5th gun toting Marine to have unlocked ‘Ripley’s Gun’. Basically expect the game to be decidedly one sided – at least until you start unlocking abilities and passive augmentations.

To be fair you can tell that this play style was designed to try to allow for a more even game play experience. So everyone has an opportunity to suck! 

Don’t expect anything exciting with these modes other than some variations on traditional favourites to make for more specific game play. For instance, ‘TDM’ allows for 6 vs. 6 matches - pitting Aliens against Marines with the draw being that you’re able to finally play as the Alien.

‘Extermination’ is essentially capture and hold; a team of marines have to find a clutch of Xenomorph eggs and hold their ground until the timer runs its course and they can move on to another clutch. Rinse and repeat until the rounds end. ‘Survivor’ asks for the team of Marines to hold up in a structure and stay alive as long as possible or until games time runs its course. 

Finally, there is ‘Escape’ which is very similar to ‘Survivor’, the difference being that you and your team-mates have to fight your way towards an extraction point. Thrown into this mix are 4 ‘gates’ between you and your goal which act as safe zones for a few minutes, allowing your team to resupply and ready for the next dash to safety.

Beyond the two more standard modes there is a lot of fun to be had in Survivor. As a marine you have the opportunity to shut access routes into your safe zone, there by controlling points of entry for the opposing team – maybe buying you some time. Additionally, in all modes (except TDM) you can revive downed team-mates which is essential to winning the game. However, if the Alien team is clever then they can launch a coordinated assault on a single Marine and permanently take them out of the game.

I briefly mentioned there was variety regarding the selection of Aliens to play, to expand; there are 3 classes or ‘breeds’ available each with unique qualities: the ‘Soldier’ is a brute force attacker based on the ‘Warrior’ from the films. The ‘Lurker’ provides speed and agility with the ability to pounce over some distance. The ‘Spitter’ is a long range fighter able to spit charged acid at enemies but has weak physical attacks and defence. 

Chin Down. Eye's Up

Additionally each Xenomorph can be suited and booted with different abilities that unlock with new ranks, ranging from different husks to allow for greater defence or maneuverability to new and different ‘instant’ kill attacks. So far I haven’t seen any benefit to having a different one of these equipped other than sadism. There are also cosmetic changes that you can unlock for each Xenomorph in case you want to pimp out your lethal killer. Again these have no bearing on your Alien’s abilities, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good when you shoot a second tongue into the skull of a Marine. Mm, lovely.

If you’re lucky you might happen to stumble across a ‘Boiler’ husk or ‘Charger’ which behave as ‘specials’ in a match. Find one and you’ll have the opportunity to take on that form and be even more deadly. Unfortunately I've yet to find out how to play as the ‘Charger’ but I've killed a few and been ran over plenty. 

Whilst this is a nice extra, they don’t really add a great deal to a match over all. A ‘Boiler’ will just end up being annoying for the Marines but easy to take out from a distance to avoid getting a face full of acid. Whereas the ‘Charger’ is a game changer, in the right hands, and the only way to kill them is by unloading a ton of ammo, die, and then do it again. There was something great here but like much of this game, it’s quickly squandered.

Ironically the tension and thrill that was lacking in the SPG is found more easily here. It’s like a festering wound that needs amputation; when the terrible story is removed, those elements of game play that were halfway decent become better. 

Take the motion sensor, for instance; it worked all right in the main campaign. It wasn't at all necessary to locate enemies since they regularly thought a beeline to the open end of your gun was the most effective way to kill you. But in the multiplayer it becomes essential. 

When the sensors screen becomes filled with red dots you feel like it’s really serving its purpose. It also feels like it is just letting you know the number of ways you aren't going to survive, but you can forgive that because it actually works. 

It goes without saying - nothing compares to playing online with/against other people. It completely changes any games speed and experience. This holds particularly true here; the Alien’s ability to traverse any surface, coupled with the sentient input of a human player means you really don’t know where to expect the next attack from. Many of the SPG mechanics works well enough here to elevate your multiplayer experience to fun. And that’s really important for this game, because it sucked. 

Overall the multiplayer is a damn sight better than the single player campaign. That’s not to say that it does anything to save the overall experience of A:CM - nothing could do that. But it’s a serving that is more palatable, and certainly more playable. 

Having said that, expect regular cheap deaths when playing on either side. Prepare for inaccurate and uncooperative controls when playing as any Xenomorph, steep learning curves, much hair pulling, and a slow laborious leveling system. 

Yes its better, but it’s still not possible for me to recommend picking up this game. Unless you like the franchise a lot. Like... loads.

By Rod-the-Pod, 27-Feb-2013

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