I absolutely love the Alien film franchise, with its great atmosphere, tension and visual design. Aliens in particular is one of my favorite films, the characters are great, the setting feels authentic and the action is filled with tension. Its hard to top Aliens because its such a successful film that balanced action and horror brilliantly. And in a way that why I think Aliens Colonial Marines failed, it missed the point of Aliens.
Aliens while being an action film actually doesn't have an many gun fights as you would think, there are only about 2 big set pieces involving blasting Xeno's to squishy pieces with pulse rifles. The rest of the film uses its atmosphere to to great affect and builds the sense of the threat that lurks out side the doors the the nice cozy room the characters have taken refuge in.
Aliens Colonial Marines however ditches this approach and goes straight for non stop action, which quite honestly gets very boring very quickly. And why shouldn't it? I mean we are just shooting the same enemy types over and over again after all, with the occasional uninspired new Alien type being thrown into the mix at the halfway point of the game. The film doesn't suffer from this because its a 2 hour plus roller coaster ride of intense and awesome film making and it knows how to pace horror and action together.
Colonial Marines seems to fail at this greatly, with a nice slow build up with some good tension, followed by 6 hours of blasting poorly animated Aliens into chunks of disappearing pieces. It seems like the developers saw Aliens as more of a tough talk movie about bad ass marines saying well written lines, rather than a very well constructed experience with great character depth. For example Aliens is basically an allegory for the Vietnam War, and the film puts a focus on how the Marines start off as being sure of victory, then having it turn into a unprepared mess as the Aliens quickly overwhelm them despite the Marines having superior technology.
The way they run at you with outstretched arms really helps make them less threatening/
This doesn't translate into the game because its all about picking up big guns and blowing Aliens away. The characters are terrible and the story is a joke. Towards the end of the game a twist is revealed that doesn't make any sense and came across more like the writers saying "LOOK, WE RESURRECTED ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS, WE DID SUCH A GREAT JOB DIDN'T WE?".
The only way I can think of making a great Aliens game is to do something different, and by that I mean don't put Colonial Marines in the game. It felt like too much of a repeat of Aliens, especially considering the game takes place in the same environmental and rarely shows us anything new. My ideal Alien game would be a survival horror game, with a focus on exploration and improvisation to fight back. Imagine how tense it would be to have a level where you frantically navigate a ventilation shaft as the screech of a Alien echo's behind you. You wouldn't be playing as a marine so you cant just rely on a pulse rifle to save you. You would need to flee and escape it, the Alien would actually feel like a threat rather that just being cannon fodder.
I would also improve the Alien artificial Intelligence so that they function more like a living, thinking threat rather than just spawning and getting gunned down. These thing would hunt you through the levels, using vents and other parts of the environment to their advantage. You would need to watch your back, check rooms, seal vent covers to slow the Aliens efforts, have the option to barricade doors or set traps. Instead of having the Aliens come at you from the front, there would be a focus on making them distract you so that you are exposed, perhaps working as a team to lure you into a certain room or location.
The setting would be something new, a different planet, a new location. Imagine a sequence in a dense jungle, you and other people are slowly walking through a chest high swamp. Then all of a sudden people are sucked under the water, one by one. You see the organic piping of a Xeno morph briefly breach the surface and then dive down again. The water ripples in front of you, its getting closer. You have no weapons so you quickly head for land. This is just an example of what Gearbox could have done with the Aliens licence, but instead they chose to just re create moments from the film and add some boring new Alien types. Its such a shame too because there are many different types of game you could make with the Alien licence, but for some reason all they could come up with was a repetitive first person shooter with unimpressive set pieces and a poorly written narrative.
The game never manages to look this impressive.
I don't want to go back to LV 426 or Hadleys Hope, I wanted to see something new, fresh, and original. Alien 3 had the prison planet concept and it expanded on what the Alien universe has occupying it. All the different locations and environments. Instead Aliens Colonial Marines spends lots of time recreating the environments that appear in the film, but doesn't really add any new ones.
Overall if a new Alien game is made, then it needs to ditch the high action approach and the marines and put more focus on horror and actual tension. I find it amusing that the games tagline was "fight the fear" seeing as how there wasn't any fear to be found. I did however find myself fighting through the boredom of many of the games set pieces and poorly thought out final boss.