“The game that everyone can’t stop talking about!”
A line paraphrased from one of the commercials about one of the most hyped gaming releases of 2013, and while that statement is indeed true— it’s not exactly the kind of talking that either Twentieth Century Fox, Sega or even Gearbox wants to hear from the fans or gaming critics. As a matter of fact that there is something of a major controversy regarding this particular entry within the Alien franchise, major complaints have been made from both hardcore ALIEN fans and casual gamers alike regarding this particular title.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was a game that has been stuck in development for a little more than over a decade. It was originally supposed to be released for the Playstation 2 and the XBox but at the time the developers had kept on putting delays out on the game until they had finally decided to whatever reason, cancel the game. Screenshots had been released and gaming magazines like Game Pro and Game Informer also discussed what the game was going to entail and a potential release. The game would never see release, or even made mention of until it was discussed again in 2006 by the same gaming publisher at the time. Little to no word on the game’s release or even details about what the game was going to feature was ever stated, and it had been cancelled yet again.
A few years later, SEGA had announced that if their collaboration with Rebellion for 2010’s Aliens vs Predator 3 was going to be sucessful— that they were going to pick up the Colonial Marines title. And as fate would have it, SEGA had kept their word and were well on their way to working with Twentieth Century Fox and Gearbox to create one of the most hyped up and looked forward to titles in the ALIEN franchise. To make it even more looked forward to, Fox was going to be treating the game as a movie, rather than Expanded Universe material (which was a pointless statement considering that Fox treats the EU as canon anyway). Cast members of James Cameron’s ALIENS were signed onto the project, collaborations with concept artist from ALIENS were attached to the project, visits to the set of Prometheus were paid to when Ridley Scott was filming the spin-off movie. Gearbox and SEGA had a lot of the lore to work with.
We were even shown demonstrations of what Aliens: Colonial Marines was going to look like and how it would even play. Fans were more than hyped to get their hands on this game and actually add it to the lore. Promises looked like that they were about to be fulfilled and this was the sequel to ALIENS that every fan who has hated ALIEN 3 wanted. It seemed as if SEGA and Gearbox had achieved something great from the demonstrations which they presented at E3 and Comic-con. It looked like something which was about to blow our minds… Gearbox seemingly fulfilled their promises.
….So what went wrong?
I have actually played ALIENS: Colonial Marines, and while I am indeed a fan of the Alien/Predator franchise and have great knowledge of the Alien/Predator universe and the three different lores which go with the three franchises… There was an underwhelming feeling about game. Like I said, I consider myself a fan of the Alien/Predator universe and know quite a deal about he lore and the three different continuities. I know a lot of the ins and outs… But as a casual gamer— this was a pretty underwhelming game. I do not even know where to even begin…
Let’s start with the title, ALIENS: Colonial Marines. A lot of reviewers out there have said that we were promised an ALIENS game, our main enemy was supposed to be the Xenomorphs which had been running rampant on the USS Sulaco and of course, Hadley’s Hope on LV-426. Instead, the Xenomorphs are taken the passenger seat and the real enemy is none other than the evil mega-corporation, Weyland-Yutani. While Weyland-Yutani has always been a major antagonist of the ALIEN and even the Aliens vs Predator franchise, the Xenomorphs took a back seat and the major enemies were none other than Weyland-Yutani mercenaries. This was a major complaint I have heard, and something I have gripes with. To me I felt like I was playing your basic FPS Shoot’em Up game, and nothing which had the terrifying, claustrophobic feel of James Cameron’s ALIENS.
Another issue with the game is it’s Artificial Intelligence, or rather lack of AI. This was something that I have come to notice as well, be it with the Xenomorphs, the Weyland-Yutani mercenaries or even so much as the NPC Colonial Marines who help you in the missions. And the enemies are seemingly relatively easy to kill. The Xenomorphs weren’t stealthy, nor were they seeking ways to get around your line of fire— instead they were simply charging forward to your line of fire. Also, Weyland-Yutani mercenaries were easy to kill, especially when you focus your firing and take them out from a distance, or hide behind some cover. NPC allie Colonial Marines are pretty dumb too, while they are there to ease the burden of the Xenomorph infestation and Weyland-Yutani mercenaries— they are pretty much next to useless and it would be better to play campaign mode with another player online. Also, Marine NPCs would get stuck in a corner for five minutes, and then they would be teleported to where you had moved off to. The AI is simply terrible.
The game play is mediocre at best. It took me quite a while to figure out how to work certain weapons, and how to deploy certain weapons as well. Also, it didn’t help that in order to gain health and ammunition items, one had to stand at a certain angel just to have the mechanics work. Also, while I did like the idea of using scopes and focus to increase your accuracy to fire, and the ability to purchase upgrades for weapons— I didn’t like the fact that there was no ability for your Marine character to defend against Xenomorph attacks. Your only defense was a melee offense, and even then it served little good as you could barely hit the Xenomorphs to push them away from you. If you were to compare the Marine gameplay from Rebellion’s Aliens vs Predator 3, to ALIENS: Colonial Marines— the Marine Gameplay from AvP3 is simply, far, far more superior to what we have gotten in ALIENS: Colonial Marines.
And then there are issues with the story. While actually playing the game, at first I had found no issues with it but upon researching and reading up on forums from other ALIENS fans, there are some continuity issues with the game’s storyline. For starters— LV-426, or rather the colony settlement known as Hadley’s Hope. ALIENS had established that the colony was destroyed from a blast radius that equaled about to forty megatons (I watched ALIENS again last night). However for the most part, the strucural integrity of Hadley’s Hope and even their power supply somehow seemed to be working still— while the colony was in shambles, it looked nothing like a forty megaton explosion had hit it. And then there is the Derelict spacecraft from the original ALIEN, and it seemed to be relatively intact— while the ship was somewhere outside of the Illium range on LV-426, I would think that it would’ve been destroyed by the blast too.
They also had changed the biology of the Xenomorph, or rather their reproductive life cycle. It seems now that when a victim is implanted with a chestburster, via a Facehugger— the Chesburster creates a cancerous placenta which allows it to absorb nutrients from it’s host. While it was established that a chesburster does absorb nutrients and even DNA from it’s host, the idea of it being housed in a placenta that is cancerous contradicts the films and previously published games, comics and novels. Gearbox had been told by Fox to pay attention to the lore, but it seemed as if in this case… they decided to ignore it. Chestbursters have always been removed by surgical means, and this was even seen in Alien Resurrection. But now it seems as if once you’re implanted with a chestburster, you’re dead— no matter what. If you try to remove the organism, you die because the cancerous placenta shuts the chest cavity organs down… If you do nothing, you die as the creature eats it’s way out of your chest.
Also, there was the attempted retcon of ALIEN 3— the sequel which a lot of ALIEN fans to this day absolutely hate. But Alien 3 wasn’t entirely retconned but rather more or less, rewritten regarding the death of Michael Bhein’s character, Corporal Dwayne Hicks. Alien 3 had happened two weeks after the events of ALIENS, but ALIENS: Colonial Marines had established that Weyland-Yutani had snuck onboard onto the Sulaco, kidnapped Corporal Hicks and dragged him back to Hadley’s Hope, but not before sabotaging Ripley and Newt’s EEV unit. By this logic… somehow Weyland Yutani had gotten a hold of the Xenomorph egg we saw back in ALIEN 3, and planted it there… but wait… ALIENS showed that every egg on LV-426 had been destroyed. Hick’s retconned death was done sloppily, and while I do appreciate that Corporal Hicks is alive and well… They didn’t even bother in explaining the egg seen in ALIEN 3, at least.. not well enough.
So…. who is to blame here?
Sega? Gearbox? Both?
Well a lot of the fire is being directed to Randy Pitchford of Gearbox. This was the man who had promised ALIENS fans a lot of things and promised that the game would tie up loose ends and stick to canon material. We were shown demonstrations on what the final product was going to look like and play like but we weren’t given what we were shown and promised at all. In short, a lot of fans and gamers simply felt as if they had been falsely advertised and were cheated. Promises were made, promises were broken and a lot of anger has been directed to Sega and Gearbox.
Many Ex-Gearbox employees had stepped forward and said that Gearbox had outsourced Aliens: Colonial Marines to a third party company called Timeware. They have also said that Gearbox took a lot of their fundings and instead put it forward to Boarderlands and even took employees who were working on Colonial Marines and moved them to developing Boarderlands instead.
“Gearbox was taking people off the project to put them on Borderlands 1,” he says of his time on the job. “This was before the big art style change happened on Borderlands. Our team was getting smaller by the month, making it very difficult to get the game made. Ironically several of the team members were ex-3D Realms people who were saying [paraphrasing] ‘Finally, we’re going to Gearbox to make Aliens, and we’re going to ship a *vulgarity*ing game!’ Hah.”
According to our man with the inside track, it was later learned that SEGA actually canceled Colonial Marines, deciding to cut its losses after such a long development cycle.
“At some point in 2008, SEGA temporarily pulled the plug on the game,” he said. “They caught wind of Gearbox shifting resources (despite still collecting milestone checks as if the team were full size) and lying to SEGA AND 2K about the number of people working on each project. This led to the round of layoffs at Gearbox in late 2008.”
The developer confirms he later spoke with people attached to the project at the beginning of 2012, and learned they actually didn’t expect the game to ship in February, given its current state. It would appear staff on the game knew the thing was a bust, and were prepared for a fresh delay. Obviously, that never happened, and now we’re here.
ALIENS: Colonial Marines had a lot of hype riding on it and it had a lot time and money invested on it. What went wrong is that Gearbox had simply lied to SEGA, the fans and the consumers— and are perhaps rightfully facing the backlash which they deserve for producing a game which was so incredibly underwhelming. Hopes were knowingly raised, and dreams were perhaps… intentionally shattered and dashed away. In many ways, ALIEN fans are feeling what Mass Effect fans are feeling when they had Mass Effect 3 released…
Gearbox will be losing a lot of money, and SEGA will be experiencing the downfall as well.
ALIENS: Colonial Marines could’ve been so much more had Gearbox actually taken the project seriously.. Instead, what we got was simply a half-hearted attempt which had been raised to high expectations only to fall as nothing short of a major, if not perhaps colossal disappointment. I will even go as far as to say that even DLC content will not be enough to save ALIENS: Colonial Marines.