20th Century Fox
A canonical sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens in video game form. Should be awesome, right? RIGHT???
Instead of shining a spotlight on awesome gems of gaming, I’ll be taking a look at a more recent title that should have been amazing, but turned out to be kind of a poopsickle. This is more an analysis on what went wrong.
Anyone who has been following me knows I love me some Alien and Aliens. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a first-person shooter that was supposed to be a canonical story set after the events of Alien 3. The game was released in 2013 on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and eventually released on the popular PC gaming retailer, Steam. Although the game was almost universally panned by critics and game journalist, the game was a huge financial success upon release. It sold over a million copies in the United States and Europe.
Aliens: Colonial Marines had a very troubled development cycle. Originally the game was a Playstation 2 title that was supposed to be released by Electronic Arts in the early 2000’s. The game was canceled before launch and the game was seemingly no more. However, in 2006 Sega announced they had purchased the rights from 20th Century Fox for the Aliens franchise. Sega hired developers Gearbox Software(the studio behind Borderlands) to work on the title. Although the game shared the same concept and title as the PS2 version, Gearbox claimed their game would be much different than that title.
Gearbox hired artists who had worked on the film in order to painstakingly recreate the US Sulaco and the colony of Hadley’s Hope. Even actors from the film were hired to do voice work, Michael Biehn reprising the role of Cpl Hicks among others. The game suffered from many delays as Gearbox had to lay off many of its employees. Screenshots would emerge every now and again, but not much was seen until the 20ll E3. For those of you who don’t know, E3 is the biggest video game convention in the industry and many top publishers/developers reveal their projects in grand fashion.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was one of those games and the E3 demo stunned onlookers. This added to the hype of the game, as it looked like the Aliens game fans had always wanted. However, the game suffered more delays. In 2013, it was revealed that back in 2008 Gearbox had been pulling people from the project to work on Borderlands, but they were still collecting checks from Sega as if they had been prioritizing the game. When Sega found out, they temporarily pulled the funding for the game, which led to the round of layoffs at Gearbox.
On top of this already shady business practice, Gearbox Software outsourced most of the game to other developers. The development team that was supposed to be working on the game, didn’t do most of the work on the game! Because of Gearbox’s mismanagement, the game was rushed through the rest of its development despite it being in an unfinished state.
Gearbox kept hingeing its marketing campaign on the fact that the events in the game were canonical to the series. The campaign is so bad that it goes back and attempts to soil the stories already told in the franchise. DLC was released in an attempt to fix and explain the campaign’s embarrassingly huge plot holes, but the leaps in logic it asks you to take are staggering. All the characters are forgettable, the alien AI and companion AI are some of the worst in gaming history, and there is no tension except for one level that takes place in the sewers.
The game graphics are of a significantly lower quality than advertised and the campaign is unforgivably short for a game that made such a big deal about its single player mode. There’s also way too many Call of Duty like levels, where you are fighting human adversaries instead of xenomorphs. Xenomorphs are some of the most terrifying monsters introduced in cinema history and this game turns them into a joke. I will say it was enjoyable walking through familiar areas from the movie, but even this can’t save this shameless cash grab of a game. Why is Hadley’s Hope still there? Didn’t Ripley blow it up at the end of the movie? Like I said, plot holes. The game’s greatest sin is its campaign. If I had an incineration unit, I would kill it with fire and dance on its ashes.
On this front, the game fares a bit better, but not by much. Players get to play either as xenomorphs or colonial marines in matches to the death. Most of the game modes are a standard multiplayer affair. Playing as the Xeno’s can be a bit overpowered if the colonial marines aren’t working together, but it is fun tearing marines apart… at least for a while. The gameplay isn’t inspiring enough for players to dedicate themselves to and the sad assortment of game modes run stale. It’s a shame too because all the customization options are kind of cool, especially on the xenomorph side. You can make some really creepy looking ones if you are at a high enough level to unlock them.
After the game’s release, Gearbox and Sega received a lot of fan backlash. A group of gamers got so offended by this game that they actually sued both companies for falsely advertising the game. Gearbox was eventually removed from the lawsuit and it lost its class action status.
If you are a diehard fan of the series, there’s some novelty to playing the game, but it’s ultimately a hollow experience. If the game is on sale, maybe pick it up. I know on PC the modding community has been attempting to make the experience more enjoyable and closer to the experience gamers had been looking forward too.
Unfortunately, big gaming companies are going to keep doing things like this and getting away with it because of certain subsets within the gaming community, namely fanboys who blindly defend their favorite companies to their own detriment and casual gamers who are uneducated about preorder culture. I’m not saying companies need to be crucified, but it would be nice to see some acknowledgment about a game’s shortcomings and some accountability on their own parts(looking at you No Man’s Sky). Sega has repaired its reputation by doing this. The release of Alien Isolation was a step in the right direction for the publishers so maybe there’s hope.
Both Jim Sterling and Angry Joe did fantastic videos on the subject of this game. If you’d like to know more, look up their videos on Youtube. Very entertaining and they echo many of my own sentiments, but in their own hilarious ways. There’s also a video that does a side by side comparison of the E3 Demo and the final product that is infuriating and enlightening.