A copy of Gearbox’s (?) Aliens: Colonial Marines arrived at stately Barnes Manor yesterday. I just had to load it up and give it the same chance I give every other game, despite the fact that it’s received absolutely scathing reviews from every publication except a 9.0 from an EGM reviewer that apparently either has no taste or really is one of those infamous, paid-off journalists. Before we get rolling, let me go ahead and state quite clearly that I am an Aliens fan. When I was four, I had the legendary Kenner Alien toy. When I was 11 years old, I saw Aliens in the theater and as soon as I got home I took my list of favorite movies off the door of my room, crossed off Big Trouble in Little China, and wrote “Aliens” in the #1 spot. So let’s head off those “well, he must not be a fan of the property” claims at the pass.
A few minutes in, and an Aliens fan might be willing to issue a few passes. It’s the pulse rifle. It sounds right. So does the motion tracker. You board the Sulaco, and there’s that aweome dropship. But the creep of crappiness can’t be thwarted. Within ten minutes, you realize that you are playing a very, very bad game. Everything looks ugly as hell. Set designs are cluttered, muddy, and actually kind of difficult to see. The screen tears constantly (on the 360), and I actually found myself wondering if they used the models and animation from the Aliens versus Predator game on the Atari Jaguar. The Xenos are just sad to look at. At one point, one fell out of the ceiling and then ran behind a desk while my squadmate shot at the desk. Remember when that happened in the movies? How about when a marine walked up behind a Xeno just standing there and pretty much tapped it on the shoulder?
The gameplay is barely a consideration- better shooters were designed in the mid-1990s. Earn a new weapon, and it magically appears in your Bag of Holding. Lose your armor bar, and your chest plate pops off. Press and hold X to do a bunch of stuff. I honestly do not believe that at any time anyone playtested this game, and I seriously doubt anyone involved in making this game, whoever they are, actually took the time to vet it before submitting the final code. If they did, they need to be fired immediately and never allowed to work in the games business again.
No pulling punches. The game is an AAA debacle of the highest order, a strata reserved for over-promised, under-delivered games like Duke Nukem (another great Gearbox production) and Daikatana. Yes, I went there. It’s a shameful, sloppy, and intentionally mis-marketed piece of $60 junk that will satisfy no one apart from those unable to discern characteristics of quality or craftsmanship in the consumer products they purchase.
Playing through the first part of the game, I was struck persistently and consistently with the impression that I was playing a game developed over the course of a couple of weeks by garage programmers in a developing country, working with a budget of a twelve pack of Mountain Dew and a wholesale club bag of tortilla chips between them. Yet the brand names “Sega” and “Gearbox” are clearly all over the product.
You don’t have to do much research on the Internet to run into some conflicting reports about this game’s parentage. There are suggestions that Gearbox didn’t design large parts of the game, despite the fact that it is branded as such (presumably to rope in the Borderlands set) and Randy Pitchford has spent the last two years out of the half-decade that it’s been development stumping for it. Timegate Studios, who did the Section 8 games, is co-billed in the start-up screens, and anonymous folks purporting to be Gearbox employees are claiming that it’s as much a Timegate game as a Gearbox one. But then a Sega rep made a plain statement that it’s all Gearbox. Someone is lying to you, the consumer.
Yesterday, reports at Eurogamer and even on IGN have started turning up that the early demos, screenshots, and previews of the game are nothing like the finished product. You can hunt those out and make your own decision on that. But you see the one up top there? The game looks nothing like that. From whhat I’ve seen, Sega, Gearbox, and/or Timegate should be held accountable for fraudulently marketing this game with visuals and even gameplay elements that are substantially downgraded in the retail product. IGN and all of the big ad sites are responsible too, issuing preview after preview, gushing with “this is gonna be great!” enthusiasm to lure you, the consumer into preorders. Within the next couple of weeks, IGN and other such outlets will move on to helping the corporations hype their next big steaming pile, pretending like it all never happened. Disgusting.
It blows my mind that any of the parties involved with making and marketing this game thought they could get away with it. They had to know that this game is garbage. It’s pretty evident that it was rushed to market and carelessly pressed to master with tons of bugs, virtually zero polish, and assets that were not as advertised. Oh, but wait. Massive day one patch. All better, right?
No, because nothing can fix this game at this point and the bad news for Aliens fans aside from the fact that these mountebanks squandered the license is that all of the potential for this to be THE Aliens game is now gone. It’s depressing. Because when you’ve got that pulse rifle and the game’s sickly-looking, hard-to-actually-see Xenos clamber toward you and you hear that sound, you hear what might have been. When you flip up the useless motion detector and hear that distinctive ping, you hear what we SHOULD have gotten from this game. At least they sampled the sounds right.
I almost hate to have written this piece because this game needs to be buried in the desert next to those E.T. cartridges. It really is that bad- and this is coming from the guy that gave Brink a glowing review even though it was released in such a rough state. At least that game had some innovative ideas, frequently compelling gameplay, and a sense that it was made by people that actually give a shit about their product.
Funny to see golden boy developer Gearbox falling so hard on this, another Duke Nukem-class disaster- it’s pretty clear that there’s an A-team and a B-team there. Only one of which works on Borderlands. But hell, for all we know at this stage, a Gearbox employee never touched the code.
At the end of the day, it’s just another bad game. It’ll be mocked and laughed at for a while, then forgotten. Cast off into the Gamestop discount bin with an unceremonious $2.99 sticker on it. Word of advice- at that point, don’t buy the $30 season pass. But what won’t go away is what this game represents- bad development, bad design, and dishonest marketing at the highest levels of the industry. The people involved with making this game and putting it on our shelves, and then asking for our money for it, know exactly what it is that they shipped. They know this is not a game up to standards. This is not a product anyone would stand by. They’re relying on you being too stupid to realize that you’re a sucker before it’s too late and your only recourse is a $12 trade-in credit if you act, like, by Saturday.
I don’t have a cute Aliens quote to go with all of this. Doesn’t deserve it.