I say we take off, nuke the game from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure…
So the dreaded summer drought is finally here, rearing its ugly head each year and condemning gamers worldwide by forcing them to socialise with the outside world. Seeing as we’re in full swing of the dry season, and that there are no solid releases coming out until the latter half of Q3, I thought I would take the opportunity to hark back to a time in which a game that was massively hyped deflated quicker than a flan in a cupboard upon its release.
The Alien Franchise has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs, alongside a colourful development history across all the mediums that it’s been represented in. Most notably in cinema, Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens are widely regarded as the hallmark standard of the franchise, with the sub-par Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection being the brunt of many people’s jokes. Most recently Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant have taken the series in some interesting new directions, albeit mixed critical reception. Differing opinions on the franchise as a whole aside, there is one representation of the series that received an almost universally negative reception upon its release, Gearbox Software’s 2013 FPS flop, Aliens: Colonial Marines.
The Alien series has always been one of my all time favourite horror franchises, couple that with a love for video games as a medium and a concept like an Aliens: Colonial Marines is a nerd’s dream come true, unfortunately, it’s anything but. Much like the franchise, Aliens: Colonial Marines had a very sketchy development cycle, beginning at some point during 2001. Originally dubbed for the PlayStation 2 (and to be developed by the now defunct Check Six Studios) the game hit a rocky patch during development and was cancelled before its intended release. There was no further mention of the game until December 2006, in which SEGA purchased the electronic rights to the franchise from 20th Century Fox; soon after they announced that a new title was in the works set within the Alien universe. Codenamed Pecan, the project was officially named as Aliens: Colonial Marines in February 2008 and would later go on to development hell, with the game constantly being delayed over a period of six years, leading up to its eventual release on the 11th February 2013.
Aliens: Colonial Marines 2001: The Xenomorphs looking like they’re about to drop the hottest album of 2179.
The game was billed as a canonical sequel to Aliens and saw the player revisiting many of the areas that were in the original film, alongside this was an original story taking place around 17 weeks after the events of Aliens and Alien 3. Gearbox also attributed a number of the game’s delays to the fact that they managed to get a number of the film’s original cast back on board to reprise their roles for the game’s multiplayer, giving a strong indication that they were passionate about delivering a game that was true to both the movie and the fans; unfortunately this was the last of their intentions. In the weeks leading up to the release of the game Gearbox released a number of developer diary videos going on about the passion that the studio had put into the production of the game, and while they may have set out with the best of intentions, what would follow was named by many as the worst game of 2013. The videos themselves (1,2,3) unfortunately also came across heavily scripted, and eventually boiled down to be nothing more than a tool for over-hyping an unfinished game (which I myself bought into, dropping £70 on the collector’s edition like a complete mug). This was, unfortunately, a by-product of the gaming industry in its current climate, with developers over-hyping and releasing half finished games based on the premise that they make a large profit in the initial pre-orders alone, and then worry about finishing the game through dozens of patches sometime after.
To say the game was an unpolished, buggy mess upon release is a colossal understatement; with a ridiculous story that attempted to ret-con the overarching canon on numerous fronts, with the biggest being the return of Corporal Hicks himself (voiced by original actor Michael Biehn) somehow escaping his demise in Alien 3, with the how and the why of his miraculous survival being left for the paid DLC (anyone noticing a pattern here?). Even overlooking the asinine, fan-fiction-esque story, the retail game was completely different when compared to the ‘actual gameplay’ stage demo that was presented during E3 2012, with numerous gameplay features and key atmospheric lighting effects being absent from the finished product. Another essential feature of an Alien game is the AI of the Xenomorphs themselves, another area where Colonial Marines falls short. The Aliens run towards you with the self-awareness of a self-destructing potato with legs, and in no way represent the brutal, calculating creatures of the original motion picture. The below video from VideoGamerTV showcases exactly what I’m referring to:
Further adding fuel to the fire for SEGA was a comment that came from Michael Biehn himself, who stated at length in an article with Game Informer that the entire project was not fun to work on, and that it “seemed kind of passionless” he then went on to say that “in movies, television, and the gaming world, you get some people that are really, really passionate and some people that are just going through the paces. They think that because they have a brand name they’re going to get a hit game or hit movie out of it. That certainly was the situation on [Aliens: Colonial Marines]”. I can confirm first hand that his mind has not changed on the matter, as I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Biehn at the Sheffield Film and Comic Con in 2015 that he was a guest at. After fan-boying for a minute or two and getting a lithograph of Corporal Hicks autographed, I spoke with him at length about his role in Aliens: Colonial Marines and about how he is not really a player of video games and that the last time he played them was on a TV version of Pong; I then asked as to what he thought about Alien: Isolation (Creative Assembly’s excellent horror title) to which he had no idea what I was referring to; after explaining the nature and plot of the game, Biehn seemed genuinely interested (something very rare from celebrity signings in this day and age) as to whether he actually went on to play Alien: Isolation is something I don’t know, but I like to think that he did and that it restored his faith in video games as a medium for storytelling.
Aliens: Colonial Marines ended up being a PR nightmare for Sega in the months following the games release, with accusations of outsourcing most of the game’s development to other studios, as well as using funds from A:CM on other projects were aimed at the developer, Gearbox Software. The situation eventually came to a head when both Sega and Gearbox Software were embroiled in a lawsuit that claimed they falsely advertised the game in comparison to trade show demonstrations that were billed by Gearbox co-founder Randy Pitchford as ‘actual gameplay’. The case went on for over 2 years resulting in Sega and the plaintiffs reaching an agreement in the sum of $1.25 million, which was to be paid out to consumers who purchased the game before the 13th February 2013 (I never saw my £70.00 again). Soon after, the lawsuit lost its class-action status with Gearbox Software being dropped from the case in early 2015. To this day Randy Pitchford still denies any wrong doing in the case of Aliens: Colonial Marines, and at the 2015 Brighton Develop Conference called anyone who complained about the game “sadists” likening them to “the person who’s got to stand on the sandcastle” indicating that the fool has somewhat of a bruised ego after the whole affair.
Thankfully, on the other hand, the Alien Franchise is still going strong; it recovered its reputation somewhat thanks to Alien: Isolation, and is doing pretty well in the box office with Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. Whatever the future holds for the franchise is anyone’s guess, but in its current state, it could definitely be worse off.
Everyone wanted to be Cpl. Dwayne Hicks when they were younger.