Aliens: Colonial Marines is an awful game, there’s precious little disagreement about that outside of Gearbox Software. It is so bad that its day one patch focused largely on making doors work properly. Also, Xbox 360 owners have found that clearing their system cache wipes their game saves, causing them to lose all single player data and their multiplayer level. A new game-breaking bug or glitch reveals itself on a daily basis. Colonial Marines is an M.C. Escher painting of failure. The longer you stare at it, the more layers of ugliness it exposes to you.
But every developer makes bad games from time to time. It’s the lessons they learn from bad games that make developers better and restore gamers’ faith. With games as in real life, it’s how people handle adversity that defines them. Gearbox brass is not earning our confidence.
Gearbox President Randy Pitchford has asked for only positive feelings to be posted on his Twitter feed. I agree that he shouldn’t respond to offensive commentary that questions his lineage, but if the folks who just handed you $60 of their hard-earned money can’t ask honest questions, what is the purpose of interacting with them? What Pitchford is asking for is an echo chamber that will give him a distorted view of this game’s quality. Colonial Marines isn’t one of those games with wildly different review scores that you need to try and see if it’s “for you.” It has been universally panned for basic things such as horrible AI, an unsatisfying campaign and yes, doors not working properly. For a game that has been in development in some form for six years, this is appalling.
Let’s talk about the time frame. In the time it took to get Colonial Marines finished, Gearbox Software released 11 games. That includes multiple installments of Borderlands and Brothers in Arms, not to mention long running industry joke Duke Nukem Forever. That’s right, the game synonymous with vaporware made it onto shelves before Colonial Marines.
Not that Duke Nukem Forever was in any way a better game than Aliens: Colonial Marines. Games that are delayed for years are never any good. We need a standing industry rule that a game delayed for more than four years is just outright axed. It will save us all a lot of grief in the long run.
There’s also the troublesome matter of the demo we saw for the game. We know demos, particularly the hands off ones, are glorified commercials. Still, I don’t remember the last time I saw such a huge difference between the demo for a game and the final project. The Colonial Marines Gearbox demoed is almost a different game than what they released. Everything from lighting to environmental effects looks far, far better than what we got.
“The aliens can climb on the walls, the ceilings, it’s all driven by sophisticated artificial intelligence,” Pitchford explains in his narration.
Our reviewer Jenni Lada had an entirely different experience. She describes aliens running in straight lines, over and over again, going in for the kill towards the closest marine. Sometime between the demo and the game’s release, the xenomorphs apparently devolved into this:
There, readers, is what Gearbox Software reduced one of sci-fi’s most iconic creatures to. If it’s an Aliens game and you don’t get the xenomorphs right, the game is going to turn out like this. We’ve at least learned what happened with the demo. It was running on a high-end PC, and nobody at the time seemed worried the final product wouldn’t come close to matching up. Customers that bought the game on the strength of the demo feel like they’ve been lied to. They should feel that way, because they were. Even Peter “Unicorns will deliver Fable to your front door step by way of rainbow” Molyneux never over-promised and under-delivered this badly.
As I said earlier, even the best developers have blips on their record. The thing with Gearbox is their recent releases include the much maligned Colonial Marines, Duke Nukem Forever, Samba de Amigo and James Bond 007: Nightfire. The Borderlands games were great sure, and Borderlands 2 especially was Game of the Year material. But the developer’s other releases and the way it has handled this Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle should give us pause. It’s fair to wonder if Borderlands is the aberration and Colonial Marines is who Gearbox really is.