Aliens: Colonial Marines raises serious questions about Gearbox Software

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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.

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  • sprinter27

    I agree with most of your article, but it’s not fair to judge the game with that animated gif.

    It’s a stealth stage. Those are special types of alien. They are blind, react to sound only. You got no weapons and need to sneak past them. It’s actually a better part of the whole campaign. A bit scary with tense atmosphere.

    I do think DNF and ACM showed what Gearbox really is. Why Borderlands can be exceptionally good? Well, if rumors were true, Borderlands development has more funds to spend than it was supposed to have.

  • Brian Allen

    I get what you’re saying, Sprinter. But nature is full of predatory creatures that hunt primarily by sound, and they don’t look much like that.

    • Steve

      Those are the aliens that survived the Atmo blowing up at the end of Aliens. They are mutated, and sure should be able to hunt by sound alone (as most believe that’s how aliens do it anyways), but they are flawed and they are believed to be in constant pain. They only stay alive to try to help the hive one last time.

      The Raven seems to be Hudson’s mutated chest burster.

      I agree with the other poster. That was probably the best part of the game. It was pretty creepy.

  • Wonderboy2402

    The portion with the blistered and dying aliens was probably he only stage I thought was really interesting. They started to strike some cool horror vibes as you were unarmed and in the dark, surrounded by the alien husks.

    What was a shame is one, they didn’t reveal why they were in that state. And secondly, the aliens were not that sensitive to the marines prescience… They would bump into you and still,not attack. So it was a great scene but also pretty miserable with the Ai there.

    Overall the game was a let down, but some things were at least interesting new takes on the aliens.