It has become achingly clear that the Gearbox developed (with or without scare quotes...) Aliens: Colonial Marines (A:CM) is a colossal stinker of a game. Which, it being a licensed game and those usually being not that great notwithstanding, came as something of a shock to a lot of people. The buzz the various previews, trailers and interviews had created sounded so good. Not too long ago, it seemed the developers were really behind this game with all their heart. More so, it seemed they had truly understood what it was that made the Alien movies so great. Until the game's release, that is.
Apparently, Aliens: Colonial Marines is even below what I'd call "Call of Duty with Giger-designed monsters in space". Instead it plays more like a Medal of Honor: Warfighter with poor imitations of Giger-designed monsters and random humans who shoot at you in space". It's a game with little heart, and no soul.
In a day and age where you rarely see the bigger publications tarnish a AAA release with anything less than maybe a 6/10, A:CM—across the board (well, except for one curiously outlying contender)—is receiving what feels like a fair rating for once, a rating that actually utilizes the full extent of the 1-10 scale we’ve come to love (or love to hate) so much.
It’s been awhile since I’ve seen what should have been a big game torn to pieces by the critics. What the hell went wrong with the game? Apparently everything. For one, Gearbox reportedly outsourced the single player campaign to an outside studio. Which in and on itself might not seem like that big a deal, but given TimeGate Studios gameography so far—some FEAR expansions and the hit-and-miss multiplayer shooter Section 8—it was a curious choice.
But not only did those guys fail to deliver an Aliens game worthy of the franchise. That would have almost been forgivable—people enjoy Aliens for different reasons, after all. Some like it for the ragtag team of Colonial Marines and their witty bantering and memorable one-liners. Making a game that feels more like Call of Duty where you shoot wave after wave of acid blooded freaks instead of brown and/or Russian people? Yeah, that might have not been something for me. But it would have been forgivable to some extent.
Of course I would prefer a game that focuses on the other, more subtle aspects of the 1986 movie. The "Vietnam in space" aspect. The "armed to the teeth and getting smoked anyway" aspect. The military horror. A game that looked and talked like Call of Duty—initially—but essentially didn’t turn into a haunted house / shooting gallery with Xenomorphs. But instead turned into, well, a true horror game. A game where our real American heroes, despite their combat expertise and high tech gear just plainly don’t stand a fighting chance against a superior opponent. Maybe such a game wouldn’t be a lot of fun. But, well, let’s face it, being Hudson, Hicks or Vasquez on LV 426 was a lot of things, but as soon as shit hit the fan, it sure wasn’t fun. Well, not for the characters anyway.
But I digress. A:CM is essentially a severely broken haunted house. Not only is the overall game design and inspiration weak, the craftsmanship is too. The execution is lacking. It’s not just a tired and boring concept, it is also a broken game, badly put together. So not a Call of Duty, which, for all its faults, is a series that at least as far as pure craftsmanship goes, is rock solid.
Interestingly, with six years in development, this game can’t have been cheap to produce. So neither lack of funding nor lack of time can be made as excuses. At least, the game being a broken mess is not excusable by either. The lack of inspiration and interesting game design? Well, as that curiously outlying reviewer on EGM writes, he thought, after seeing the movie that it was "rad". Well!
Maybe this game was conceived as something for people like the aforementioned reviewer—shooting up them monsters, one bullet at the time. When I grow up, I want to be a Space Marine. Oh, sorry, Colonial Marine. Nevermind, Games Workshop. My bad. Nope, that is not the way to make a game based on this franchise. Sure, it’s the easy way, make it into a fun, harmless roller coaster ride. Instead this franchise needs a game that doesn't fit the traditional definition of "fun". It needs a game that focuses on the "maybe they don’t show up on infrared!" and the "that’s impossible, that would be INSIDE THIS ROOM!” aspects of the movie, the slowly dawning realization that those damn creatures have you by the balls and chances of survival are in fact pretty damn slim.
It can be done, and it actually has been done. On the Nintendo DS there is this little gem called Aliens: Infestation, that manages to be not-fun and scary, that features the permanent death of individual characters and thus really insane—and in this case just about right—levels of tension. Of course it’s just a little DS game, not a AAA blockbuster hopeful that can’t take any chances and has to play it safe, but it surely proves that Aliens is viable source material for much, much more than just a Xenomorph shooting gallery. It’s probably not a "rad" experience as that one reviewer would describe, probably lacking the instant mass appeal—but then again, let’s just see how long A:CM survives in the wild. Hopefully it tanks, sending a signal that garbage like this doesn’t sell. We will see.