Published on March 25th, 2013 | by Cory Wells, Contributor
Games That Could Have Been Great: Episode IV- Aliens: Colonial Marines
Released back in February, Aliens: Colonial Marines saw a long development cycle thanks in part to frequent delays and Gearbox working on other titles. The end result was a dull experience that could have been a lot better.
Sega obtained the rights in back in 2006 to produce games for the Aliens franchise. A few days later, Sega assigned Gearbox to develop the game as a new, standalone title. Code named Pecan during development, the title was officially named Aliens: Colonial Marines in Feb. 2008. The game was delayed due to Gearbox layoffs, however, speaking exclusively to the Official PlayStation Magazine, Gearbox president Randy Pitchford stated this was not the case. He cited the addition of actual actors to play roles were the reasons for those delays.
“From the development side, we always think about the scope of what we want to achieve, the time we believe it will take to accomplish what we want to achieve and the cost of what it is going to take to get there. We typically pick one of these points as inflexible, knowing that the other points must be flexible in order to make it work.”
“In our case, we’re committed to our vision for this Aliens game and so we’ve approached progress more in terms of the order of operations rather than from the point of view of focusing on the deadlines for each phase of development.”-CEO of Gearbox, Randy Pitchford
The game drew scrutiny due to Gearbox outsourcing development to third party companies to help compensate for the mismanagement. The game changed hands multiple times during the cycle. Gearbox developers were also told to focus on the Borderlands franchise, which would inevitably hurt the continuation of Aliens. The result was a dull and buggy campaign. This is aside from the uninteresting multiplayer that could have simply been much better.
What it did right:
Games based on the Aliens franchise need to exist. However, it’s sad that the most commendable version was released on the Atari Jaguar. Those are standards that should easily be met by today’s graphical possibilities, but have yet to be done. It’s obvious that Gearbox and the mysterious “others” used Doom 3 as a template, which is not a bad thing. It’s also worth noting that the voice acting and dialogue are solid.
Much of the game sets an excellent atmosphere that focuses on tension and fear. Your player is given a flashlight and much of the game remains dark. Most of the musical score is fitting and adds to that mood. Due to the focus on the dark atmosphere, the player is given a motion detector as a second set of eyes. This is used to identify Xenomorphs (the common aliens seen specifically in the “Aliens” film) that you cannot see, or other opposing soldiers. Adding to the reflective association of the movie, this device is further used to provide a sense of fear to the player as something is moving towards them.
There are plentiful amounts of weapons included in-game from the film, including their sound effects. The game does include actual actors and is a “true” sequel to the franchise.
The game features a multiplayer where the player can choose between Colonial Marines or different Xenomorphs. Each Xenomorph holds different abilities. There is a ton of unlockable content throughout the game, which seems like it would entice players to return to the multiplayer aspect. Unlockable guns, costumes and an additional Xenomorph can ultimately give the player different elements to use online.
The Xenomorph also uses a thermal environment that can spot marines from far away and through walls, which is pretty awesome.
There are four multiplayer modes headlined by Team Deathmatch. Extermination focuses on the Marines attempting to set bombs in egg infested areas, while the Xenomorphs protect the areas. The Escape mode involves linear progression having the Marines trying to survive and reach a checkpoint. Lastly, the Survivor mode makes Marines survive for up to six minutes and permanently dying if killed, whereas the Xenomorphs can respawn. Also, the campaign features a co-op mode to go through, so there is plenty to keep busy.
What it did wrong:
Everything that seemed good on paper was executed poorly. For starters, the fact that the developers had to use a “template” to help create a game doesn’t seem like a good idea. The atmosphere and gameplay is ruined by a god-awful A.I., including enemies that just aren’t that scary to begin with. There are virtually no boss encounters, and mundane enemy waves become redundant. It’s laughable to look over at your A.I. team and just see them shooting nothing, getting stuck at a door way or in a trash can.
The game runs on the Unreal engine and looks extremely dated, but hey–it runs smooth. The game began development six years prior to its release means a very early build of the Unreal engine was used. It seems as Gearbox just wanted this game to be optimized rather than add detail to a dated graphics engine. While at times the game looks OK, it almost seems like last-gen CGI. At times, the dark atmosphere is almost too dark to see where you are on the screen. The game itself also just feels floaty with off balance physics.
The increase of difficulty in the game means the player is dealt more damage, as compared to smarter or increased enemies. The game might offer the movie sound effects, but you will pull your hair out listening to the machine gun over and over again. The machine gun fire sound sample is pulled from the movie, but becomes overdone as its heard throughout the game. Offering all the different guns is great, too. But, what’s the point if you can run through the game killing enemies with two shotgun blows?
A lot of titles can suffer from a dull single player campaign, but make it up to the player with a decent multiplayer. With all the unique modes offered, it could surely make up for the poor A.I. and two shotgun blast kills, right? Nope.
Playing as a Xenomorph, there is one linear way to go to confront the enemy and the opposing team is usually waiting. Anything that is a projectile, such as acid, can easily be blocked by the smallest object on the map. In order to hit someone the spit it has to be spot on. This wouldn’t be as difficult if the attack actually had range. Melees are weakened due to an off-balancing with Marines having the upper-hand. Not to mention if you’re new online, anyone that has been playing for a while with unlocked perks will dominate your noob self.
I believe if you were to say, “Screw everything, I just want to play an Aliens game!” you still wouldn’t enjoy this title.
At first, with the atmosphere, it seems great. Then, the Xenomorphs coming to end your life start to become redundant and lame. You might think, “Wait, I can play as a Xenomorph on the multiplayer!?” The reaction is met with frustration and is utterly annoying.
The game could’ve been great had more time been spent on it rather than being put on a back-burner for six years. The result is a generic, almost “straight to DVD” gaming experience leaving some with buyer’s remorse. There is a Nintendo Wii U port on its way, and I honestly don’t see the point. The best bet for a sequel is for Sega to either develop in-house, or get another company to work on it, preferably one that isn’t bothered with big name AAA titles.