I know it’s been in gaming news all week, but I wanted to chime in on the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines. No, this isn’t going to be a game review; it’s just going to be an editorial rant. And yes, I’m going to vent some anger and frustration at Gearbox.
First of all, I have to say that I didn’t get a review copy, so I only started playing two days after it was out (and I pre-ordered, but more on that later). So, game sites that had reviews out on release day beat me to the punch. That’s not normally a big deal, but in this case, if you’re wondering why I’m only now saying anything, it’s because other reviewers got the jump on me in terms of time. And, in this case, I was just a normal, paying customer like the average gamer who bought it on Steam.
So what’s wrong with Aliens: Colonial Marines? I’m glad you asked, because I have an itemized list (major spoilers ahead).
Someone screwed up the game’s installation, and it wasn’t me
I pre-ordered the game because I’m a big fan of most things related to Aliens. In fact, the scariest FPS I’ve ever played was Rebellion’s Alien vs Predator from 1999 (not the 2010 version, which I bought during a Steam sale and hated with a passion). So, like an optimistic idiot, I pre-ordered so I could play it the day it came out, and even get the pre-order goodies.
Then it came out. I came home, double checked the files, and started the game. Crash to desktop. And so, instead of playing on the first day, I had to wander around two technical support forums until I found a solution to the problem: delete the app-cache folder in Steam’s directory. This is an easy fix (and I probably should’ve just done it without even checking tech support posts, but when something isn’t working, I like to get official solutions first). But the fact that Sega had to give this advice to a substantial number of gamers tells me that someone screwed up the download and installation files. Whether it was Steam or Sega or Gearbox is something I can’t answer, but I know that it was a bad start to the gaming experience for a number of paying customers.
The graphics are nothing like they appeared in early footage
To be clear, I’ve always said that graphics aren’t the most important part of a game. However, if you advertise them in a demo one way, and they look completely different in the release version, then you’ve engaged in unethical business practices.
Quality aside, the graphics lack something else that the demo had. In the demo the visibility was poorer, thanks to particles in the air and interesting lighting effects. In the game, visibility is just plain better because there’s less smoke and lighting reflecting off the shiny, glossy surfaces found in so many environments. So, even though the quality is less important, the real problem is that the actual game footage from Aliens: Colonial Marines is less atmospheric than that from the demo. The demo footage, which influenced me to buy the game, had a very Aliens-like quality to it. It was kind of scary. In the game itself, the entire feel of any level with xenomorph stuff (eggs, mucus, corpses and so on) feels wrong because they’re too well lit, there’s not enough smoke/particles/off-kilter lighting, and the glossy features of the alien stuff overwhelm the darkness.
The game is called a true sequel to Aliens, but Gearbox pointlessly adds stuff from Alien 3
If you were going to make either a movie or a game and call it a true sequel to Aliens, would it make any sense to include anything from Alien 3? I wouldn’t think so. And yet, the game pointlessly references the 1992 film. In the opening of the game, the dropship pilot even points out that the Sulaco was last seen in orbit around Fury 161, then she asks why the Sulaco is back in orbit around LV-426. Not only does it seem stupid that Weyland-Yutani would capture the Sulaco and then tow it back to LV-426, but it also makes the plot needlessly complicated. The simpler way to write that part of the story would be to not bother mentioning anything from Alien 3. You could then write a line somewhere that says, “And the Sulaco failed to leave LV-426 because of damage to the ship from the fight with the xenomorph queen. Acid got into some critical subsystems, and the computer failed to execute its automated commands to take the ship back to its base.” This way you have a reason for the ship to be in orbit around LV-426, it makes sense given what happened at the end of Aliens, and you don’t have to reference other movies and then give a convoluted explanation as to why the ship came back.
Did I also mention that Hicks is still alive? Colonial Marines opens with a transmission from him to Marine headquarters saying that all the Marines are dead, and that the Sulaco needs help. This opening scene makes no sense when the game references Alien 3, which opens with a scene that indicates both Hicks and Newt are dead. The game doesn’t really bother to explain this at all. But it wouldn’t need to be explained if you just ignored Alien 3.