This weekend, I played Aliens: Colonial Marines to completion. Not because I was particularly enjoying the game, but because the furore around it has been palpable, and I wanted to be able to have an informed opinion on the matter (I’m a prick like that).
What we’re seeing is an overblown negative reaction based on journalists' disappointment.
There was a weighty promise made by Randy Pitchford of Gearbox Software back in 2011 accompanied by some impressive visuals and a final product which didn’t nearly live up to the game people had in their heads.
Now, I’ve complained before that we gamers are an entitled lot, whinging and complaining at all points possible that even the very best of games out there suck. Sometimes we’re spoiled little shits. Other times, we have a point.
I was at the E3 2011 presentation hearing Pitchford deliver his speech on why Aliens was in-f**king-credible and his game would be just as good – a direct sequel, in fact, to the second film. Nice.
Footage of that demo, after E3 and after PAX that year, made its way online. In the explosion of hate being directed at A:CM Jim Sterling posted on The Escapist that same footage with his own commentary, pointing out specifically which things were simply not in the final game.
It's fine to criticise it for its actual and many faults, but this isn't the second coming of Hitler. I feel emotions have stunted objectivity in this case. Even if it isn't a good game.
There were many things.
In fact, almost all of the demo features events which didn’t happen. Problem is, that in itself doesn’t constitute false advertising. Early demos of games (as Sterling suggests) are often purpose made for building hype at E3. Often, those demo levels later turn out not to have a role in the game and must be drastically changed or scrapped entirely.
This isn’t because publishers and developers want to pull the wool over your eyes, it’s simply the reality of development.
You could argue, of course, that producing CG footage which looks like gameplay (I’m looking at you, Sony) is such a ploy, but if what you’re showing is in-game, everything ought to be taken as ‘not representative of final product.’
In this instance, the quality of the lip synching, movement and AI of the aliens, sound effects and weight of the weapons and one particularly impressive animation of a xeno tackling a powerloader weren’t specific events that just happened to be omitted; they were examples of typical gameplay quality.
So either they made the conscious choice to downgrade the quality of all in-game animations, sound effects and more (for some magical unknown reason) or what was shown wasn’t actually as in-game as people were being led to believe.
People are angry about this, but some of the anti-hype has gotten carried away.
If you listen to the horrific reviews, however, you get a horrific tale of a Cthulhu-esque monster eating your babies while causing a fourth crusade in which specifically orphans are the targets of mass genocide.
Aliens “proceeds to take a long hot piss all over the established series chronology,” says Eurogamer.
It’s a “shameful, at times broken, and consistently woeful waste of potential,” says Xbox360 Achievements.
Or how about trying this one on for size from Games.on.net?
“Aliens: Colonial Marines is an embarrassment that should not have been released. The exact machinations that transpired to half bake this foetid blob of a shooter will no doubt be the focus of many feature articles in the months to come.”
Perhaps the grand mack-daddy of quotes, though, comes from Australian site Dusty Cartridge, which says: “If you place no value on your government’s system of currency, I’d still recommend straight up destroying it over buying this game.”
If you believe some Twitter folk, the Aliens in this game don’t even walk on walls or the ceiling. Things which are factually provably incorrect (the Aliens very much do crawl across all surfaces) are fine to assert (and get away with) because hating on the game is given leeway to go as far as it likes.
Bottom line – journalists everywhere are pissed off. They’re pissed off because they were told this was going to be THE Aliens game of our time, they’re pissed off because reviews didn’t go live to correct the positive previews until the game was on sale (later in Australia, given the street date break), and they’re pissed off because they feel lied to that a Gearbox title wasn’t quite as developed by Gearbox as they’d been led to believe (whether or not it’s true, that’s the perception).
In short, led by Mr Sterling, the journalistic community feels like they’ve been duped into thinking the game was going to be balls-out incredible. I previewed the game myself, and I too was pretty positive on it. The game isn’t as good as the rather more polished sections we were shown. Most of the game is flat. It’s a flat game. It’s worthy of mediocre scores because it doesn’t really do much to innovate and it’s just pretty damn generic.
But it’s much more fun, as was pointed out to me yesterday in this clip from Ratatouille, to write horribly negative reviews than to write ‘meh’ ones. MUCH more fun.
So I’ll say this. It’s rather boring, cookie-cutter stuff, and has some serious problems with its animation, AI, the graphics are incredibly rigid and stuff at best and there’s a lot of this game which is just filler.
It’s fine to criticise it for its actual and many faults, but this isn’t the second coming of Hitler. I feel emotions have stunted objectivity in this case. Even if it isn’t a good game.
By Leigh Harris