Last week, we heard that Aliens: Colonial Marines co-developers TimeGate had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following poor reception of the game and a false advertising lawsuit. As of today, Kotaku reports that its sources are saying the studio's staff has been laid off.
The reason for the closure may have to do with an attempt by Colonial Marines publisher SouthPeak to force a liquidation of the studio in arbitration. We have no official word yet on whether this is the case, but we are continuing to follow the story as more details become available. TimeGate, founded in 1998, was probably best known prior to Colonial Marines for the sci-fi FPS Section 8.
TimeGate was known to be working on a new, free-to-play project called Minimum, which was scheduled to enter a closed alpha last month. The fate of the project is unknown, but a total liquidation of the studio would seem to leave little chance of its eventual release.
In the face of false advertising claims, both Gearbox and SEGA are keeping their cool. Following news earlier this week that a Californian law firm will file a class action lawsuit claiming the companies falsely advertised Aliens: Colonial Marines, both have written off the claims as without merit. In statements provided to Kotaku, both companies shrug the claims off, with varying degrees of flippancy.
"SEGA cannot comment on specifics of ongoing litigation, but we are confident that the lawsuit is without merit and we will defend it vigorously," a SEGA spokesperson said. Meanwhile, Gearbox worded their response more severely. "Attempting to wring a class action lawsuit out of a demonstration is beyond meritless. We continue to support the game, and will defend the rights of entertainers to share their works-in-progress without fear of frivolous litigation."
As reported, the suit is claiming damages for those who purchased the game both on its release date and as a pre-order, on the grounds that those consumers were mislead by early demo footage. SEGA even acknowledged early last month that the early trailers "did not accurately reflect the final content of the game," and that they will mark early footage as works-in-progress going forward.
All manner of outrage followed the launch of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Not only was the finished product pretty average, but it paled in comparison to early demo footage. Many felt they'd been rorted. That sentiment will be tested in a court of law soon, because Californian law firm Edelson LLC yesterday filed a suit on behalf of one Damion Perrine, claiming that demos of the game at events including PAX and E3 were not indicative of the final product.
The issue seems to center around press embargoes, interestingly enough: the suit insinuates that these restrictions prevented customers from assessing whether the game was worth their money in due time. "Unfortunately for their fans, Defendants never told anyone - consumers, industry critics, reviewers, or reporters - that their 'actual gameplay' demonstration advertising campaign bore little resemblance to the retail product that would eventually be sold to a large community of unwitting purchasers," the suit reads . The embargo for Aliens: Colonial Marines lifted on the morning of the game's launch.
The suit is claiming damages for those who purchased the game both on its release date and as a pre-order. It also draws attention to a Tweet from Gearbox president Randy Pitchford, who Tweeted after the game's launch that the complaints were "understood and fair". It'll be interesting to see how this saga ends, and what ramifications - if any - it will have on the way publishers handle pre-release demo footage.
In response to an investigation from the UK's Advertising Standards Agency, Sega Europe have acknowledged a consumer complaint that the promotional trailers for Aliens: Colonial Marines didn't match the final quality of the game. Reddit user subpardave submitted the complaint to the ASA in response to what he calls the "absurd" difference between in-game quality and the earlier, better looking, demo footage.
"We contacted Sega Europe to discuss the issue," the ASA wrote, in response to the complaint. "They explained that their online trailers used demo footage, created using the in-game engine. Sega Europe understood the objections raised about the quality of the game in relation to the trailers, but explained that they weren't aware of these issues when the trailers were produced, in some cases several months before release.
"Sega Europe acknowledged your objection that the trailers did not accurately reflect the final content of the game. They agreed to add a disclaimer, both on their website and in all relevant YouTube videos, which explains that the trailers depict footage of the demo versions of the game."
It's hard to tell in the light of dry official documentation, but my reading of that above paragraph is that Sega have acknowledged the objection exists, and not necessarily the contents of it and arguments behind it. If so, it's an ultimately meaningless sentence. I can acknowledge that there's a cup of tea on my desk - because there is - but that doesn't address the underlying problems of that cup of tea: namely that I've run out of sugar.
The added disclaimer, now present on the game's website and YouTube trailers, simply states: "The trailer footage shown uses the in-game engine, and represents a work in progress." Of course, from that statement, you'd assume the final product was an improvement. But it's not like there hasn't been warning to the contrary.
How do you solve a problem like Maria Aliens Colonial Marines? You should probably start by obliterating the game code from the face of the Earth - well, it is the only way to be sure. Gearbox haven't quite gone that far, but they have issued a massive, nearly 4GB patch that fixes and tweaks a bunch of stuff, including those awful textures, that awful AI, and many more awful, awful things. It won't make the game look the way it was supposed to, but Colonial Marines should be marginally less terrible the next time you load it up on Steam.
In addition to better protecting the game's save data, fixing the Xenos in various ways, and - best of all - " some issues that could cause improper warping for co-op players", the patch notes boast of visual improvements and a fix for Ripley's semi-sentient flamethrower bonus weapon, which "would sometimes fire continuously without player input". Now I'm no expert, but that's not something you generally want a flamethrower to do.
After a break, we're back. Chris, Tom Senior and Marsh discuss Antichamber, DmC, The Witcher, Destiny, the inner workings of Valve and a game called Half-Life 2 that is pretty good aparrently.
Also featuring an ass palace, places where one may or may not take a horse, the playground circular saw craze of the 1990s, a wonderous squirrel experience, and possibly the most inept attempt to begin a podcast since the last time we tried to begin a podcast.
We also talk about Rome II, Aliens: Colonial Marines, and the games of David Johnston.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or download the MP3 directly. Follow PC Gamer UK on Twitter to be informed when we're putting the call out for questions. Alternatively, follow us as individuals:
Tom Senior - @pcgludo Marsh - @marshdavies Chris - @cthursten
Our review of Antichamber. Smudged Cat games. Half-Life 2 is a good computer game! Who knew. No link here: just registering my surprise. Again. Our review of the petition-tastic DmC: Devil May Cry. Some pictures of Destiny, Bungie's game about a magic space ball or something. A blurry screenshot of whatever Respawn Entertainment are doing. Via Eurogamer: the PS4 will not block used games. MAXIMUM SQUIRRELS "Nine out of ten." - Martin 'Marsh' Davies Our Aliens: Colonial Marines review, Kotaku's report on its troubled development, and a xenomorph with a tiny little invisible piano. Someone call a doctor. Chris has a case of not-really-thinking-this-through.
Unknown World's Natural Selection 2 has kept its horned head low throughout Aliens: Colonial Marines' pasting from critics, but in a forum post, Unknown's PR head Hugh Jeremy now says the NS2 team feels only sadness in place of its initial awe and even fear of the bigger-budget competitor.
"The degree to which we feared Colonial Marines was, in hindsight, crazy," Jeremy writes. "Potential release dates for NS2 were discussed with reference to ACM's potential release date. Around the lunch table, we pondered the lambasting reviewers would give us if they were simultaneously reviewing a AAA mega-budget aliens vs. marines title.
"At shows like GamesCom, PAX East, and E3 I walked around the ACM super-booths in awe. I spoke to ACM PR reps, and they had no idea what NS was. I watched the demos (especially the E3 one) and thought, 'How can we possibly stand up to these guys on the aliens vs. marine stage?' I walked around the Power Loader in multiple countries and shook my head at the poor luck of having to face this Sega/Gearbox monster in our launch window."
Jeremy sympathizes with ACM's dismal performance, but he's also bummed over the fact that a game with "a launch trailer that probably cost more than 30 percent of the entire development budget of NS2" failed on delivering the Aliens experience sought after from fans.
"I'm filled with sadness," he states. "Sadness at being an Aliens fan and not being able to experience LV-426 like I had imagined I would. Sadness that we spent so much time being afraid of a game that we have beaten on Metacritic by 30 points. With that marketing machine, with that moneypot, with that kind of development time, with that kind of bullet-proof intellectual property, ACM should have been an absolute hit."
Responding to a suggestion from an NS2 player asking if Unknown Worlds would capitalize on the void left by ACM, Jeremy flatly put such an idea to rest, writing, "No, UWE won't be milking the poor reception of ACM. To do so would make us wankers, and it would be dishonorable. Remember when Medal of Honor: Warfighter exploded? Activision ran a targeted ad campaign hitting every single Warfighter keyword with Black Ops II pre-rolls and banners. I'm sure it got them sales. But it also said much about the kind of company they are."
Well, that was fast. Only a little over 24 hours have passed since Aliens: Colonial Marines emerged from its dark alcove, but graphics mods are already becoming available. Two such offerings are the DirectX 10 and SweetFX add-ons which spruce up shadows, lighting, and color palettes for something a bit more reminiscent of the films' murky tones and cool hues.
The DirectX 10 mod softens shadows a bit and tweaks illumination and to bounce and reflect off weapon textures and other surfaces. Installing SweetFX provides a less subtle effect: deeper color saturation, a sharpened texture filter, stronger shadows, and a faint blue gradient for outdoor areas. The latter looks a little extreme in some indoor areas, but it's definitely a darker flavor than the default visuals.
Though Colonial Marines wasn't the Aliens game reboot fans desired for years, it's still nice to see a few dedicated modders pushing for graphical excellence regardless of the quality of the game. Have a look at some sample shots below for both DirectX 10 and SweetFX, and head to Mod DB and DSOGaming to download each one.
The word "door" appears no less than five times in the first patch for Aliens: Colonial Marines. It's a hefty day-one update for Gearbox's FPS, tweaking issues encountered in the campaign, co-op, and multiplayer, but the fact that more silly-sounding problems—NPCs passing through welded doors or bullets not passing through an open doorway—are being quashed just after the game's launch suggests Gearbox's smart-guns met trouble when targeting bugs during development.
The full patch notes continues the door dilemma with fixes for dead xenos breaking doors, AI companions trying to open sealed doors, and doors that just simply refused to work. Who would ever expect simple hatchways as a source of befuddlement for both battle-hardened soldiers and alpha hunter xenos?
On the multiplayer side, Gearbox restored the Spitter xeno's acid spray to its mouth as opposed to... wherever it came from before. Respawn and warping troubles were also resolved.
Brief yourself on the the patch's entirety at Gearbox's website. We recently emerged from the metallic warrens of Colonial Marines covered in xeno sweat, gunsmoke stains, and the ichor of disappointment.
Late in Colonial Marines' campaign you find yourself fighting through the xenomorph-haunted hallways of Hadley’s Hope accompanied by a smartgun-toting jarhead called O'Neal. He’s the model of a shooter sidekick: a bottomless well of bullets and exposition who always knows what the plot requires him to know and occasionally - just occasionally - needs you to watch his back while he hacks a door. The two of you turn a corner in time to see an anonymous marine get hoisted into a ventilation shaft by a xenomorph’s lunging tail-spike.
O’Neal gasps. “What the shit was that?”
“Well, Private.” You might wish to say. “It’s an alien. You know, from the movie Aliens. We have killed hundreds of them. Earlier I watched two of them circle you impotently, swiping at you and making those adorable little chittering noises. You turned them into paste with your smartgun, shrugging off their acid blood like it was hot apple pie filling. Besides - the same thing happened last time we were here.”
O'Neal's throwaway response bothered me. The game’s designers must surely know that it doesn’t mesh with either the player’s or O’Neal’s experience so far. The best explanation I can come up with is that 'what the shit was that?' sounds like the kind of thing someone might say in an Aliens movie - and as far as I can tell, ‘sounding a bit like an Aliens movie’ is the alpha and omega of Colonial Marines' narrative ambitions. It's a tiny example of an instance where the game sells its own story short in order to resemble the movie it is attempting to succeed. It's not the only example. Not by a long, long way.
Colonial Marines desperately lowballs its bid to be seen as the ‘true’ sequel to James Cameron’s movie. This is straight-to-video Aliens pastiche, an act of repetition rather than expansion. It’s by no means alone - this is territory it shares with the majority of subsequent Aliens fiction - but it’s clear from the game’s eighties-throwback opening titles that it perceives itself as being something purer. It isn't.
Meanwhile, in Thunderbirds.
Gearbox evidently have a tremendous love for the films, but it’s the kind of love that suffocates. Over the course of the ten hour campaign you are dragged through meticulous recreations of every significant location you can think of - the Sulaco, Hadley’s Hope, the surface of LV-426, the ancient spaceship. Colonial Marines’ greatest desire is to show you things you’ve seen before, regardless of their narrative status or significance. Hadley’s Hope may have vanished in a forty megaton nuclear fireball at the end of Aliens, but, well, it’s fine, thanks for asking.
These aren’t the operating parameters of a sequel, they’re the parameters of a Universal Studios Tour. Aliens: Colonial Marines couldn’t be more of a themepark ride if it spat out a polaroid at the end. For a sense of what that picture might look like, take a look at the blank stares on the faces of the game’s eponymous marines as they gun down yet another xeno, or the placid gurn of a man allegedly experiencing alien-baby-plus-sternum related trauma.
There are some dumb characters in Aliens, but it isn’t a dumb movie. The way the marines address one another stands in deliberate contrast with the forces surrounding and controlling them. There’s none of that context in Colonial Marines - it’s all space marine nonsense, all the time. Aliens has already been strip-mined by the videogame industry: if Colonial Marines was going to avoid vanishing into the mix, it needed to have something to say, and it doesn’t. Its attempt to explore the relationship between the Weyland-Yutani company and the military is ham-fisted in the extreme, taking Carter Burke’s reptilian corporate maneuvering and repackaging it as - deep breath - enemy mercenaries who wear corporate-branded baseball caps over their balaclavas and who fight the marine corps for some reason (?) to do with profit (??) derived from engineering new kinds of xenomorph (???). Your guess really is as good as mine.
Some aspects of the UI - like the smartgun HUD - are very well realised.
The game’s key interaction with Aliens canon is an egregious retcon whose hand-waved explanation is so thin it made me laugh out loud. Key sequences are underwhelming or fail outright due to scripting errors - including, for me, the one immediately preceding the game’s limp climax. As a narrative-driven shooter, Colonial Marines is a swing and a miss - it simply doesn’t have the nerve or spectacle to compete at the level it’s being pitched at. A gun, pointing at an alien. This image is representative of the game's broader theme.
The heartbreaking thing about Colonial Marines is the persistent sense that it doesn’t want to be a linear shooter at all. Every now and then you get a glimpse of the systems-driven Aliens game that could have been - half-implemented mechanics that jut out of its landscape like derelicts. Movie-derived ideas like placing sentry guns to lock down corridors and welding doors shut arrive at predetermined moments, when they’d be far more interesting as a dynamic part of regular play.
As it is your time is spent running from objective to objective, pulling the trigger whenever a shiny xenomorph or enemy mercenary pops out in front of you. Use of the motion tracker is primarily an act of roleplay - with a bottomless ammunition supply and invincible companions, you don’t need it. Higher difficulty settings up the stakes a little, but they do so by increasing the health of your enemies which has an equivalent detrimental impact on the feel of your weaponry. The mercenaries are the biggest curveball - they’re notably more dangerous than aliens, requiring careful use of cover, and the range at which you engage them makes the spray-and-pray nature of most of your arsenal feel like a liability. When battles take place between all three parties you are effectively encouraged to target the other humans first, which strikes me as profoundly backwards both in terms of the fiction and the mechanics that should support it.
The campaign is at its best when it changes the rules of engagement. A mid-game mission sees you stripped of your weapons and lost in a sewer as you're stalked by a new type of alien that hunts by sound. It’s not especially difficult, but it does achieve a level of tension that the rest of the game lacks. Another highlight is a sequence where you’re asked to establish a perimeter around the original Aliens command centre in Hadley’s Hope. The relative freedom to explore lets you appreciate the devotional level of environmental detail in the manner of a museum, rather than as a rollercoaster. These moments make up less than ten percent of the experience. You’ll be fending off waves of xenomorphs with your pulse rifle within the first fifteen minutes, and that’s the pace the game maintains.
At times, the game turns into Men: Colonial Marines.
The behaviour of the xenomorphs is laudably unscripted, an apparent attempt to ensure that no two encounters against these familiar foes play out the same way. Unfortunately, the AI is all over the place. Aliens pop out of vents and pop back in again, get stuck on the ceiling, fall off walls and run in circles. Eventually they’ll give up and rush at you, open-armed, until you gun them down. It becomes quite sweet, after a while. A few hours in I got caught in a canned getting-murdered-by-a-xenomorph animation and it made me jump. The fact that these banana-headed morons could be scary struck me as a fun novelty. Then I remembered what game I was playing and the depth to which Colonial Marines demystifies Giger’s monster became vertigo-inducingly clear.
Colonial Marines’ atmosphere is likewise compromised by its heavy multiplayer focus. Its HUD, a throwback to the eighties tech of the movie, is just as likely to bombard you with level-up notifications as it is to draw you into the experience. You can unlock and modify a persistent set of weapons across both the campaign and multiplayer, which leads to some of the game’s most bizarre foibles - despite being limited to two weapons and a sidearm, you can swap guns in and out, ammo and all, at any time. Remember that bit in Aliens where the ammo counter on the pulse rifle flashed zero and the marine summoned a fully-loaded automatic shotgun out of thin air? No, me neither.
The appearance of the melee button prompt is a giveaway that you're about to be murdered by a xenomorph.
A co-operative mode for up to four players is available for the entire campaign, but its impact is not especially profound - or at least, it improves the game about as much as co-op improves just about anything.
Instead, Colonial Marines is most successful as a competitive game. Its versus mode splits players into teams of marines and xenomorphs across four modes, ranging from regular team deathmatch to objective capture, survival, and a Left 4 Dead-style game type, Escape, where the human players have to escape through a long, linear stage punctuated by defence sequences. These last two modes are genuinely enjoyable. Mechanics that never really cohere in the campaign - such as having to shoulder your rifle to use your motion tracker - come into their own when you’re coordinating with four other players to fend off enemies who are hunting you intelligently.
There are, nonetheless, issues. Xenomorphs are controlled in the third person and it’s very easy to become disorientated or stuck while attempting to move on the walls or ceiling. Likewise, the alien classes are deeply gamey - the vanilla one, the fast one, the exploding one, the ranged one - in a way that plays against the fantasy of being the universe’s apex hunter. As does the fact that you can unlock a giant rhino horn to stick on your banana-head.
There are only two maps each for Escape and Survivor mode, with a further five shared between the other two game types. The paucity of environments is something that Escape particularly suffers for. The lack of AI-controlled enemies and the fact that each ammo cache contains the same equipment from session to session makes raises the concern that multiplayer Colonial Marines lacks the staying power that Left 4 Dead’s randomisation provides. The first time my squadmates and I reached the final section of one map, we survived through a mixture of improvisation and skill. Every subsequent time, we arrived with a plan: two guys rush the objective while the other two grab the sentry gun that we knew would always spawn on the other side of the yard. It’s disappointing to find repetition setting in within the first few hours of play. Even when the game does make use of its dynamic systems, it could do so much more to captialise on them.
Colonial Marines ran well on max settings on a Intel i5 760 system with a Radeon HD 6970 and 8Gb of RAM. Graphical settings don’t go especially deep, but you can alter the field of view from the main menu. The game paints a few striking pictures - Hadley’s Hope in the shadow of the burning atmospheric processor, the Engineer vessel underlit by searchlights - but suffers from some very low-res environmental textures up close.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is deeply underwhelming. Neither staged carefully enough to be scary nor dynamic enough to be exciting, it succeeds only where other players are capable of breathing life into it. There are better linear shooters, better asymmetrical multiplayer games, and better Aliens sequels, and your love of the motion tracker and pulse rifle would need to be profound to surmount those obstacles. I really wanted this game to be good: having played it, I still want to play the game it sometimes gestures at being. It's one to study, maybe - but it isn't one to bring back.