Kotaku

Aliens: Colonial Marines Should Have Followed the Example of Sports' Gaming's EliteInside a publisher or a studio, there are few surprises when a video game bombs in its reviews. Before it goes from gold master to warehouse to retailer, the focus groups are empaneled, the "mock reviewers" are contracted, and their verdicts are in. Everyone knows roughly where the game will land in the all-controlling 100-point scale of Metacritic. It takes hubris and delusion on the scale of Too Human or Kane & Lynch to be blindsided by a bad review score these days.





EA Sports knew where NBA Live 13 would have ended up last year just as surely as Gearbox Software knew what was coming this week for Aliens: Colonial Marines, whose disastrous review scores have spawned finger pointing, bait-and-switch allegations, nasty rumors and, worst of all these, the animated .gif meme.



Yet as much as EA has been beaten over the head for the failures in its NBA simulation, it can look to the ongoing Colonial Marines fiasco and feel some measure of vindication. Because this is what happens when you can't meet the high expectations of the license you're handling, and you don't have the presence of mind to call a timeout, even if you're seconds from the final buzzer.



Troubled games in other genres are, for the most part, delayed. In sports, because of the annual publishing demand, if you miss a year, that sucker has been canceled, which is vastly worse. The huge sums guaranteed by contract to the leagues licensing these games, and the ignominy of failing to publish anything, even the "roster update" slur hurled in comments and forum threads, make a delay of any type exceedingly rare in sports. Until 2010, sports video gaming had gone 14 years since the last licensed simulation had been canceled (Madden NFL '96, for the first PlayStation.)



Indeed, up to a week from its release in 2010, all signs still pointed to EA Sports launching NBA Elite 11 despite obvious internal signs of a troubled and substandard game. EA's CEO, John Riccitiello, told Kotaku in early 2011 that after the demo came out, the company did an internal review, and pegged NBA Elite as about a 60 on Metacritic, at best, as the discs were being stamped and the cases shipped. A series of embarrassing glitch videos on YouTube, coming from the game's demo, seemed to seal its fate. NBA Elite 11 was canceled one week before its launch. Despite the recall order, enough copies made it into the wild to become high-priced collector's items on eBay. If any retail game has been pulled so close to its street date, much less by a publicly traded company whose publishing calendar is information affecting its stock price, I'm not aware of it.



At least when EA Sports realized it had a bomb on its hands, it had the guts to fall on it.

"We could have shipped a product we weren't proud of dead against their game [NBA 2K11] that they are proud of and that we would have been proud of to ship ourselves," Riccitiello said at the time. "We would have probably lost 5-1 in the marketplace against that and firmly cemented a reputation for being one to ship secondary sports titles." Thus, Riccitiello said, he alone decided to effectively cancel the game, though it was described at the time as a delay.



Despite no direct competitor, no league opening day reminding folks the game wasn't out, and licensing costs likely a fraction of the more than $60 million EA Sports probably lost on NBA Elite, no one at Sega or Gearbox could make the same call with Colonial Marines. Yes, this series had a development history of repeated delays going back six years. Sega was unlikely to tolerate another request for more time from Gearbox. And this game, frankly, may have published because the existential threat of lasting brand damage wasn't as great as what EA Sports faced with its NBA title. Gamers expect sequels in the shooter and adventure genres if the title is successful. In sports, they expect them every year, and the fallout from a bad release can send a series into a tailspin with years left on the deal.



Most of the fallout, rightfully, lands on Gearbox's doorstep in Plano, Texas. If the studio wanted some advice on the lack of wisdom in going ahead with a broken, licensed product, it could have gotten plenty from its friends at 2K, which publishes Gearbox's hit Borderlands. Major League Baseball 2K9 dealt a crippling blow to the series when it released in a marginally playable state. 2K Sports had pulled development from Kush Games at the last minute, handing the project to in-house developer Visual Concepts on a nine-month schedule.



It seems to be the inverse of what is said to have happened with Gearbox and subcontractor TimeGate, the first studio credited in Aliens: Colonial Marines and the outfit responsible—or blamed—for much of the game's singleplayer mode. But we see the same results: Appalling visuals, animation glitches, and gameplay that offers almost no challenge. You can find comments in 2009 from readers looking forward to the next edition of Major League Baseball 2K. Despite a remarkable recovery in 2010, this sentiment has been rare ever since.



When EA Sports cancelled NBA Live a second time, most took its rationale as PR. The label's vice president, Andrew Wilson, said at the time it was "clear that we won't be ready" by the assumed launch date, and that EA Sports would cancel the game "and stay focused on making next year's game great." OK, sure. It was an embarrassing day for the publisher, and deservedly so. It had a workable, even acclaimed codebase in NBA Live 10 and, somehow in the three years since that release, has been unable to follow it with any functioning product.



But you know what? At least when EA Sports realized it had a bomb on its hands, it had the guts to fall on it. To keep a waste of everyone's time off of shelves and—going back to the early summer—to refuse to actively, let alone aggressively, market a product with known deficiencies. Sega and Gearbox couldn't or wouldn't do any of that. To cancel or to publish, whatever the choice, at this late stage these two were bound to pay. The difference is in how long they will.





STICK JOCKEY



Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Sundays.




PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Natural Selection 2 dev “filled with sadness” over Aliens: Colonial Marines">Natural Selection 2 preview







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."
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Aliens: Colonial Marines mods duct-tape on DirectX 10 features, improved lighting effects">Aliens: Colonial Marines SweetFX mod







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.



DirectX 10 mod



Default lighting and colors



SweetFX enabled
Kotaku

In Defense Of That Alien: Colonial Marines GIF Everyone Keeps Making Fun Of By now, if you've been keeping up with Aliens: Colonial Marines, you've probably come across certain GIF of an alien waddling through a sewer level. See above. I know, I know. It looks silly, it looks ridiculous.



And I'm here to defend that level.



The GIF doesn't inspire confidence in the game, no. Just the same, that sewer level was actually a highlight of Colonial Marines for me.



Basically, that level requires you go navigate some sewers and to make your way back to your squad. The catch is, it takes away your guns and any means of defense. You're vulnerable, and the aliens are still running about and they can still kill you.



You're supposed to keep quiet as you try to find the exit. The point is to avoid alerting the type of alien you see in the GIF—now, this is the incredibly stupid part. They're blind aliens that are attracted to sound and explode on contact.



OK, let's ignore that for a second—how much sense a Xeno like that makes and whatever. Where the start of the game highlighted tension and anticipation, most of Aliens: Colonial Marines is a mediocre shooter that empowers you too much to truly capture the feel of Alien. You can gun everything down, and most aliens run straight at you.



This level, though? As stupid as it was, I actually felt some fear. That's what happens when you have to stand perfectly still as an alien sniffs the air around you, or when you're trying to find a way out while these walking bombs are grazing by you.



I couldn't shoot my way out of that situation. And I had to look at the aliens eye to eye and not freak out. Which is to say, in that level, I believed the utter threat of the aliens, despite how silly they looked. And even though I'm sure the level could be done better, it was a segment of Aliens I actually enjoyed playing.


Kotaku

In Defense Of That Aliens: Colonial Marines GIF Everyone Keeps Making Fun Of By now, if you've been keeping up with Aliens: Colonial Marines, you've probably come across a certain GIF of an alien waddling through a sewer level. See above. I know, I know. It looks silly, it looks ridiculous.



And I'm here to defend that level.



The GIF doesn't inspire confidence in the game, no. Just the same, that sewer level was actually a highlight of Colonial Marines for me.



Basically, that level requires you go navigate some sewers and to make your way back to your squad. The catch is, it takes away your guns and any means of defense. You're vulnerable, and the aliens are still running about and they can still kill you.



You're supposed to keep quiet as you try to find the exit. The point is to avoid alerting the type of alien you see in the GIF—now, this is the incredibly stupid part. They're blind aliens that are attracted to sound and explode on contact.



OK, let's ignore that for a second—how much sense a Xeno like that makes and whatever. Where the start of the game highlighted tension and anticipation, most of Aliens: Colonial Marines is a mediocre shooter that empowers you too much to truly capture the feel of Alien. You can gun everything down, and most aliens run straight at you.



This level, though? As stupid as it was, I actually felt some fear. That's what happens when you have to stand perfectly still as an alien sniffs the air around you, or when you're trying to find a way out while these walking bombs are grazing by you.



I couldn't shoot my way out of that situation. And I had to look at the aliens eye to eye and not freak out. Which is to say, in that level, I believed the utter threat of the aliens, despite how silly they looked. And even though I'm sure the level could be done better, it was a segment of Aliens I actually enjoyed playing.


Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Nathan Grayson)

If Aliens could cry, entire planets, ships, and conveniently placed ventilation systems would be dissolving under a torrential downpour of acid-laced tears right now. See, in spite of their lovable looks and multi-mouthed charm, no one wants to take credit for, well, pretty much anything about Aliens: Colonial Marines. First, Gearbox kinda did, but then TimeGate was accused of incubating Colonial Marines’ loathsome single-player campaign – which prompted Sega to descend from its mountain of unreleased Shenmue sequels and tilt the needle back in Gearbox’s direction. Seems like a lot of fuss to make if it was really all Gearbox at the helm, though, huh? And that’s where a winding Reddit post by an alleged Gearbox employee enters the picture. Further, RPS reached out to a former TimeGate employee (who wished to remain anonymous) to clarify the situation.>

(more…)

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Aliens: Colonial Marines patch doctors doorways, acid spit">Aliens: Colonial Marines







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.
Kotaku

How Aliens: Colonial Marines Fell Apart



Aliens: Colonial Marines is a bad game, by most accounts. Reviewers have almost all trashed it, fans don't seem to like it, and the final product looks nothing like the impressive demo that developer Gearbox showed last year.



So how did it happen? Although the full picture isn't quite clear yet, over the past few days we've heard that the six-year development process for Aliens: Colonial Marines was tumultuous and divisive, a product of multiple studios with conflicting visions. And it shows in the resulting game.



According to one person familiar with the project who spoke to Kotaku under condition of anonymity, Gearbox outsourced the bulk of Colonial Marines (codenamed Pecan) to a studio called TimeGate, most recently responsible for the shooter Section 8 and its sequel.



This comes on the heels of a massive Reddit post that's been making the rounds today from someone claiming to work at Gearbox. Although we can't confirm that the Reddit post is credible, everything we've heard from our source matches up.



The Redditor said TimeGate left the single-player campaign in "a pretty horrid state," and that last September after Borderlands 2 shipped, Gearbox was unhappy with what TimeGate had left them. Sega was already upset with Gearbox for asking for multiple extensions since the project launched in 2006, so Gearbox had to buckle down and release a game they knew wasn't going to be very good, the Redditor said.



The post on Reddit matches what our source has told us, but there's more. When TimeGate took over the project, our source said, they threw out most of what Gearbox had done beforehand. All of the art and design that Gearbox had produced during the previous four years was gone.



So from 2010 until late last year, while Gearbox was working on Borderlands 2 (internally codenamed "Willow 2"), TimeGate handled the bulk of development on Aliens. A small team at Gearbox helped out with multiplayer work, as explained by both our source and the Redditor, but TimeGate built the single-player campaign.



In late 2012, when Gearbox saw what TimeGate had done, most of their developers weren't interested in taking the game back, our source said. Gearbox's team was upset that their work had been thrown out, and they didn't want this to be a repeat of Duke Nukem Forever, a game that took over a decade to develop until it was finally finished by Gearbox and released in mid-2011 to tepid response.



But Gearbox had to finish the game, and according to our source, they had to throw out much of TimeGate's work and start from scratch. This lines up with what the Redditor claims:




Campaign didn't make much sense, the boss fights weren't implemented, PS3 was way over memory, etcetcetc. GBX was pretty unhappy with TG's work, and some of Campaign maps were just completely redesigned from scratch. There were some last minute feature requests, most notably female marines, and the general consensus among GBX devs was that there was no way this game was going to be good by ship. There just wasn't enough time.



Considering that SEGA was pretty close to taking legal action against GBX, asking for an extension wasn't an option, and so Pecan crash-landed through certification and shipping. Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems. This isn't because GBX didn't care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn't risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get.




People at Gearbox knew the bad reviews were coming, our source said. They knew that the game wasn't good.



We've reached out to Gearbox, but they would not comment on the record. However, in a recent interview with IGN, Gearbox head Randy Pitchford said that TimeGate handled development "probably about 20 or 25 percent of the total time," and that "if you take preproduction out of it, their effort's probably equivalent to ours. Now, it's not fair to take preproduction out of it, but that says a lot about how much horsepower those guys put into it."



Pitchford's statements also seem to match up with what we've heard.



We reached out to TimeGate this afternoon, but they have yet to get back to us. We'll continue to update as we hear more.



Photo via Liz Tells Frank


Kotaku





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By almost all accounts, Aliens: Colonial Maries isn't a good game. Patricia certainly didn't care for it, saying that "it was literally a pain just to get through."



But hey, it happens. Sometimes, for various reasons, video games aren't as good as the people who made them wanted them to be. What's remarkable with Aliens: Colonial Marines has been the fact that the game's developer, Gearbox, showed A:CM off in numerous hands-off demos and previews, and those demos looked far better than the finished game.



In the video above, two chaps from VideoGamer.com put the demo footage side by side with the actual game. The results are… pretty galling, actually. (They've got the "Demo" and "Final" labels mixed up for a chunk of the video, but have remedied it using YouTube annotations.) Update: They've now posted a new video with the correct notation; that's embedded.



They're playing on PC with their settings maxed, and you can see how vastly different huge chunks of the game look—the final version is missing detail, environmental effects, dynamic lighting, even whole characters. They also take a look at the Xbox version toward the end.







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In this video from last year, Gearbox president Randy Pitchford walks viewers through a demo presentation of the game. Patricia, who has played through the game, tells me that the final game is very different from this demo.



It's hard not to get the sense that the story behind Colonial Marines' development is more tortured than your average game. Watching these videos, it seems like Gearbox did know how to make a good Aliens game, but that somewhere along the way, they had to compromise the game.



I've reached out to Gearbox to get their perspective on why the demo differed so vastly from the finished product, and will update if I hear back. In the meantime, this is a good reminder that no matter what a game looks like before it comes out, it's always wise to take these sorts of hands-off demos with a grain of salt. Or a bucketful.


Kotaku

Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The PlagueNot that they all agree, oh no. To call Aliens: Colonial Marines divisive would be an understatement. Reactions have ranged from disgust and feelings of betrayal, to indifference, and sometimes even awe and affection.



A lot of them think that there's more polish to Colonial Marines' multiplayer than its singleplayer, but how does that affect the overall picture? Here's a sampling of what they have to say.





Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The Plague



Eurogamer




This certainly isn't a game that aims to shake things up. It's as basic as first-person shooting gets, with 11 campaign missions that involve little more than jogging from point A to point B, grabbing ammo, picking up armour and pressing buttons to open doors along the way. There's momentary pleasure in the way the creatures twitch under the sputtering fire of your pulse rifle, but that fleeting throwback to the movie is exhausted before the end of the first level. You may be playing as a Colonial Marine rather than just a space marine, and the monsters might be capital letter Aliens instead of mere aliens, but the framework is not so much set in stone as downright fossilised.






Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The Plague



Gamespot




The Alien franchise deserves better than this. Aliens: Colonial Marines is a disappointing exercise in bland corridor shooting, dragged down by laughable dialogue and cooperative play that makes the game worse than when you adventure on your own. Colonial Marines is unremarkable in every conceivable way: it's far too easy, generally devoid of tension, and lacking in the variety it so desperately needed. It occasionally lets you peek at the game that could have been, allowing its rare scraps of unsettling atmosphere to seep into your bones. But brief moments of dread and excitement are quickly supplanted by more shrug-worthy shooting and a general aura of "whatever"-ness.






Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The Plague



IGN




The point is that like any decent theme park attraction, Aliens: Colonial Marines presents a fairly convincing facade but its thrills are forced and entirely superficial. You don't ever feel like you're actually in danger. You don't ever feel overwhelmed. In fact, over the course of its six hour campaign the game never gets even remotely close to replicating the genuine feelings of fear and dread that simmer throughout James Cameron's cinematic classic, simply because its xenomorphic enemies are so mindless. These aliens aren't sophisticated human hunters, they're merely acid-fuelled fodder for the seemingly neverending rounds in your pulse rifle. Consequently, Colonial Marines is for the most part a disappointingly mundane, run ‘n' gun first-person shooter that fails to captivate once the initial rush of nostalgia has worn off. At its worst, it's simply feels unfinished—which is a surprise given how long it's been in development.






Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The Plague



Edge Magazine




In its central exercise of man versus alien, Colonial Marines feels stiff, shallow and dated. First announced for a 2008 release before the Aliens franchise machine prioritised other projects, it feels like more work has been retained from that initial production period than either Gearbox or Sega would care to admit. The saying that follows fiascos around Hollywood is that nobody sets out to make a bad film; collaborations sour, commercial realities dawn, and sometimes, as seems to be the case with Colonial Marines, time simply passes. While the intentions of all concerned have no doubt been pure—Gearbox in its aim to create a true sequel to Cameron's punchy action hit, and 20th Century Fox in giving the developer a green light to tinker with the central thread of a billion-dollar film series—the final result is a familiar mismanagement of a rich and potent set of ideas and images. They deserve brighter and more sensitive custodianship than this.






Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The Plague



Official Xbox Magazine




This is really a review of two games: a derivative story campaign (that you can play solo or with up to three friends in co-op) and a riveting, far superior multiplayer mode that allows you to compete as marines or alien xenomorphs in online matches. Considering Colonial Marines' relatively long gestation period—roughly six years—it seems more attention was paid to fine-tuning multiplayer than to the campaign.






Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The Plague



Electronic Gaming Monthly




You'll visit familiar places, make use of all the equipment you'd expect, see a few old friends, and square off with a whole mess of uglies you might recall from childhood nightmares. I won't spoil too much here in terms of story, but suffice it to say that if you've ever watched an Alien film and gone "That was f***ing rad!" chances are you'll get an opportunity to experience the epicness at some point in the campaign.






Most Reviewers Agree You Should Avoid Aliens: Colonial Marines Like The Plague



Kotaku




A game based on existing media has three options. It can strive to be faithful to the original work, privileging authenticity above all else. It can try to do its own thing, using the original work as merely a jumping off point for something else. Or, it can try to find a balance between authenticity and originality. Aliens: Colonial Marines fails spectacularly at all three of these possible approaches.



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