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As Aliens turns 30, we look back fondly on arguably one of James Cameron's (and the Alien franchise's) best outings. So, surely a game based on the 1986 blockbuster couldn't fail to do well...right? In 2006 when SEGA announced that it had acquired the rights to the Alien franchise, our chest could've burst with Xenomorph happiness. However, seven years later when Aliens: Colonial Marines finally hit shelves, we felt like Charlize Theron having a spaceship dropped on us. Sadly Aliens: Colonial Marines looked more like the Alien Atari 2600 game from 1982 than the slick cinematic game we had hoped for. This is what went wrong down on LV-426!
From egg to xenomorph.
The Alien franchise has a chequered past when it comes to its games, with A:CM being no exception. Ironically there had been a previous incarnation of Colonial Marines, developed by Check Six Games for the PlayStation 2 in 2001 and canned before release. In 2006 with SEGA teaming up with Gearbox Software, the companies officially green-lit two Alien based games - the first being a first-person shooter and the second an RPG. We had to wait until 2013 until either would appear, with the RPG being cancelled under the radar and the first-person becoming Colonial Marines (codenamed Pecan). Despite a similar setting, story and gameplay, Gearbox maintain that the 2013 Colonial Marines is completely unrelated to the 2001 version! The team was certainly there, with an impressive cast along with Syd Mead, who had worked on Aliens as a concept artist. Great lengths were taken to recreate a faithful adaptation of the U.S.S. Sulaco and LV-426. What could go wrong?!
The Emergency Destruct System is now activated.
In 2008, Shacknews reported that Colonial Marines had been delayed due to staff layoffs at Gearbox, the actual truth was that many of the staff had actually jumped ship to focus on the company's Borderlands game. There certainly were layoffs, but these were mainly due to contract breaches, and SEGA temporally pulled the plug on the whole lot! Later in 2010, SEGA released the Alien vs. Predator tie-in game and still maintained that Colonial Marines was a "priority". It became more a game of 'if' rather than 'when' the game would see the light of day. 2011 brought a teaser trailer (above) as well as screenshots, with an original unveiling supposedly for E3 2011 and a release of Spring 2012. The game was again delayed and we were presented with YET ANOTHER trailer, finally giving a real release of Spring 2013 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows ( a Wii U version was later scrapped). In all probability, the release of Gearbox's highly successful Boderlands 2 impacted not only the release of Colonial Marines, but the entire project. Much of the work was shipped to a sister company, who had to scramble the project together from what Gearbox had left behind. By the time we finally got an Aliens game, it felt like all parties were releasing it just for the sake of releasing it!
Get away from her you bitch.
The plot followed a Colonial Marine named Cpl. Christopher Winter as he took on a horde of Xenomorphs using weapons from the film, such as Ripley's iconic flamethrower or the grenade launcher. The gameplay sounded impressive, with "Gauntlet Run" from A to B and "Last Stand" missions where you defend specific locations - similar to when the cast defend the communication tower in Aliens. The addition of some of the original actors, including Michael Biehn (Hicks), Mark Rolston (Drake), Al Matthews (Apone) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop) were used by the head of Gearbox, Randy Pitchford, as a reason behind the long delays of the game. Michael Hope (Gorman) was due to be featured, but his role never made the final-cut. The inclusion of actors from Aliens may have been some great nostalgia for fans, but was only a cheap gimmick to cash in on the success of the 1986 film! Michael Biehn himself went on to tell Game Informer that Colonial Marines was "passionless":
I think in movies, television, and the gaming world, you get some people that are really, really passionate, and some people that are just going through the paces. They think that because they have a brand name they're going to get a hit game or hit movie out of it. That certainly was the situation on [Colonial Marines].
Assholes and Elbows
Possibly the most annoying thing is that Colonial Marines is accepted as canon by 20th Century Fox, yet again messing with the timeline of the entire franchise. Being set in a world after Ripley's death throws into question how her, Hicks and Newt can return for Neill Blomkamp's Alien 5. Flimsy storytelling and lackluster scripting cause further canon problems and that doesn't even touch on the bad lighting, poor graphics and flat colouring that the game offers. As for the scripting problems, again a mystery! The Gearbox team were reportedly invited to view early drafts of Ridley Scott's Prometheus script, meaning that the game could have been connected to the film...(un)fortunately none of this transpired. With Prometheus being set years before the original Alien and Colonial Marines set somewhere around Aliens and Alien3, a link between Prometheus and Colonial Marines would have been tenuous at best!
Written by Battlestar Galactica alumni Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, Colonial Marines had true potential - the effort was there, but the game just wasn't! Both SEGA and Gearbox clearly put a lot of effort into the game's demo, suggesting that they did know how to produce a faithful (and very good) game. Randy Pitchford heavily hyped the demo going into E3 2012, but unfortunately it was nothing like the final product. Consumers were angry and many demanded an explanation for how the two differed - two gamers from VideoGamer even went to the lengths of creating a side-by-side to show exactly how the finished product was far from the demo. You would expect a 'work in progress' demo to actually get better with the end result, but with A:CM something clearly went very wrong! A lawsuit was filed in 2013 and Sega agreed to settle with $1.25 million.
Game over man, game over!
Declared as the 'true' sequel to Cameron's 1986 classic is a bit of a sweeping statement for A:CM to carry, and not one that adds much credit to the great sequel debate. However, it isn't all doom and gloom, Kevin Riepl's atmospheric soundtrack and the DLC packs are a saving grace of Colonial Marines. In particular the "Stasis Interrupted" pack gained critical praise for its story on what happened to Michael Beihn's Hicks. Other packs and missions include maps of the Fiorina (Fury) Prison complex and go some way to redeem the main campaign. For those who haven't been put off by this article, Aliens: Colonial Marines is now available on Steam for an average $14.99. To be honest, if you are looking for an Alien game that really gets the blood pumping and immerses you into the world of Ripley, head on over to Alien: Isolation. Isolation is a heart-stopping 15+ hours of campaign, and whilst not perfect, it makes Colonial Marines look like the Alien3 of the franchise - rushed, delayed and full of errors from above. Whilst I go and flamethrower all copies of Colonial Marines that I can find and replace them with copies of Alien: Isolation, the original Aliens is playing in the background - happy anniversary you face-hugging sons'a bitches!