Aliens: Colonial Marines

alines colonial marines

“Everyone who loves the Alien films will love this game because it’s an Alien film. It’s going to scare you, have all the action, you’ll be part of the Marines you always wanted to be part of, you’re going to have the franchise elements people want to be in there, it’ll be the complete package. People will be like, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got a game that actually feels like the film!’ That’s the reception we expect.”
~ Brian Cozzens, PlayMag, 2011.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the single player campaign.

Before its release Aliens: Colonial Marines garnered a significant amount of attention on two points: the first is its exasperatingly long development period – the game was announced in 2006 before a line of code had been written (“we put the press release out a little prematurely”) and hopscotched its way around numerous release dates throughout 2011 and ’12. Secondly, and more importantly, is its claims to canonicity – developer Gearbox have constantly reminded the fanbase that this isn’t merely another Alien game to be played, shelved, and perhaps forgotten; it’s a legitimate follow-up to James Cameron’s Aliens, sanctioned by 20th Century Fox itself and toting a roundabout blessing from Ridley Scott and designs from Syd Mead. “We’ve never had the true, honest, sincere, authentic experience [in Alien games],” claimed Gearbox CEO, Randy Pitchford. “To make the sequel to Aliens as a video game was our prerequisite,” he told Kotaku in 2012. “The commitment [20th Century Fox] made was, ‘Yes, borrow the franchise for the purpose of doing the next story in the succession of those storylines.'”

‘Authenticity’ has been a persistent buzz word for the game. In 2012 A:CM’s art director Brian Cozzens explained that “We put a lot of effort into being extremely authentic to the film. We’re trying to be very much within canon, and we know that a lot of the hard-core fans take this very seriously.” Attention to detail was apparently meticulous, and news articles and interviews referenced it repeatedly over the years:

“Since Aliens is our closest influence, we have strived for authenticity to the film that players have never seen before. The look of the game is directly inspired by the film, down to the film grain and lighting.”
~ Mike Gallo, producer, CVG, 2008.

“We’ve put a lot of effort into the authenticity and doing, in some cases, the mind’s eye of how the fans remember the film to be.”
~ Brian Cozzens, PlayMag, 2011.

“I did get to submit some canonical stuff about the life cycle of the Alien. I added to that in what I thought was a really clever way, and it’s cool. I totally submitted shit that is now canonical Alien life-cycle stuff. I can talk at Comic-Con and be, ‘Ha ha, I’m an expert! Me and like, two people!’ No, it’s fucking awesome.”
~ Mikey Neumann, lead writer, destructoid.com, 2012

“Brian Martel, the Creative Director on the project and one of the owners of Gearbox, he’s just the biggest Aliens nerd you could ever find on the planet. It was really important to him to not just make the game, but make something that was real. That’s how we got the opportunity to make something that’s actually in the canon.”
~ John Mulkey, Sydney Morning Herald, 2012.

“The idea of being able to make it canon just made it that much more exciting. And that was always, from the beginning, the idea, that we would be adding to the canon. It would be something that was official.”
~ John Mulkey, complex.com, 2013.

“We’re huge Aliens fans ourselves, we’re as big if not bigger fanboys than most of them, and we’ve been able to see the archives and get the super-detailed information that we need to make the game. We want it to be authentic and accurate. If I could put in an extra hour to fix one more detail, it would totally be worth my hour.”
~ Brian Thomas, oxm.co.uk, 2013.

Respecting and yet expanding the canon was a prime goal for GBX. “The biggest mistake anyone touching the canon can do is over-explain everything,” lead writer  (or ‘Chief Creative Champion’) Mikey Neumann told destructoid. “Like, cutting to Xeno-Vision would be a fuck-up,” he continued (with a dig at Alien 3′s tunnel chase sequence?) Gearbox also wanted to avoid the pitfalls that plagued the Alien vs. Predator spin-offs, with Neumann telling destructoid.com, “You know what? I am going to shit on that movie. It felt like really bad fan fiction. Like, ‘OKAH AH MAHK A ALIENTH VERTHAH PRED’TAH!’ Seriously, it was fan fiction, and they can quote me. They can call me up, whatever. I didn’t enjoy it.”

Environmental Artist Chris Neely also chipped in, telling spong.com: “Don’t get me wrong, we’re all the biggest fanboys here, but at the same time we’re all disappointed with ‘modern fanboy’ takes on franchises that were very valuable to us growing up. Like Aliens vs Predator or something like that, which takes all the artistry out of it and just capitalises on the name. Honestly, that movie is like Godzilla vs Mothra. There’s no subtlety. All those deep undertones and messages are just forgotten by the fanboys because they don’t have the discipline. They don’t have the knowledge of those old masters who made that stuff happen.”

GBX also intended that not only would their game continue the series, but it would fill in gaps left by the movies that came before it. “One of the things we’re really proud about is that there were some things that fans like us always believed were inconsistencies between Alien 3 and Aliens,” Randy Pitchford told Kotaku. “But as we dig into it, as we work with filmmakers and kind of understand it all and think about it from a logic problem point of view, there is actually a truth there that makes more sense. When we are able to use it to stitch it together, Alien 3 is actually a better movie.”

“Adios muchachos…”

Aliens-Colonial-Marines-From-Concept-To-Game-Hadleys-Hope_2

First of all, we have to clear the air and come to terms with the game’s setup, which sees a squad of Colonial Marines return to the Sulaco and Hadley’s Hope. A pertinent question is: how could the characters of A:CM return when the colony was in the reach of the Atmosphere Processor when it went nuclear at Aliens’ climax?

Brian Martel, CCO of Gearbox Software, told AVPGalaxy that, “There are a lot of different ways this question could be answered. Technology is very advanced and presumably, parts of Hadleys Hope were built to keep certain parts safe. Also, when a nuke goes off from the ground, it will explode differently then when it’s triggered just before the drop. The explosion will go upwards in a cone shape instead of blow downward, thus delivering less damage. If people would’ve been there, they would’ve died, but a vapour cloud wouldn’t also destroy everything in the radius the size of Nebraska.”

Design director John Mulkey gave the same explanation: “Hadley’s suffered serious damage in the explosion of the atmospheric processor, but is still there. The reactor in atmospheric processors is located underground in the lowest sublevels of the processor so when the explosion went off, a great deal of the destructive force was focused upward rather than laterally. Hadley’s is a mess… but it is still there.”

It’s not a convincing explanation, but many things happen in A:CM merely because GBX want them to happen (no matter how far-fetched), rather than because they need to happen… more on that later.

Return to the Sulaco: Many of the initial Alien III scripts featured salvage crew-type characters stumbling upon the ghost ship Sulaco. In William Gibson’s script they even come across Bishop’s trunkless legs in the dropship hanger. “She’s found Bishop’s legs,” it reads, “broken, grotesquely twisted, still in fatigues, the white android blood clotted into powder.” Eric Red’s script features an excursion into the mysteriously abandoned Sulaco via a dream sequence. Both Gibson and Red’s scripts feature the maligned ‘magic egg’, or worse – an inexplicably mature Alien stowaway that attacks the salvage team.

As for why there are still Aliens running amok throughout the colony and surrounding areas, Neumann offered: “Well, there is more than one hive. LV-426 is a porous, cave-like planet with mad amounts of space.”

LV-426 has never been described as such by anyone involved in the films, so it’s a retcon and explanation entirely of his own making. Saying that, there’s nothing stopping the planet from having plenty of hiding spots amid its twisted surface, but his answer skirts around the actual question: where did the Aliens come from? The game would lead us to believe that not all of them are products of Weyland-Yutani’s attempts to engineer an Alien fighting force, (the only explanation I can muster is that W-Y have terrible containment procedures, and allow Aliens to escape and populate LV-426 and the Sulaco, all the while still calmly trying to exploit the derelict ship and allowing Aliens to run amok.)

Authenticity and the canon question

“I’ve poured over schematics and blueprints because I’ve always wanted to go through Hadley’s Hope as a space marine; I don’t wanna go through some cheap ass imitation, I want the real deal! You get to see there’s the Aliens they killed in the big battle, there’s the grenade that went off with Vasquez and if you go into the room where Ripley slept, you see the two Facehuggers in the exact spot where they were shot – everything is there down to the last detail!”
~ Chris Neely, Environmental Artist, sci-filondon.com, 2013.

Some of the details are nice - Ripley's D.O.B. from the teaser trailer matches the date and year from her crew profile,

Some of the details are nice – Ripley’s D.O.B. from the teaser trailer matches the date and year from her crew profile.

Other details are simply egregious. The colony in the movie only has one storm wall, as the winds blow perpetually in one direction (according to Cameron). The wall and the colony's signage sit at the opposite end of the colony...

Other details are simply egregious. The colony in the movie only has one storm wall, as the winds blow perpetually in one direction (according to Cameron). The wall and the Hadley’s signage sit at the opposite end of the colony, with the AP station lurking in the background…

...In the game the wall and sign have been moved to the other side of the colony.

…In the game the sign has been moved to the A.P. station’s side of the colony, and a storm wall has been added.

An aerial render of the colony' and the storm wall. Three tethered walls compose the colony's protection from the storms. More here.

An aerial render of the colony and the storm wall (by ‘predpaul’). Four tethered walls compose the colony’s protection from the storms. More here.

“We have had incredible access to the Fox archives which has allowed us to work from props, reference and resources from the original film productions. We have worked with some of the same talent responsible for the original vision for the Alien universe… all to make sure we deliver an absolutely authentic Aliens sequel.”
~ John Mulkey, godisageek.com, 2013.

The game developer’s made constant references to their alleged authenticity over the years (even claiming that, in comparison to Alien fans, “we’re as big if not bigger fanboys than most of them”), and claimed that they looked over the film’s blueprints and documents to recreate the film’s locations. However, some of the details from film to game are wrong – some are small and positively minute, while some are quite egregious.

In the spirit of fun, differences from the film that I can spot include:

THE MARINES:

  • Aliens tells us that 17 days will pass before a rescue squad is sent. For some inexplicable reason, this is extended to 17 weeks, or four months, in Colonial Marines. The Colonial Administration waited roughly two weeks (the length of time it takes a message to be sent and received from the colony according to film dialogue) before sending in the Marines in Aliens; why they would wait months to send a rescue squad after another rescue squad is baffling – apparently the shake n’ bake colonists were of more value and importance to Colonial brass than their own soldiery.
  • The female Marines’ dress code does not match the movie. Cameron had his actresses crop their hair. Colete Hiller remembered that “I just bawled” when getting her head shaved. The female Marines (Reid, but especially Bella) in A:CM have been sexualised: long hair, hourglass shaped bodies and a crop top t-shirt, (this was also an inconsistency apparent in Rebellion’s Aliens vs. Predator).
  • Hicks’ in-game bio is wrong, erroneously stating that he was injured near the end of the movie because he “fired a point-blank shotgun blast at an assaulting Xenomorph.” He used his Pulse Rifle, having lost his shotgun after the first encounter with the Aliens. The only point-blank shotgun blast is within the APC (“eat this!”) and the acid spray injures Hudson.
  • Hicks claims in the game that he sent the SOS seen at the beginning of A: CM after he and the characters of Aliens left LV-426. However, Hicks never regains consciousness after Ripley leaves to find Newt, never mind when the AP Station explodes, or when then dropship rejoins with the Sulaco, or even after Ripley expels the Alien Queen from the airlock. A more ideal time to send the message would be after Ripley leaves to enter the nest, but before Bishop administers the shot for his pain.
  • The sentry guns in the film sport batteries that sit at the back of their tripods; but not in the game.
  • Not a difference from the film per se, but Hudson’s corpse is remarkably well preserved for having been dead for 17+ weeks.
  • Hudson’s corpse is also wearing gloves, which he does not wear in the movie at any point.

THE ALIENS

  • The Aliens in the films range from 7-8 feet tall. The Aliens in the game seem level with the player, roughly around 6 feet.
  • The creatures don’t feature the same legs as the creatures from Aliens, but Alien Resurrection instead.
  • They have a second thumb – though this is in line with the creature from Alien and Alien 3, the Aliens creatures do not sport this extra digit.
  • They are missing the scythe-blades on their elbows.
  • They are also missing the curved spike headrest that sits below the back of their neck, (on close inspection, there seems to be a little nub under their heads.)
  • Other sexual-biomechanical details are missing, such as the sculpted vaginas on their crotch.
  • The eggs are based on designs from Alien Resurrection, not Alien, Aliens, or Alien 3.
  • The Queen has more in common with her Alien vs. Predator movie counterpart, most notably in regards to her size and her legs. Differences between the two is detailed here.
  • The plot point concerning the Alien embryo killing its host when surgically removed is not a concern in Alien Resurrection, nor is it pointed out during Alien 3 when Ripley scans herself in the EEV. It seems to have been concocted from Bishop’s “They killed him taking it off,” line, which in turn is a nod to the Nostromo crew figuring that the facehugger will tear off Kane’s face if removed.

SULACO:

  • The floor panel that Ripley uses to close the airlock is absent.
  • The hanger is noticeably smaller. There is no room for a second dropship as in the film. The hanger was extended with a matte painting in the film, so GBX likely missed it, as they allegedly looked at blueprints for the set, (a look at the film however would show the hanger’s immense size.)
  • Bishop’s legs are for some reason at the nose of the dropship, which means they somehow circumnavigated the contours of the ship as the Queen ripped him in two. The game also tells us that his legs did not move at all when the airlock was opened, even though we see crates etc being sucked out into space during the movie.
  • Doesn’t say ‘READY RM’ on the ready room as per the film, (credit to SM)
  • Says ‘3D’ above the ready room in the game. ‘4D’ in the film, (credit to SM)
  • Cryotubes are missing. There are only twelve in Colonial Marines. In Aliens there are enough to hold the twelve Marines (Apone, Gorman, Hicks, Hudson, Frost, Drake, Vasquez, Crowe, Wierzbowski, Dietrich, Spunkmeyer, Ferro,) as well as Ripley, Burke, and Bishop, making for fifteen overall. Like the hanger, the cryo-chamber was made to appear bigger by the use of an illusion: mirrors were used to extend the room because the production could not afford to build all of the tubes, which GBX have not accounted for.
  • There is relatively little fire damage, despite the inferno we see in Alien 3‘s opening (flames roll over the ceiling, blow up an alarm, etcetera.)
  • In A:CM, the cryotubes that Ripley and co. inhabited were to the far right of the chamber. At the end of Aliens they inhabit the far left pods – you can see the furthermost wall behind Newt in the film (they actually sleep in this order: two empty tubes by the far wall, then Bishop, Hicks, Ripley, Newt.)

COLONY:

  • The APC is outside the colony wall perimeter. In the movie, Ripley drives out of the Atmosphere Processor and stops. The great distance between the APC and Hadley’s Hope can be seen in the movie as the characters await the dropship to pick them up. Additionally, according to the dialogue in the movie, the APC was smashed by the dropship wreckage. It’s undamaged in the game.
  • The side of the colony facing the A.P. station has a storm wall surrounding it. In the film the wall only covers the opposite side, as the wind on the planet only ever blows in one direction, according to James Cameron, (which is why the yardang-like rocks have been generally eroded in one direction, and point towards the A.P. station.) Concept art by Ron Cobb here shows a close-to-the-film layout of the colony in relation to the A.P. station, and the storm wall’s position around the south lock and helipad.
  • In addition to the above point, the planet’s rock formations are all pointing in the wrong direction from the film, (away from the A.P. station, where the greater deal of them point towards it in the film.)
  • Somehow the Jorden family tractor is undamaged by the blast -not even a cracked window- though the colony has suffered significant damage. The tractor is also in perfect working order.
  • The Atmosphere Processor is said to be three miles out from the colony in the game; it’s a “half kilometre” away in the film’s various scripts.
  • The MedLab has a neon sign above its entranceway that is not in the film.
  • In Operations, the uplifted tiles where Hudson was dragged down are different from the film.
  • The doorway and window leading to the room where the facehuggers are kept has changed completely. Comparison picture here.
  • In Aliens, there is black stencilled writing on the walls where the jarred facehuggers are kept. These are absent in the game. There are also metal pipes in the room with differing designs between film and game. The dead facehuggers are also in different positions. Comparison picture here.
  • All of the aforementioned room’s tubes hold facehuggers, though two are released by Burke in Aliens and another is dissected by Bishop.
  • The dead facehuggers that attacked Newt and Ripley are in the wrong positions. Hudson’s is trapped behind the small table – in the film it falls and Hudson proceeds to keep shooting it. The other ‘hugger was thrown against a far wall by Hicks; it lies dead near the middle of the room in the game.

THE DERELICT

  • As far as I can tell, the hole leading to the egg chamber is absent from the Jockey’s dais.
  • The Space Jockey’s pilot room seems to lie beyond, rather than above, the egg chamber.

There are undoubtedly more differences between the film and game, despite Gearbox’s assertions that they have remained utterly faithful to the movie, and have assembled the most accurate depiction of its environments yet seen. Whilst some differences are admittedly so minute that they hardly matter, others are eyesores when you keep in mind Gearbox’s relentless claims to complete authenticity. In fact, the game sometimes finds it difficult to stay consistent with itself. At the beginning of the game the Sulaco and the Sephora are facing in opposite directions. Between rooms you can see that the Sephora has turned to face the same direction as the Sulaco.

As for whether or not I consider this game to be canon with the movies, as GBX and Fox do, I say: I do not. Aside from being poorly plotted, it doesn’t even seem to function as a story-based game, à la Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy. Instead the game runs as a series of linear checkpoints loosely tethered together by badly voiced, terribly animated, but thankfully brief voice-overs and clips. Though I think the series would be more suited to a third-person survival horror interpretation, I don’t think the genre GBX went with (FPS) necessarily limits the story-telling opportunities. Instead, the work put into the game and its story was simply subpar.

Judged purely as an official addendum to the movie canon, Colonial Marines is poor quality fan fiction: a repetitive catalogue of pre-existing scenarios and ideas, remixed and regurgitated until all that remains is pulp and husk. That it then proceeds to take a long hot piss all over the established series chronology, just to set up a predictable and pointless cameo, is a twist of the knife too far.
~ Eurogamer review, 2013.

“Maybe we can build a fire, sing a couple of songs!”

The Sephora's umbilicus, leading to the Sulaco. A scene featuring an umbilical tunnel leading a band of soldiers into the derelict Sulaco featured in William Gibson's Alien III script.

The Sephora’s umbilicus, leading to the Sulaco. A scene featuring an umbilical tunnel leading a band of soldiers into the derelict Sulaco featured in William Gibson’s Alien III script.

It’s best to start with what I liked. The opening image of the Sephora in orbit with the Sulaco is attention grabbing. The latter ship floats in darkness, only briefly illuminated by the headlights of smaller shuttles. Jazzed up musical cues from the films thump on. A squad of Colonial Marines march through the umbilicus and open the Sulaco’s airlock. LV-426’s storms flash silently beyond them.

I liked the reveal of the derelict. The idea that Weyland-Yutani would set up shop there makes for nice imagery, though the idea itself originated in Rebellion’s Alien vs. Predator game for the PC, released in 1999.

The ‘Raven’ Alien had an interesting head design, reminiscent of the original Alien’s skull-behind-the-dome. Though Gearbox said that the new variant creatures would fit into a hierarchical hive structure, I can’t work out the Raven’s place in this society. It seems as though GBX wanted to have a ‘Praetorian’ type Alien from the expanded universe, but didn’t want to make something like the commonly used design. By omitting any explanation for the Raven they only manage to barely conceal their lack of imaginative cohesion for the designs and how they fit into the hive. The ‘Spitter’ doesn’t make sense either, since the Alien in Alien 3 had this ability, and was not some wild dayglo-filled variety of monster…

But I’m complaining again.

The Plot and Other Questions…

Holes and queries quickly appear in the plot after scrutiny.

  • If a downed transponder at Hadley’s Hope saw the Colonial Administration send in Marines during Aliens, then why isn’t the 17 or so weeks of radio silence from both the colony and the Sulaco a non-issue for the Administration, the ICC, and world governments? 
  • Why did the Company take the Sulaco back to LV-426 when they had their own ship (seen at the end of Alien 3) the Patna? 
  • Why would Weyland-Yutani hire mercenaries and conduct extremely illegal human and biological experiments, and then have every crate, desk drawer, baseball cap, and cargo container at the black site emblazoned with their company logo? 
  • Why would the Company sacrifice literally hundreds of personnel to breed Aliens, when dogs and even cattle are suitable hosts (and probably easier to garner and ‘murder’.)
  • Why would the Company openly wage war on the Colonial Administration and the USMC – isn’t it afraid of having its Earthly assets frozen or its facilities raided? As Burke says in Aliens, Weyland Yutani has joint ventures with the Colonial Administration, including colony installation, funding, and building Atmosphere Processors.
  • Why leave a very incriminating trail of evidence, when you can blame the destruction of the colony and the Aliens Marine unit on an A.P. station malfunction (and probably get away with it, since Cameron specified that Burke was a lone agent in directing the colonists to the derelict)? Presumably, after that, they could set to work within the derelict pretty much unimpeded.

The game’s entire treatment of Weyland-Yutani is problematic. The involvement of the Company in Alien and Aliens was far more subtle; they were always somewhat removed from the proceedings, with the events of those movies having more to do with corporate neglect rather than direct malfeasance. Aliens: Colonial Marines tell us that the entirety of Weyland Yutani would sacrifice itself in attempt to save one limb – the Weapons Division; a shadowy element of the Company even in Alien 3. Here we’re given a one-note, cliched take on the Company that would be expected from a third-rate comic book, not from what is meant to be a canonical sequel to the film series. It’s Bad Guys, Inc.

Hicks

"I'm in this game?... oh, man... no..."

“It seemed kind of 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 [Aliens: Colonial Marines].”
~ Michael Biehn, Joystiq, 2013.

Colonial Marines also retconned the events of Alien 3′s opening to resurrect Corporal Hicks. The character’s a firm fan favourite and many are still dissatisfied with how he was treated in the third movie. With this in mind, it would seem that Hicks’ re-entry into the series would be the one element of the game’s plot that is utterly welcome.

The opposite is true. Personally, I am all for Hicks returning, but only on the condition that A) it is done right, and B) he has a reason to continue existing within this universe. The game fulfills neither of these criteria. First, the scriptwriter refuses to tell us how Hicks could survive Alien 3′s opening, and why there was a corpse dressed in his underwear and draped in his bandages. Hicks literally says, “that’s a longer story”, and we’re expected to swallow this, (you can probably expect to be asked to pay for DLC to explain the whole debacle.)

Furthermore, we’re told that the Company kidnapped Hicks and tortured him for weeks to glean information about… something… We’re not told what it is that Hicks can know that Weyland-Yutani couldn’t figure out by visiting LV-426 themselves. Looking at their facility in and around the derelict, they likely do know more than him by the time they set down. So his capture and torture is beyond justification. Once he’s freed by the player character, Hicks proceeds to stand in the background during cutscenes and hangs around in gameplay with dead, silver eyes, (take a close look at his face if you dare.) So his presence in the game can’t be justified either.

If there’s anything positive to be gleaned from the whole experience, it’s that it sent me back to Aliens: Book One and Two to get a taste of what an Aliens continuation featuring Hicks should have been like.

Characters & Dialogue

Aliens-Colonial-Marines-Cover

Have you ever heard the phrase, “tries too hard”? That’s Aliens: Colonial Marines’ approach to dialogue. The game constantly reinforces the words, “Sulaco,” and “Hadley’s Hope” to batter you over the head with the fact that you’re exploring these environments from the film. It’s as though the scriptwriter was afraid of common nouns. Ditto for “Marines” and the game’s shortcut for resolving confrontations and what should be difficult moral choices: “We don’t leave Mah-reenz behind.” Repeat this multiple times over every level. As for character interaction, consider this line from O’Neil, concerning his relationship Bella:

“We had a thing… a sex thing.”

This is as deep as the interpersonal relationships get. Not only is this line somewhat comedic (probably the intention), it’s completely useless narratively. Shortly afterwards, once on the surface of LV-426, Bella is told she only has hours to live. The NPCs stare unblinkingly at one another, and nothing much else is said. If O’Neil’s “sex thing” line was anything more than an example of the game’s failed attempt at emulating the film’s gung-ho back-slapping dialogue, then this would be an opportunity to show that it has purpose, to tease out some real emotion. But it doesn’t happen. Bella’s description of the facehugger attack is probably worse.

In all, I can’t bring myself to say much about the dialogue; it feels pointless to do so. As for characters: they’re excruciating. Winter is a non-entity, O’Neil frustratingly annoying, Bella’s death is most welcome, Bishop and Hicks are nothing but fan-service, and Cruz is the summation of every Marine cliche the script can find. Destructoid’s review sums it up:

“Dialog is embarrassingly puerile, and couldn’t be more full of gung-ho machismo tripe if it tried. While the original Aliens dissected its posturing “manly man” stereotypes, and showcased how utterly frail a cowboy mentality can be when everything falls apart, Colonial Marines revels in its own testosterone, submerged gleefully in a pool of dank ultramasculinity. This is a game that unequivocally misses the point of Aliens, which wouldn’t be so bad if it hadn’t already had the gall to insist it was a true followup.”
~ destructoid.com.

Overall

Aliens is one of the most respected movies not only in the Alien canon, but to general science-fiction and action fans too. For a developer, most of the work has been done for them: the world, backstory, weapons, gear, lore, creature design, sound effects, establishing the fanbase, all of it. But this game is so enslaved to Aliens that it does nothing new, and it bungles the few attempts it makes to add to the mythology of the series. We’re meant to take this seriously as a genuine Alien experience, but it has none of the inventiveness of Alien 3, never mind Alien or Aliens. It shares none of their horror, their terror, or their suspense. It’s the equivalent of a shoddy high school tribute act covering one of your favourite bands, (and there are a ridiculous amount of doughnut easter eggs  – it’s meant to be a wink to the half-eaten doughnut in Aliens, but it features so much that it’s practically a seizure.)

To be blunt, Colonial Marines isn’t a story that needs to be told, and it isn’t only a rehash of Aliens’ scenario – it’s far less than that. It’s an interactive tour of the film’s environments, peppered with dead-eyed, Team America-esque lantern jawed marionettes/characters, and riddled with poor gameplay, terrible enemies, awful AI, and an embarrassing misrepresentation of what Aliens was actually about, (note: it was not about machismo dialogue or high-grade weaponry.) Where Aliens deconstructed the Vietnam-era ‘might-is-right’ military mentality, Colonial Marines dusts it off and props it up.

James Cameron himself disagreed that the weaponry and Marines were the focus of Aliens, telling Time magazine in 1986: “It’s more interesting to see a normal person in abnormal circumstances than a highly trained person like Superman or James Bond … the movie is about finding personal resources: will, courage, whatever.” When Cameron fetishises the Marines and their weaponry prior to their encounters with the Aliens, he is doing so to set them up to fall – first time viewers may even think that they have a fighting chance. Thematically, the film is about a highly confident and well-armed contingent falling to a non-technological but far more determined prey. But the film’s real focus, according to Cameron, was the question: “would you be willing to go into hell for someone, and if so, who would it be, and what would your relationship to them be?” There’s a sense that, had Ripley been completely unarmed at the film’s finale, then she still would have delved into the Atmosphere Processor’s bowels to save Newt.

Now, to invoke another movie, there are those who regard Tony Montana as the ultimate self-made man: driven, irrepressible, insolent, but ultimately successful against his enemies. Then there are those who recognise that Scarface is about one man’s swift rise and his swifter fall; they remember that Montana loses, that his greed destroys everything and everyone he touches. Ultimately, it’s a cautionary tale of one gangster’s folly. Likewise, there are those who came away from Aliens and remembered nothing but the gadgetry, the gear, the quips, the quotes, the high-fives and bravado. They forget about the movie’s patience, its suspense, and the weight of the characters’ insurmountable situation. But when Pitchford talks about the highlights of Aliens and how it spurred them to make Colonial Marines he focuses on the tech and temporary bravado of the Marines rather than the lingering dread and the uselessness of high-tech gear against an indomitable enemy.

Facehuggers and the accompanying themes of rape and impregnation are shrugged off via shallow writing and flat delivery. Where the game’s characters should feel a surmounting horror and revulsion and a loosening grasp on their circumstances, they instead find their ‘oorah’ attitudes buoyed and their confidences inflated as the odds mount. As such, there’s no tension, no sense that the risks are grander, the glory dimmer. It’s hard to feel threatened when hordes of Aliens jog in front of your gun barrel and pop like balloons with a noise akin to someone biting into an apple.

Worst of all, the game actively bends backwards to even exist, retconning the destruction of Hadley’s Hope merely so we can stand within its walls again. The colony really has no purpose in the game other than that. This is a real shame and a missed opportunity, and it’s all the more frustrating to see concept art depicting environments that we haven’t yet experienced in the movies, including:

techno slums...

techno slums…

... and space colonies...

… and orbital space colonies…

... that are embedded into captured asteroids.

… that are embedded into Stickney Crater, one of Martian moon Phobos’ more prominent depressions, (salutations to MrSpaceJockey for the tidbit).

Instead we were offered a rehash. The entire affair is disheartening. At best, recreating and revisiting the environments from the film are merely attempts to exploit your feelings of nostalgia. At its worst, it’s just plain masturbatory. Perhaps they should have heeded James Cameron, when he said:

“The most obvious problem is, how do you beat a classic?  You have to really dig deep into the bag of tricks and come up with some good tricks.  And you must do a proper homage to the original without being a mindless fan, something which is a piece of entertainment and a story in it’s own right.”
~ James Cameron, Fangoria, 1986.

Of course, it’s no secret that the main impetus for GBX to make the game was wish fulfillment. “Every time we saw the Colonial Marines,” stated Randy Pitchford, “and thought about how awesome they are, how badass they are, how cool their equipment is, and how gnarly that situation was — and even the specific environments like the Sulaco, and Hadley’s Hope, and the derelict ship from Alien — those were fantasies we wanted to fulfill.” Brian Mulkey added: “We were excited about that idea, you know, taking those kinds of elements, all the weaponry and the gear and the whole attitude, you know, and all that—becoming a Colonial Marine—that was what we were really excited about. So we wanted to return to that presentation and that period and continue onward from that. We felt that that would be the most exciting thing, and the thing that the fans would want most.” Mikey Neumann summed it up more succinctly when he told The Guardian: “The main motivation, though, is being a Colonial Marine. Everyone wants to shoot a smartgun.”

Essentially, it’s tiring being hyped up by promotional materials for years, then putting money towards a ticket (Prometheus) or a pre-order (Aliens vs PredatorAliens: Colonial Marines), and then being chastised for having ‘high hopes’ when the product doesn’t live up to the advertised quality.

I reckon that a healthy step for these movie-to-game adaptations and licenses would be to step away from the first-person-shooter genre and make something braver. An open world adventure game, perhaps with RPG elements; or maybe even a third-person survival horror game, probably the genre that the series is best suited for. In the Alien licensed games so far there is far too much emphasis on killing, when the focus in the movies was on surviving. Gamers will happily sit back and chew their fingernails over a game, and brands like Resident Evil and Silent Hill were born from that desire, (before invariably falling to diminishing returns and a focus on gun n’ run gameplay.) An interesting idea would be to start the game armed to the teeth, and then slowly lose your weapons and armour throughout the game, which would then be based around conservation in the midst of an Alien assault. It certainly would mimic Aliens itself, where, in the end, Ripley is forced to resort to a tool (the powerloader) to defeat her enemy.

As for this particular game, we’re wading through the ruins of a place already wrecked in Aliens. We already spent a couple of hours holed up there. Even if it had been made competently, I think I would still have some difficulty enjoying the retread. I wouldn’t actually mind something new, but to be honest, after playing Colonial Marines I was burned out by the Alien series altogether.

The sense of impending death from just a single Alien is lost when you’re holding back laughter at Gearbox’s parody. For all the stamping of approved canon on Aliens: Colonial Marines, nobody can seriously say that this sits anywhere on the Aliens timeline.
~ games.on.net.

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40 Comments

Filed under Alien Series

40 responses to “Aliens: Colonial Marines

  1. Gaius

    I’m not sure it was entirely GBXs fault. Check this out:
    http://kotaku.com/5984068/how-aliens-colonial-marines-fell-apart

    In addition to everything you’ve said above, I have the following to add about the game:

    1). The voice acting was okay; the actors knew what they were doing, and threw themselves into it as best they could. The problem is, the script was bad. No matter how good an actor you are, you can’t save a terrible script. I’m not saying this crew was Academy Award-worthy, but it would be interesting to see what they could have done with a better script.

    2). The sound effects were badly sampled and had minimal variety.

    3). The weapon customization system was a derivative mishmash, but it gave you something to look forward to as you went through the game.

    4). The weapons design was problematic. The M41A pulse rifle fires a 10mm explosive-tipped round (which is what enables it to blow aliens to pieces and punch fist-sized holes through steel bulkheads), whereas the other weapons were chambered in more conventional (and familiar) calibers. If I recall correctly, the Colonial Marines battle rifle fired a 7.62mm round — the same thing used by the AK47, the G3A3, and various other modern battle rifles.

    Here’s the thing: if your standard-issue carbine is firing 10mm explosive-tip rounds, a 7.62mm round will look positively toothless by comparison. For a battle rifle to be worthwhile in a time and place in which 10mm explosive-tip rounds are standard-issue for carbines, you’re either gonna need a GIGANTIC 20mm round for anti-materiel work, or you’re gonna need the opposite extreme: something like the 4mm sabot SCAR round used by the SCAR, SCARAB, and SCARE weapons in Crysis 2 and 3 (they call it a “Superior Combat Assault Rifle,” but it really should have been “Sabot-Chambered Assault Rifle”). The 4mm sabot round is basically a miniaturized version of a modern APFSDS tank shell. The sabot contains the propellant and allows the round to fit tightly into the chamber. When the shell is fired, the sabot continues to accelerate the projectile until propellant is exhausted, at which point the sabot either falls away or disintegrates, revealing an arrow-like, hypervelocity projectile; its fins, light weight, and high velocity will enable it to travel great distances and have great penetration, even at long ranges. THAT would be sufficient to compete with the sheer stopping power of the 10mm round (which, judging by other large-caliber, short-barreled weapons, probably has significant accuracy issues).

    Though I approve the presence of iron sights on the pulse rifle, I’m not so sure about the other components. They go against the grain of the Aliens weapon aesthetic, which was rugged, durable, beat-up, inelegant, and absurdly powerful (because it’s The Future), with a dash of Vietnam thrown in for good measure (one of the reasons the modern M16A4 rifle fires in three-round bursts is because excited soldiers in Vietnam tended to get trigger-happy, using an entire magazine on one enemy combatant). If anything, I would expect optics on such weapons to be equally over-the-top: smart-scopes (which they actually had in the game, but only for the marksman rifle — wouldn’t it have been great to turn your pulse rifle into a smartgun?), scopes that give you near-infinite digital zoom, etc.

    By comparison: tritium-illuminated iron sights and red-dot optics just SCREAM “special forces:” weapons lovingly tripped out to meet the extensive needs of the so-called “fighting elite.” That ain’t Aliens, that’s Black Ops II!

    Which is the crux of the matter: the developers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make weapons for Aliens or Call of Duty.

    5). The alien variants themselves didn’t make sense.

    Most alien variants we’ve seen so far, strictly within the Alien-Aliens-Alien 3 canon, seemed to derive their shape from the morphological characteristics of the host. Bipedal host, bipedal alien; quadrupedal host, quadrupedal alien. Though there appears to be some mechanism by which facehuggers can implant either a drone or a “queen” chestburster, no one knows how or why this distinction occurs.

    In terms of non-canon, there are only three developments I’ve seen that don’t seem too farfetched:
    * The so-called “predalien,” a xenomorph that takes on the characteristics of a Predator in the Alien vs. Predator crossover
    * Praetorians: larger, stronger, tougher aliens with a distinctive crest. Praetorians are primarily responsible for guarding the queen. Though there are many explanations for praetorian development, I prefer the idea that the praetorian represents a late-stage, sterile molt for a small number of drones
    * The idea that, under certain circumstances, drones can undergo hormone storms and become queens.

    But the alien variants in Colonial Marines harken back to Gears of War and Left 4 Dead — creatures created to impose specific challenges and break up the monotony rather than present legitimate. Admittedly, the Raven was pretty damn cool and quite frightening, but even that defied explanation. Likewise the Boilers, Spitters, and Crushers. It’s another example of emphasizing the insect analog of the aliens over their psychosexual horror and eldritch roots. Of course, Aliens WAS an action film rather than a horror film, so they can perhaps be forgiven for that.

    • Excellent critique of the game. That’s all I can say. I’m happy people will read my post and scroll down to your comment. I felt so emotionally destitute after experiencing this game that I almost gave up writing anything about it.

      Though there appears to be some mechanism by which facehuggers can implant either a drone or a “queen” chestburster, no one knows how or why this distinction occurs.

      As you later say, Cameron’s explanation for this was that your regular Alien would hormonally sense the absence of a Queen and ‘molt’ into one. That was thrown into some disarray after Alien 3, where Queens are decided from gestation.

      • Gaius

        As you later say, Cameron’s explanation for this was that your regular Alien would hormonally sense the absence of a Queen and ‘molt’ into one.

        I actually picked this idea up from Aliens: Nightmare Asylum rather than Cameron; I’m glad Cameron threw it in there, though. It may not be within the film canon, but its existence within the larger canon of the Aliens bible relieves me.

        Honestly? I never bought the “queen chestburster” idea. Aside from the fact that it is a transparent gambit to keep Ripley alive for the whole movie, it also goes against everything we know about the aliens from other aspects of the canon. A facehugger is a facehugger; an egg is an egg.

        Given their insect-like traits, I can certainly imagine the aliens feeding the equivalent of royal jelly to cocooned hosts in order to alter the embryonic alien’s metabolism and turn it into a queen, but this is totally unnecessary given that any drone can become a queen (according to Cameron).

        I’m sorry to hear you were so distraught about Colonial Marines. I wouldn’t have bought it if I had waited for reviews, but I’m glad I did, because it allows me to contribute my two cents. To be honest, I bought it based on pre-released gameplay footage of the battle in the hangar that never made it into the final game — you know, the part where the queen and the marine in the power-loader go head to head (and the queen rips said unfortunate marine in half). If the Kotaku article I linked holds true, then that might have been removed after the game changed hands a few times. Even the pulse rifle sounded different!

        My overall emotional reaction to the game was as follows:
        1). Disappointment with the graphics and gameplay
        2). Irritation by the plot and hamfisted attempts at melodrama
        3). Mild interest in leveling my character
        4). I enjoyed the ability to aim down sights, but accuracy remained a problem (though short, controlled bursts did help =P), as did damage output: depending on where you hit them, the aliens could take quite a while to die — not at all like the movie.
        5). The fact that I could switch weapons any time, though convenient, also meant that I never ran out of ammo! This significantly reduced the challenge of the game.

        There were some downright harrowing sequences, though. I already mentioned that bit with the Raven, but there were others.

        That part when those scientists were trapped in the cylinder with the queen was high-octane nightmare fuel. Even knowing what they’d done, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy, what with them screaming for you to let them out — especially watching them ripped away from the wall by one, ripped to pieces, and then thrown back against the glass one by one. And then the queen starts to break free! That got my adrenaline running: having to walk so near the glass when the queen was trying to get out. Whew!

        Likewise: that bit in the hangar, at the end of the game, was equally tense. You’re effectively unarmed, and you’re scurrying around whilst the equivalent of a t-rex is hunting for you. Not horrifying, but certainly adrenaline-inducing.

        The scene with the Raven had a similar effect: you knew it was out there, hunting you, and you had no weapons to fight back with. As I said: nerve-racking. Also, the Raven was exquisitely designed; it almost looked like a venerable version of the alien from the first film.

        • I should add that I Iiked the face of the Raven; it hearkened back to the original Giger Alien’s skull-behind-the-dome… though I think at a glance it also resembled the face of the Predalien (I almost thought the Raven had mandibles.)

          The last battle for me was marred by a glitch – the Queen would get stuck, so I could walk around her, even on Ultimate Badass.

          My interest in the game stemmed mostly from the old demo footage, but now that only serves to salt the wound. I was glad to put the game behind me. Once the dust has settled over the Gearbox/Timegate scandal I reckon it will fade into obscurity, only to be mentioned with passing scorn.

          It’s a shame.

  2. DecoTetra

    If there’s any truth to the “Many Worlds” interpretation, then this reality kinda sucks. I wanted to be in the slightly different version where Prometheus and Aliens:CM was a success with fans and critics, and for all the right reasons of course.

  3. Taking such an enduring and landmark film and boasting that you were not only going to live up to it but expand upon it was the height of arrogance and setting yourself up to fail even IF it was a great game.

    I’ve attempted to make sense of the jumbled mess here:
    http://sjcavanagh.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/aliens-canon-fitting-jigsaw-together.html

    • Jadex

      Alright, well the game was flawed, I will give you that. But, I feel that what I am largely seeing though is that it is considered taboo and unpopular to like this game. I work at a specialty store that focuses on video games and absolutely everybody to whom I have sold this game to has come back with a smile on their face. I know how badly we all wanted this game to succeed and I share in the feeling of betrayal that it failed to live up to expectations. But I was personally a fan of this title.
      I feel that in regards to the cancerous placenta issue, I feel I should point out that Ripley was augmented with Alien DNA in Resurrection. It had no effect on her because it was part of her genome. And in Alien 3, she was simply oblivious to the fact. I am not going to launch into a tirade to argue every little point with you. But even Alien 3 was peppered with inconsistencies.

      A.) The crytube design was completiely redone.
      B.) The name “Sulaco” was redone in White and relocated to a new position.
      C.) Newt magically went from 8 to being an adolescent.
      D.) There’s a magical egg in the cryo-chamber that was conceived by a drunk script of a mother and a simpleton production team for a father.

      All of this stuff is old news. My point is, all I see is a bunch of people spewing out well thought out and well worded nit-picks. “The doors weren’t shaped right” and “The sign got moved.” I understand that the game is far from perfect. However, I also feel that it was a heart felt love note to those that felt cheated by the third movie.
      Allow me to address Hicks’ presence in the game for a moment. He was returned to us. Frankly, that’s all that matters to me. Piss and moan all you want about the nature of the circumstances, but it’s already better than the garbage we were handed in the third movie.
      Do I feel that the Wey-Yu presence could have been handled more subtly? Of course I do. Do I wish Winter had more zingers and one liners? Don’t really care either way, maybe he’s just not that kind of guy. Did I enjoy the script? You know, I thought it was fun and entertaining. I had things that really annoyed me (i.e. APC/Jordan Family Truck, mispronunciation of Sulaco by absolutely everybody, wrong powered door sound fx, etc.) but I understand that these are little things that get missed in these situations.
      My ultimate point is that I feel like this entire article lacked any objectivity at all what-so-ever and simply focused on driving the afore mentioned party’s hurt feelings home to the point of making anyone who sits on the other side of the fence feel stupid for liking it (i.e. fan made diagrams of Hadley’s Hope and the never ending onslaught of concept art). I for one found this game to be frustrating and certainly lacking in certain areas. However, I also found it to be a more than decent tie-in for the second and third film that knitted them together nicely. While I’m sure that some of the elitists around here are looking down their nose and scoffing at what I have to say, I am proud to say that I will not be jumping on the Anti-A:CM band wagon. I will concede the few points that I agree on but I am glad to say that this game has been Canonised and none of this can take that away from me. To quote a great line from another wonderful sci-fi epic, “As we say on Earth, se la vi.”

      • But, I feel that what I am largely seeing though is that it is considered taboo and unpopular to like this game.

        Having read your comment as a whole, I have a feeling that this perception of yours is annoying you to the point that you see any criticism as personal attacks on your taste.

        But even Alien 3 was peppered with inconsistencies.

        We know, and Alien 3 is roundly lambasted for it. It deliberately set out to differ from Aliens, especially in its cryotube designs (Fincher wanted them to look like Alien‘s tubes.) Colonial Marines tried to do the opposite of that, and remain consistent – hence the criticism. So I don’t see your point in bringing up the third film.

        My point is, all I see is a bunch of people spewing out well thought out and well worded nit-picks.

        The article concedes that it is nitpicking. “In the spirit of fun” it says, and trust me, I did have fun running through the game and seeing where it did and did not match the movie, despite repeated assertions to the contrary. “some differences are admittedly so minute that they hardly matter,” I said. I’m not genuinely bothered about the lack of stencilled writing on the colony walls, or the addition of a neon sign, but I am cataloging, to the best of my ability, the differences. If that irks you… well, don’t read the article. It’s a long one, I’m sure you had plenty of time to know if you liked it or not.

        “spewing… well worded”. Okay, thank you for the back-handed compliment. I’ll take it.

        Allow me to address Hicks’ presence in the game for a moment. He was returned to us. Frankly, that’s all that matters to me. Piss and moan all you want about the nature of the circumstances, but it’s already better than the garbage we were handed in the third movie.

        From the article: “Personally, I am all for Hicks returning, but only on the condition that A) it is done right, and B) he has a reason to continue existing within this universe.”

        Your “He was returned to us. Frankly, that’s all that matters to me” means nothing to me. I’m glad you’re happy. “Piss and moan”, your word choice says a lot about your attitude. I think you’re angrier than we are.

        My ultimate point is that I feel like this entire article lacked any objectivity at all what-so-ever and simply focused on driving the afore mentioned party’s hurt feelings home to the point of making anyone who sits on the other side of the fence feel stupid for liking it

        Why would you feel stupid for liking it? Don’t be insecure.

        While I’m sure that some of the elitists around here are looking down their nose and scoffing at what I have to say

        Nope. You really are projecting. There isn’t a jeer here. We’re genuinely upset about how the game turned out, especially in light of the promises made. I was hoping that, had the game turned out great, I could have added an entire Colonial Marines section to the blog.

        I am proud to say that I will not be jumping on the Anti-A:CM band wagon

        The fewer the better. No one on that wagon particularly wants to be there. It’s not worth £60/$80.

        Somebody pointed me to your comment on the GBX forums, where you posted this comment and added:

        I will agree that this article was well articulated and very well thought out. I guess that’s despite the fact that it was mostly petty nit-picking and rivet counting, but he uses bullet points so his crap has Febreze sprayed on it to mask the stench.

        Bullet points are used to offer an easy way of presenting information in a list. Your “Febreze-stench-crap” metaphor is petty and nonsensical. That lack of objectivity you complained about earlier… ?

        I promise I’m not this usually this negative, nor do I usually openly call people out likd this. But seriously, that was the most self serving piece of garbage that I’ve read in a very long time. I would have danced with him tit for tat, but all of this is has been written via iPhone

        This isn’t a professionally-paid site. I do it entirely in my own time, at my expense, usually in the free time I get between university and spending time with my daughter. So yes, it’s completely self-serving. I’m sure you posted your comment here and at GBX to sate your own frustration.

        I don’t dance.

        ~ Valaquen

      • MrSpaceJockey

        Small edit: that “captured asteroid” is supposed to be Phobos (with the huge crater being Stickney Crater), the moon over an apparently terraformed Mars. Phobos station DOES appear in ALIENS: Infestation, though it, along with other really cool looking locations, must’ve been scrapped from A:CM.

        Great analysis here!

  4. M

    I really liked your article.
    Because you nailed the head with a big “badass” hammer.
    you correctly point out all the frustrating and disappointing aspects of the game and the differences between movie and game.

    I felt absolutly ready for this game in early February.
    Even watched all the movies from the franchise again, to get me into the right mood, when the game gets released.

    Even played that awesome military music (mainly drum playing) from the hangar combat drop scene of Aliens just before I launched the game on Feb. 12th. To get me absolutely motivated to face some aliens.

    But the first disappointment started with the graphics…
    (I even bought a new graphicscard for this game)
    and I thought I hadn’t installed the graphics drivers correcltly.
    Tried to tweak graphics and so forth… but no matter what graphic settings I used… this game just looked…. old….
    So already frustrated with the settings, and believing my machine is insufficient for this game… I continued playing…

    Awesome first moment, when visting the hangar bay from the movies. With Bishop’s legs lying around, and so forth.

    And after that… one disappointment after another…
    I really felt backstabbed by Gearbox and couldn’t believe…
    that I fell for a presale hype again (later on this below)

    Around middle of the game content, the story started confusing me and I gave up… put the campaign aside and playing the multiplayer…

    as you all know, this game wasn’t made in 6 years…. but 9 months….
    the result is crystal clearly….. insufficient, not satisfying.
    (especially because of the shown demo version)

    But to tell you the truth…. I am still playing this game….
    I even ignore the fact, that this game has received bad reviews.
    because I love the franchise way too much (yes, love can blind).
    And I still have hope, the developers will come up with a major patch,
    to improve the overall game experience.
    But I am still telling myself.. “stop this wishful thinking”…

    I also wanted to thank you, for the time you took to think and write this down. I had something similar in mind, posting it directly on Gearbox Forum.
    But seeing someone else with the same opinion is enough satisfactory.

    I hope we will hear an official statement from a dev or publisher soon.

    As for now, I am also done with preordering ever again.
    Star Wars The Old Republic did heavily disappoint me.
    Then followed by Diablo 3. And now it is Aliens Colonial Marines.
    All games were really hyped, and pushed their presales….
    And I had big hopes and wishes for those games/franchises.
    In the end, the customers are the ones left out/behind with a crappy product.

    If you think… those games were all developed by major companies…
    Bioware, Blizzard and Gearbox. Who all had major success with their previous games….

    I learned my lesson here… never ever trust a presale hype ever again.
    Even though they show amazing footages… I just won’t believe it anymore.

    It’s really sad, seeing what the game developing direction has come to….
    (sorry for my bad English, not my native language)

    Anyway… your blog post is the most accurate analysis between game and movie and developers promises and promises not kept.

    I will foward this blog post to friends and fans. This is indeed a good read.

    Thanks again and have a nice weekend.

  5. Jester

    I purchased this game specifically and solely to strap on M3 ballistic armour and mow down xenomorphs with a pulse rifle, and so far as that goes, I enjoyed the experience, so I can’t say I’m particularly troubled by these objections, valid as (some) of them may be (I also purchased the PC version, which seems to have far fewer issues with AI, clipping, etc, than any of the console releases, so that may have something to do with it). Frankly, the fact that the otherwise-faithfully uniformed USCM had circa 2003 Oakley boots and goggles and what look like SOLAG gloves irritated me more than any other inconsistency, perceived or otherwise (such as the “hourglass shaped bodies” of the female Marines, which comes across as complaining for its own sake, given the not-exactly-boyish figures of the film’s distaff USCM).

    What seems truly masturbatory so far as any of this is concerned though, is the fixation on the specific brand of mimicry that the author favours, which is to say, forcibly dispensing with all the human means to level the playing field against the drooling hell-beasts for little other reason than that’s what the movies did. Yes, it’s quite true that Cameron set up the Marines to fail, but it’s also just as true that he did so in quite possibly the most ham-fisted manner possible, giving his stalwart grunts so little redundancy that their on-mission margin for error would make the protagonist of “The Cold Equations” blanch. That’s the “deconstruction” of ALIENS when all’s said and done; cynical odds-rigging behind the fig-leaf of social commentary.

    • Marquis de Blah

      “Frankly, the fact that the otherwise-faithfully uniformed USCM had circa 2003 Oakley boots and goggles and what look like SOLAG gloves irritated me more than any other inconsistency, perceived or otherwise”

      Complaining about inconsistencies and deliberately sexed up characters is “complaining for its own sake”; being annoyed by gloves and goggles takes precedence.

      Okay.

      But hey, at least the article itself admits to nit-picking. Yourself?

      “What seems truly masturbatory so far as any of this is concerned though, is the fixation on the specific brand of mimicry that the author favours, which is to say, forcibly dispensing with all the human means to level the playing field against the drooling hell-beasts for little other reason than that’s what the movies did.”

      Long story short… what? It’s “truly masturbatory” to want the game to mimic the horror and survival aspects of the film? Isn’t that what it was meant to do? How’s life as a contrarian, anyway?

      “odds-rigging behind the fig-leaf of social commentary.”

      That’s quite the assertion. Where’s your substance? You didn’t like the film, but why should we care? And what do you want to say?

      MdB.

      • Gaius

        I actually agree with Jester, to an extent.

        Think back to when you were watching Aliens for the first time (I was about 13). As early as the briefing, you can tell the marines aren’t taking Ripley seriously (hell, the film comes right out and says it for you). Gorman’s admission of inexperience lets you know that HE’S gonna be useless when the sh*t hits the fan. And the voluntary restriction of pulse rifle and smartgun magazines lets you know that when the aliens attack (and you know they will), it’s gonna be a slaughter.

        So, right away, Cameron has blatantly stacked the deck in favor of the aliens. If they had taken advantage of the nuclear option as soon as it became clear that the nuclear option was the only option (either they damage the cooling system and the APS goes nuclear, or they nuke the site from orbit), there would, in all likelihood, been no casualties.

        There also would have been no movie.

        Here is where I disagree with Jester: the whole point of the movie was to show what happens when overconfident, high-tech grunts with inexperienced officers go up against a determined, ruthless, comparatively low-tech foe. Does that sound like Vietnam to any of you? In so doing, the film deconstructs the decisions and ideology that lead to the conflict in the first place. Though not the first (The Deer Hunter was the first — The Green Berets hardly constitutes a deconstruction!), it was perhaps the first to do so by allegory.

        Another point of disagreement with Jester:

        You claim, in your first paragraph, to want to strap on M3 ballistic armor and mow down some xenos.

        That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing: from everything we know about the aliens, once you do that, you’ve already lost.

        In war, you don’t cede the enemy any advantages; you take advantage of their weaknesses. The aliens have no ranged weapons (Spitters are non-canon), and they can’t fly. Ergo, the best way to take them out is from the air. If you can’t hit them from the air, then you take them out with a nuke, because doing otherwise is an invitation to disaster. Fighting them in close-quarters gives THEM the advantages: they can get into melee range much faster in close quarters, and their acid blood is more of a threat.

        A game in which you’re fighting the aliens on foot, in corridors, is a game in which the advantage has already been ceded to the xenos — much like the film. Both the game and the film cede these advantages exactly because the alternative isn’t an action movie or action game; it’s a documentary about how to bombard bugs from orbit.

        Nitpicking is good, though — Seonaidh nitpicked the game layout, I nitpicked the weapons design, and Jester nitpicked the aspects of the game’s visual design blatantly copied from modern warfare. I’m fine with that.

      • Marquis de Blah

        “And the voluntary restriction of pulse rifle and smartgun magazines lets you know that when the aliens attack (and you know they will), it’s gonna be a slaughter.”

        Key thing to remember is that in the film the Marines use their weapons anyway, in addition to flamethrowers and tracking equipment. The slaughter really comes in once the Aliens play their hand; weaving in and out from the shadows and the walls. The smartguns still don’t help.

  6. MrSpaceJockey

    Oops, I didn’t mean to reply to that specific chain of comments about the Phobos issue, haha, sorry…

    • I never played Aliens: Infestation, so thank you for the information. The concepts look great, I was saddened to see them… what could have been, huh?

      • MrSpaceJockey

        Agreed. I know Gearbox wanted us to explore movie locations, but I’m frankly tired of the dismal LV-426 landscape. Even Fiorina, albeit another movie location, would’ve been just, if not more, interesting to explore.

  7. Long time reader of this blog. I was expecting it a “review” of sorts. I must say that GBX and FOX can say all they want, I’ll never be able to consider ACM canon. It is just not possible. So many holes all around.

    I must say that I’m big “sucker” for all-things-alien, but I’m tired of getting hyped only for such let downs. What I’ll say here is just some stuff I didn’t saw written (I had to read fast, so I may have missed something) that I would like to share (again, this is my humble opinion):

    About LV-426: I was expecting to explore more of Hadley’s Hope story. See personal objetcs of people who lived there (I’m also a sucker for little details and interesting story logs), but all we saw were some rooms that appeared on the film and, after that, more of the same. No personalization to anything. No side stories, nothing except for a few logs – I think it was only 2. But ok, you could say that the company already had cleaned the place. I also would like to see their “homes” (something like the Dead Space 2’s station, where you have the chance to uncover personal stories about the stuff that was happening).

    From the gameplay point of view, I wanted this game so badly to follow the squad-based route, like Star Wars Republic Commando. I can only image how awesome it would be to say to your AI: “stay here”, or say to the other “open that door”, and formulate small strategies. SW:RC really nailed it and that was in 2005 – even the relationship between the commandos was cool. In ACM you just don’t have anything special between the marines. The “we don’t leave marines behind” doesn’t cut, and get’s boring very very fast.

    Now, the game really has some great and scaring parts. It also has an awesome soundtrack – to me, one of the greatest motives to feel like part of the movie universe. It is just that it had soooo many more potential. Oh boy.

    Greetings from Brazil and sorry about my english.

  8. Fantastic article. Glad to have stumbled on the site while doing research for my own issues with the game. Amazing that the script has Hicks compare his loss of Ripley to O’Neal and his sex thing, but then A:CM doesn’t get Aliens at all.

    >As for whether or not I consider this game to be canon with the movies, as GBX and Fox do, I say: I do not.

    I don’t think Fox cares one way or another about spin-off material. They wouldn’t blink to jettison it if the game came into conflict with another movie. And it’s unlikely that Gearbox will be getting to resolve that cliffhanger.

    Perhaps The Creative Assembly’s effort will be worthwhile.

  9. Alex

    A little off topic: one thing that gets me in Aliens is that when the Marines were being debriefed on the situation on Hadley’s Hope, Hudson asks “Is this another stand up fight sir, or another bug hunt?” and Frost confirms It’s a bug hunt. So, in the Aliens universe have the Marines fought other Alien-like creatures on other planets or is this referring to something else?

    • Gaius

      Not necessarily. Note that after Gorman indicates that they lost contact with the colony and that a xenomorph may be involved, Hicks asks, “What exactly are we dealing with here?”

      I get the impression that the Colonial Marines have been involved in numerous military actions against so-called “bugs” of different varieties.

    • Max

      I didn’t ever interpret Hudson’s question as relating to the aliens or other creatures, but rather as a reference to a type of task. Since he’s contrasting a bug hunt to a stand-up fight, I interpreted the term to mean something like ‘wild goose chase’.

      • Kevin

        Hi Max – There is an insignia on the side of the dropship that says something to the effect of “Bug Stompers: We Endanger Species.” I always assumed that this meant they were a special Marine unit whose specialty was seeking out aliens for study or eradication, rather than a regular combat unit.

        • Max

          Hi Kevin!

          Bug Stomper is actually the name of the drop ship. You could be right about the specialty of the unit- It’s never explicitly stated either way.

          • Kevin

            Hi Max – You’re right. I saw that on the AvP Wiki after I had posted. The “we endanger species” slogan still makes me think they are a special unit who does this all the time. Of course, being Marines, I assume they are just as skilled at “regular” combat (i.e. “a stand-up fight) as they are at hunting bugs (just not these particular bugs, lol).

  10. BillTed

    The same shlubs who thought they could foist duke nukem forever onto the public trashed an alienS game?

    Say it isn’t so

    And although people apparently enjoyed borderlands well enough, I thought is was pretty standard issue garbage

    They remind me of lindelof

    No talents who got lucky foisting ersatz trash onto the public a few times,
    but then when it gets noticed for what it is and they get called on it they’ve suddenly got a portfolio of excuses and 25 prehensile digits for pointing the blame towards everyone else

    Let alone the mess that is sega these days
    I wasn’t surprised or upset when this came out an utter trainwreck

    Nor was I surprised that fox continues to abuse the Alien name for a few more bucks by bestowing canonicity onto another turd

    They just finished doing it with prometheus

    It doesn’t matter

    O’bannon verse is seperate and safely quarenteened in my mind

  11. Remster

    What happened was that too many people were involved in the process. Whatever projects that you do, especially big projects, software or hardware, this is what happens when the leash is too long.

    Investors probably weren’t gamers. Developers themselves enjoyed too much time and too much money. When pressed by the investors (probably by litigators), they had to deliver something. Voila.

    The sell was the Alien name. Who can go wrong? It is really very straight forward. Make something relevant from a solid base. Fans just wanted a reiteration of Doom3, with era matching graphics. It only needed to be as decent as the last fps.

    I see this all the time. Investors put in all this money on the promises of an ‘expert’. He was an expert only in design but not in management, construction or quality control. The guy was used to staying in hotel suites so much, he forgot how a house is built.

    The game is entertaining but very hard on the eyes. Lots of eye strain and brightness adjustments. Very uncomfortable gaming for this day and age.

  12. Pingback: Xenoblog spotlight I | Monster Legacy

  13. Everything was said, but the level of details in the game is NOT satisfying as I wanted,,,,,,,my sad review:
    http://www.sulaco.cz/aliens_colonial_marines_.html

  14. Pingback: Aliens: Colonial Marines | metaRidley

  15. I keep checking back here very now and again. Great site – and you have an absolute wealth of knowledge. Totally agree with your idea about an Alien game. +1 internets.

  16. MrTdawg

    I just remember Gearbox stating this game was their way of eradicating Alien 3 from all our memories with a true sequel that the fans had originally hoped for! WTF!!!! They deserve to be sued, and sued BIG for that comment alone! With all the shyte Alien spin offs year after year, Alien 3 just gets stronger and stronger in my opinion. BTW love this site 😀

  17. Anubis1

    Great article, really lays out the problems of the cosmetic design and story choices. I disagree with one point though: I think the FPS genre works best for Aliens. Mainly because your visual focus is as tight as it is in real life, wheras a third person shooter affords you more awareness. Having the narrow, linear vision of first-person perspective would generate more tension.

    The one pitfall that the next design team of an Alien game needs to avoid is to make it like Call of Duty, because that’s exactly what happened with ACM. SEGA had an edict to make the game more like CoD, which is why you fight so many humans in the game.

    If an Aliens FPS had a slower pace, a more developed story and and more involved gameplay layed on top of the FPS ground work, it would probably be actually decent.

    I feel that the Aliens types introduced in ACM were an excuse to not make creative level design. It’s just run (advance) and shoot, and not run (escape) and shoot. Like you said, it should be about survival. Another problem with the Alien types is that I think that they’re supposed to be that way because of the radiation. Yes. The Alien trilogy is pretty grounded; it’s more on the Speculative Fiction end of Science Fiction, and they break out that hoary 1950s trope of radiation doing anything. Lazy

    I’m with you, MrTdawg, Alien 3 is a criminally unappreciated film.

  18. Alex Gregory

    Damn good post, and a succinct summation of everything that’s wrong with the game.

    You can see it from the intro sequence – the fact that four production studios are credited; Rhino 2-1 standing around, dead-eyed, as the umbilical closes behind them; Cruz brushing off Reid’s legitimate question about the absurdity of the plot with a simple, “We don’t know, but Marines don’t get left behind!”… I could go on all day.

    What pisses me off the most is how little respect they had for the source material, despite all the claims from Randy Pitchford and other Gearbox staffers about how much they respected the canon. The “magic egg” is now suddenly located in the cryopod room, stuck up in a corner at the far end of the row. W-Y apparently went back for Ripley on 161 despite (as this game claims) being onboard the Sulaco and having access to the crew – why didn’t they take her for interrogation? – and a healthy source of eggs and a queen back on LV-426. A dying Marine apparently decides to detonate a grenade and attempt to take all his comrades with him.

    Just about the only good things I can say about the game are that the soundtrack is amazing (it hits all the right beats from the first two films with just the right amount of pomp and military flavour), and I actually liked Hicks becoming a deadpan snarker due to his interrogation at the hands of W-Y.

    Everything else was a half-baked mess.

  19. DecoTetra

    Anyone try the Nintendo DS game, Aliens Infestation? I picked it up recently, since the game has dropped to bargain bin prices. Having not played A:CM, I’m told the plot of Infestation follows the storyline of A:CM, in as much that the game takes you to LV-426 and the Phobos installation. From a gameplay perspective I had fun. Infestation claims to be a Castlevania/Metroid inspired romp, and I’d say that is somewhat accurate. Although Infestation does not go into RPG length inventory or character development. Worth checking out.

  20. Good Article.
    Long time stalker for this blog.
    I have been a fan on the Alien series 1-4 since the late 70’s when ALIEN came out.
    The AVP movies were ok…fan of the original comic also.
    Yes the game has it’s flaws…considering they were trying to be Faithful to ALIENS. Yes they changed/ignored things, but i really love the game. Consistently scares the crap outta me. (playing in the dark with the home theater cranked up wouldn’t help)

    Before this, my favorite ALIEN game was ALIEN Trilogy on PS1.
    ALIENS Infestation on DS is a good little play, but i have not played it all that much.

    The DLC’s have been the real life saver though….Bug Hunt is a nerve wreaking hell ride for me.

    When i first got the game i was expecting the worst….but since i am an casual gamer..full time on call job and 5 kids, this game is just pure fun.

  21. Pingback: Asimov, Lovecraft, & promiscuous continuities | Fact, Conjecture, & Occasional Jokes

  22. I never got to play it for the all reasons you’ve eloquently laid out, Val.

    I worried early on by the bluster and apparently cluelessness of the spiel that this was another piece by bombastic types whose takeaway from the series is gun porn and gore and male braggadocio.

    I just cannot imagine failing to grasp ALIENS raison d’etre so comprehensively yet at the same time believing yourself to be some sort of ultimate fan of it. It’s sort of like getting your wife-to-be’s name wrong at the altar because you don’t really know her.

    Thank heavens Isolation came along to address the balance somewhat.

  23. An old post granted, but I had to give my two cents. I won’t continue to beat a dead horse with regards to how thoroughly disappointing to say the least this game was, but all the developers spouting such diatribe as “We’re bigger fanboys than everyone” is simply insulting. I consider myself one of the most obsessive and encyclopaedic Aliens nerds out there, and these charlatans have some nerve belittling the huge fandom that exists for the series; Aliens in particular. You hit every point, Valaquen (is that an Elvish name? From Valaquendi in the Silmarillion?) and it is shameful how dishonest the whole process was. And it’s canon? Pardon my French, but tish and fipsy to that hyperbolic bunch of egotistical cocoon-fodder.

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