Thursday, February 14, 2013
Nerd Rant: Is the Alien Franchise's Game Over in Aliens: Colonial Marines?
The long-awaited Aliens: Colonial Marines video game has arrived this week for Xbox 360, PS3 and PCs, and it looks like the wait was a bust. According to review totals calculated by Metacritic, Colonial Marines has gotten abysmal reviews from all over the Internet. From what I can tell, the game's main weaknesses are bad AI, subpar graphics, repetitive and oversimplified game play, poor plot and scripting, a complete absence of suspense and terror, and a wide assortment of technical glitches. The more generous reviews describe the game as an average shooter that might have been impressive ... had it been released a few years ago.
One of my favorite review quotes is from the one by Ben Kuchera on the Penny Arcade site: "The aliens, or xenomorphs as they’ve become known, are supposed to be one of the most brutal and vicious opponents in modern science fiction. Here they run around like clumsy men in suits, and they often swipe at you and then take a step back to either make sure you’re okay, or to give you time to shoot them. ... The combat itself is like being inside a haunted house and not playing along with the actors. What are they going to do, hit you? The aliens don’t seem to know what to do if you don’t kill them all the second you see them. They like to run around each other, only attacking human characters on occasion. You’ll sometimes find them just kind of hanging out with their heads butted up against walls."
I haven't purchased a copy of the game (thankfully) so I can't comment on it myself. Nevertheless, I'm disappointed to read just how bad this game is after everything that was done to hype it as a canonical installment in the Alien universe. Gearbox, the company behind Colonial Marines, has heavily promoted this game as a "true" sequel to Aliens that explains some of the narrative gaps between Aliens and Alien 3. It also released many articles and videos that emphasize their developers' love of Aliens, their in-depth knowledge of Aliens trivia, and personal meetings with key figures from the Alien franchise such as Ridley Scott, Ron Cobb and Michael Biehn.
So, with the critical and technical failure of this latest entry in the Alien franchise's long list of video games, I can only ask one question: Just how much longer can video game developers rely on the franchise's Colonial Marine characters and weapons to create new games? Read on for my complete face-hugging, chest-busting, acid-bleeding rant.
The major selling point for Colonial Marines is that it's a first-person shooter that allows players to explore familiar Alien saga environments (e.g., LV-426, the U.S.S. Sulaco, the derelict space jockey ship, etc.) and kill hordes of Aliens by using Colonial Marine weapons and technology (e.g., pulse rifles, motion trackers, flame throwers, Power Loaders, etc.). The problem with this selling point is that there have already been eight Alien video games that featured this same selling point since the 90s, when first-person shooters appeared on the video game scene. Here's a list of arcade, PC and home console games that are similar to the game play style of Colonial Marines:
* Alien 3: The Gun (arcade, 1993)
* Aliens vs. Predator (home consoles, 1994)
* The Alien Trilogy (home consoles and PC, 1996)
* Aliens vs. Predator (PC, 1999)
* Alien Resurrection (home consoles, 2000)
* Aliens vs. Predator 2 (PC, 2001)
* Aliens: Extermination (arcade, 2006)
* Aliens vs. Predator (home consoles and PC, 2010)
More recently, there was Aliens: Infestation, which was released in 2011 for the Nintendo DS and was also developed by Gearbox. Infestation is similar to Colonial Marines--same locations, same weapons, mostly the same plot--but it's a 2D side-scrolling shooter, not a first-person shooter.
I have played the Aliens vs. Predator PC game from 1999 that I listed above, and I think that it's one of the better franchise games. It doesn't have much of a plot to it, and it takes place in between Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. It also utilizes quite a few ideas from Dark Horse's Aliens comics; this felt appropriate, since Dark Horse was the company that originally came up with the Alien/Predator crossover idea, and the extra details add some richness to the game's overall content. Much of the game's appeal stems from how many of its levels are modeled after locations from the movies: one level takes place on a cargo ship similar to the Nostromo from Alien, while another level takes place in the Fiorina 161 prison colony from Alien 3. Yet because the game's human campaign casts players as a Colonial Marine, most of those levels are modeled after locations similar to those in Aliens. A few levels take place in a military ship similar to the Sulaco, while a few other levels put players back on LV-426 over 50 years after the events of Aliens in a colony similar to Hadley's Hope--a Weyland-Yutani research colony built around the derelict space jockey ship. Aliens vs. Predator is a fun game to play, but I'm dismayed that here we are 14 years later and game developers are essentially making the same game all over again and with so many glitches to boot.
I love Aliens. It's a great movie, it's a great sequel to Alien, and it shows how talented Jim Cameron is as a director. But the franchise as a whole has so much more to offer than just Aliens. If video game developers can't--or won't--take advantage of the wider range of possibilities that the Alien saga provides, then I think that the franchise's valuable contributions to video game entertainment have come to an end.