Sunday, February 17, 2013

Aliens: Colonial Latrines

Another week, another game controversy.

This time it's Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines, by all accounts an atrocious train wreck of a game that seems to have suffered from the "too many cooks" syndrome of thinking that more developers = a better game.  Clearly, this is not the case.

The game has been in active development for around six years, after Sega purchased the gaming rights to Aliens from Fox and then approached Gearbox to develop the game for them.  From various leaks in the past few days it seems clear that Gearbox did not take the project as seriously as they should've, choosing instead to focus on their own in-house projects of Borderlands and then Borderlands 2 (which are both great games).

Gearbox outsourced Aliens to TimeGate Studios, developers of the average-at-best FPS Section 8, to do most of the heavy lifting on the singleplayer campaign, whilst Gearbox themselves would concentrate on the multiplayer, with Demiurge and Nerve heading the DLC and other ancillary tasks.  So far that's four different studios involved, not counting the publisher.

As Sega began to make threatening noises with regards to possibly suing Gearbox for breach of contract for not delivering the game as promised (since they were busy working on Borderlands, then Duke Nukem Forever, then Borderlands 2) Gearbox began to run out of time and excuses.  The work from TimeGate on the singleplayer was (reportedly) poor, and so Gearbox had to scrap much of that and start from scratch.  Sega granted them one final extension, and essentially it seems that much of the game was cobbled together over this previous year or so.  Features that were stated to be in the game were simply dropped, or implemented so poorly that they should have been dropped.

Gearbox tried to pull all of the disparate elements together into one cohesive game, but the writing was on the wall.  The game itself has been panned on almost every single gaming site and print magazine.  Notable mentions go to PC Gamer which awarded the game 48 / 100 (ironically it scored as high as it did mostly for the multiplayer); Destructoid which Jim Sterling gave 2.5 / 10; and Eurogamer which gave the game 3 / 10 (again, mostly for its multiplayer).  Its current rating on Metacritic is 42 for the PC version.

Nobody looks good coming out of this, not Sega, not Gearbox, not Randy Pitchford (President and CEO of Gearbox), not TimeGate nor any of the other collaborating studios.  In particular, heavy criticism has been levelled at Gearbox for the major differences between the demo of Aliens: Colonial Marines that they displayed at PAX and other shows, and the final product which is almost entirely different.  Jim Sterling has an excellent video describing these changes and he is not one to mince words.

I like Randy Pitchford, I like Gearbox and I like many of their games (the Borderlands series particularly), but Gearbox really look bad in this.  They took on a project, essentially half-assed it for a number of years, farmed it out to another middling developer, failed to adequately monitor what they were doing, then rushed to try and pull it all together at the end.  It was the gaming equivalent of a college student pulling an all-nighter to turn in an essay due the next day that he'd been putting off for three months.  Gearbox's deception over the demo (for which the phrase "bait-and-switch" seems eminently suitable) adds the cherry to the top of this shit-sandwich.

So is this the end for Gearbox?  No, but their reputation has taken a heavy hit over all of this.  No doubt fingers will continue to be pointed over the next few weeks, Gearbox will come up with a bunch of excuses ranging from solar flares to sabotage by the Illuminati as to why the game turned out as it did; perhaps some of these will he justified but I'm sure most of them won't.  The only thing that can be said with certainty is that the game stinks and is not worth the $50 they are charging for it.  If you desperately want to play it (perhaps you like cutting yourself, perhaps you're just a big fan of the circus) then wait for a Steam sale, which by all accounts will probably happen sooner rather then later.  Do everyone else a bigger favour though and just don't buy the game at all.  Don't reward developers for putting out crap like this because that just sends them the message that it's ok to make shit because people will buy it.

It's particularly disappointing that this comes from Gearbox, a developer that has made perhaps two of the best shooters of the past decade in Borderlands and Borderlands 2.  How they can think this is ok in 2013 is beyond me.  I would strongly advise anyone thinking about purchasing this game to avoid this turkey at all costs.

Shame on you Gearbox.