Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Aliens, Lies, and Everything: The Colonial Marines Fiasco

If you were anywhere near the Internet last week, you might be aware that Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t that great of a videogame. The latest release from Gearbox definitely took its bumps in the press, and been vilified to the extent that both Gearbox and the Aliens franchise may be forever tainted. It seems the pitchforks of Angry Internet Mobs have only gotten sharper and sharper lately.

It’s a curious case of overblown production, saturation of marketing, and downright fabrications that allowed Aliens: Colonial Marines to suffer the fate is has. Just about a year ago, Rock, Zack, and I saw a presentation from Gearbox, which showed off both the single-player campaign, as well as the competitive multiplayer. We enjoyed what we saw, and Rock had some high praise for it.

 It’s now come to light that the majority of what we saw was never actually in the game.

Seen here: Lies.
The single-player hands-off demo was a guided experience through several settings that were familiar to fans of the Alien franchise. To be honest, I’ve never been all that big a fan of Aliens, Gearbox, or first person shooters. Objectively, though, what Gearbox showed was impressive. Graphics were crisp, settings seemed true to the movies, and the gameplay appeared to be an exciting mix of horror and action.

Rock, who is by far the biggest Aliens fan I know, seemed pretty high on the game after this demo. And I must admit, I had a lot of fun with the multiplayer session we played. This might be due to the fact that we crushed the Gearbox guys we were playing against, but still, it was fun. It wasn’t hard to see Aliens fans experiencing this demo and afterwards putting down money for a pre-order.

Like I said, though, almost the entirety of what we played was a lie. The sequence shown appears to have been created solely for these demonstration purposes. It's not even clear what studio worked on the demo build.

The single-player campaign has been called out be reviewers for being broken, slow, short, and downright boring. The development of this portion was allegedly farmed out to TimeGate Studios, who in turn claim they were given little time and assistance with the game. Gearbox refutes this, of course, because of course they do. A studio like Gearbox, with a huge fanbase and a massive hit franchise like Borderlands, cannot afford to be seen as a corner-cutting, disinterested studio.

CEO Randy Pitchford has taken to Twitter to defend his previous excitement and hyperbole of the game stating that “No one likes to be called a liar, especially if their intent was pure..”

After this, he apparently went on a blocking spree, claiming he “didn’t have time” for criticism.

To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how to feel about this situation. On one hand, the Videogame Enthusiast Internet has gotten incredibly good at forming into a giant, angry mob, ready to tear down their next victim. It happened to EA, it happened to Activision, and now it’s happening to Gearbox.

On the flip side, Gearbox pulled some downright stinky hijinx. Showing a demo that had no actual bearing on the game, as well as their ostrich-like response to criticism has certainly not won them many points in my book. I think a lot of gamers and press feel the same way.

I'm personally more than a little disappointed with the way gamers have dealt with their frustration when their favorite franchise lets them down. Early last year, Mass Effect 3 launched to a massive outcry from gamers who felt that the ending to their game was not to their liking. This in turn created a huge tidal wave of anti-EA and BioWare resentment, as if the internet at large needed more reasons to be angry with EA.

How did that turn out? Well, the game was bombed on Metacritic and Amazon with incredibly low scores, and the BioWare founders ended up leaving the company in late 2012. As I've said before, it's not a stretch to think that the fan fury over Mass Effect 3 factored a considerable amount into the Doctors' decision to leave the company.

Hell, Gearbox itself is no stranger to negative reactions.

From an interview posted on Eurogamer:

"Gearbox co-founder Brian Martel has claimed Duke Nukem Forever was not reviewed fairly by some publications, arguing it was used "as a soapbox" while claiming: "Everybody should really be thankful that it existed to some degree at all."

In a different, much more bizarre statement Randy Pitchford said he'd hoped Duke Nukem would rile up feminists:

“I’ll tell you what, if some feminist organization that is doing a great job advocating women’s rights worldwide, which I think is really important, can get some advantage by using Duke… go for it…"

Now, I'm all for transparency, and game industry CEOs acting all "one-of-the-guys", but come on. Arguing with critics, especially in public places like Twitter and various interviews is never going to make you look good. There are highly paid PR specialists in this field for a reason. Getting on your Twitter and slangin' beef with people who poo-poo your games is a recipe for disaster. Just look at that Ocean Marketting guy. You think he's getting much work these days?

Gearbox needs to be incredibly careful moving forward. They've already shifted focus to Furious Four, and beyond that, a new Brothers in Arms game. One could easily assume Borderlands 3 would follow that, with another Duke game in the future as well.

If they suffer another huge disaster like this however, they may not be around to make those games.

What's the frequency, Christopher Linendoll? Follow him on Twitter.


  1. Excellent overview of the situation. Did any Griefers spend some time with the final product yet (or will they considering the press)? I found a few interesting things on the internet that speak to different aspects of this controversy.

    First, an animator and artist I follow posted a really, um, unique but interesting take on A:CM's positives (but mostly explores what makes good survival horror games in his estimation):

    And 13 minutes of the Aliens game that Obsidian was developing (the game that was cancelled in favor of A:CM) was posted to the internet yesterday:

    What's also interesting is noticing––as you tangentially pointed out, Chris––how much credibility within the community Gearbox has apparently built from the success of only two games (being the Borderlands series). I bought the dupe and was shocked that the mighty Gearbox released a bad game, but after investigating their gameography, they really only have those two games to their credit (the last mainstream Brothers in Arms game was back in 2008––a lifetime ago by gaming standards––and is it a franchise up there with Borderlands?). Maybe we should have seen it coming?

    1. Thank Dan.

      To be honest, I was increasingly inebriated while working on this, and couldn't collect my thoughts as well as I'd like to have.

      I basically wanted to present the argument that maybe Gearbox ISN'T a Triple-A developer, and kinda stumbled into their success with Borderlands. I mean, even the biggest BL1 fans were as high on Borderlands 2. So maybe the high expectations for A:CM were unjustified.

      Also, their PR decisions are abysmal.

    2. That's an awesome point, Chris, and one that I've been trying to make for a long time now. I've never really understood the hype surrounding Gearbox games. Most of their stuff has struck me as being pretty mediocre at best


    3. This is some incredibly bad news for Gearbox. I'll probably get the game sometime later when it's super cheap to see the end results. But to see that the demo footage was essentially fake is down right appalling. Insulting even.

      For such a young studio, they are getting really brash, and I just see that spelling their doom if it continues.