Of all the video game related trainwrecks that have occurred throughout the medium’s short history, nothing has infuriated gamers quite like the Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle. Deception mixed with controversy mixed with lies, has kept this recent release for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on the lips of game journalist and enthusiasts for over a month. Get your pulse rifles at the ready as we head into this roundup of all the events so far. And remember, stay frosty.
Aliens: Colonial Marines – A disaster six years in the making
Aliens: Colonial Marines was originally a title in development for the PS2 backed by Fox Interactive and EA, and due for release in 2001. This particular title was cancelled before it saw the light of day before being brought out of hyper-sleep in 2006, when Sega acquired the rights to develop games based on the entire Aliens franchise. It was at this time that Sega, acting as publisher, brought in developer Gearbox Software to work on a brand new game; a game that was, coincidentally or not, announced in 2008 to be titled Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Years went by and Colonial Marines went from one delay to the other, but always with a promise made by both Sega and Gearbox that patient fans would be well rewarded, with a game that could be genuinely considered part of Alien canon. It was difficult to argue with such claims considering that the concept artist for the Aliens film, Syd Mead was brought in to work on environmental designs; and that select members of the development team spent time with Ridley Scott, analyzing the script for Prometheus.
It wasn’t until 2011, when Sega showed off a non-playable demo of Colonial Marines at popular gaming event E3, that the dream started to become a reality. Luscious environments set on the crashed ship the Sulaco and the surface of LV-426 were brought eerily to life with advanced lighting, textures and shading. Those watching the demo experienced an exhilarating battle against xenomorph warriors, a new ‘Crusher’ alien, and the iconic alien queen battling a marine controlled power-loader. The game even made an entry on our Most Anticipated Games of 2013 article.
Avid ‘Aliens’ fans unwittingly paid for one of the worst video game disasters in history
Many gamers pre-ordered Colonial Marines to get their hands on special editions and pre-order bonuses. Just as many gamers spent a whopping $29.99 on the DLC ‘Season Pass’, ensuring all four downloadable content packs that had been promised by Sega would be theirs as soon as possible. The money came pouring in far before the game’s release on Feb 12th of this year; but these avid fans were unwittingly paying for one of the worst gaming disasters in history.
Colonial Marines garnered poor reviews across the game journalism industry as well as many complaints from disgruntled fans due to missing features, poor graphics, game breaking bugs and glitches, saving issues, an incoherent storyline and gameplay that was mediocre at best.
Plenty of games come out every year that fail to impress, but many called Sega and Gearbox out specifically for releasing a game that differed greatly from the demo showed at E3 2011. Many players also noticed the opening and closing credits of the game referring to the involvement of developer TimeGate Studios; leading many to accuse Sega of outsourcing development of Colonial Marines to another party.
Sega, Gearbox, TimeGate: Who developed what?
Sega’s initial reaction to accusations of outsourcing primary developmental tasks were met with firm denials. Matthew J. Powers, senior producer at Sega, said the following when asked about the allegations in an interview with Playnews, as reported on DSOGaming:
Absolutely not, the game has been developed by Gearbox Software. Other studios helped Gearbox on the production of single and multiplayer.
These claims were quickly contradicted by an anonymous source who claimed to have worked on Colonial Marines. His story, posted on Reddit, claims that TimeGate were asked to help out on development of the game due to Gearbox’s frequent delays; as they paid attention to other projects such as the original Borderlands, Duke Nukem Forever, and the popular Borderlands 2. This same source also claims that TimeGate made roughly 85% of the game before handing development back over to Gearbox.
Furious Aliens fans however, did some snooping of their own and found the resumes of numerous TimeGate employees, which revealed that a large portion of Colonial Marines had indeed been developed by TimeGate. These tips were then sent to, and written up by Destructoid. For example, Steve Baroski and a team of up to eight other individuals worked on environments for single and multiplayer levels. Nathan Wood on the other hand, developed the entirety of the game’s first single player level, and Robert Hallwood headed the team that created the aforementioned E3 2011 demo. This suggests that not only was TimeGate involved, but they were in fact involved very early on, in Colonial Marines’ development cycle.
“Gearbox stole from Sega… and tried to get another company to make the game instead.”
An anonymous whistle blower known as “Bryan Danielson”, also known for accurately revealing inside information about internal Sega affairs, spoke of TimeGate’s involvement in the project. He also went as far as claiming, that Gearbox stole money from Sega to fund unrelated projects. His original blog post, which was deleted, but has since been posted on Guru3D.com, states the following:
Gearbox wanted to focus heavily on Duke Nukem Forever, but how would they get the money to hire some of the 3D Realms team and even buy the intellectual property? Sure, they made a lot from Borderlands, but guess where they got the money to fund Borderlands in the first place? Yup, SEGA.
So Gearbox essentially lied to SEGA, mishandled funds, broke agreements and contractual obligations to work on other projects, didn’t want to work on a game they were contractually obligated to work on and gave it to another team, poor organization and direction on ACM, took on too many projects from different companies at once, and other things that we may not even know about. Hell, part of me believes that Gearbox wanted this thing delayed as much as possible so they can get more funding money to embezzle from SEGA.
Aliens: Colonial Marines left a trail of disappointment, infuriation and job losses
But what is the fallout from this fiasco? Well, statistics generated from Valve’s digital distribution service Steam, revealed that 65% of players that bought Colonial Marines within the first week of its release also stopped playing in that same week. The still unreleased Nintendo WiiU version of the game which, according to a claim posted on DSOGaming by an anonymous European tester, is worse than any previous version, will likely remain unreleased until eventual cancellation. Lastly, TimeGate president Adel Chaveleh announced to Polygon the unfortunate news of recent layoffs within the company, undoubtedly a result of Colonial Marines poor performance and infamy.
Is there a future for Aliens: Colonial Marines?
Following a successful Facebook petition, a software patch was released to address the myriad bugs plaguing Colonial Marines’ multiplayer and single player segments. Although the general consensus by gamers is there is no patch that can clean up this horrendous mess.
The first Colonial Marines DLC titled ‘Bug Hunt’ is on the way. However, Sega has been keeping relatively quiet about its release. It is unlikely that gamers will buy the pack unless they were unfortunate enough to purchase the ‘Season Pass’, which in turn throws a shadow of doubt over the remaining three DLC add-ons promised by Sega.
Aliens: Colonial Marines will remain a black mark on the reputation of both Sega and Gearbox. It will remain a source of aggravation and ridicule by gamers for years to come. But, with so many questions still left unanswered, this may just be the start of a long and depressing story. Have you been unfortunate enough to experience Aliens: Colonial Marines? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.