Because I try not to be mean even when someone is being mean to me, let us just say that Aliens: Colonial Marines is somewhat… divisive. In that it has divided the patience of many an expectant fan. You can’t win ‘em all, although some people like it. That is cool for them and their happiness is my happiness.
More people do not, though. Metacritic collate-paints a fairly unflattering picture, and I must admit that after less than ten minutes with it I had the same impulse that I’m sure lots of other peoples did: I just wanted to find Randy Pitchford and ask him why.
What happened? Why are the aliens drunk? Why can I put a silencer on my pulse rifle? Why are the textures from the Jurassic period and why can’t the game recognise a graphics card I’ve had for two-hundred years? Look into my eeeeeyeeee.
Subsequently, a lot of backroom details we’re not ordinarily privvy to started to surface: ACM had been in production at Gearbox for six years, continually pushed back in favour of Borderlands 2 until Sega began to suggest legal action was in order.
There’s a very interesting account of all that on Reddit by an alleged former employee.
Nothing will make a publisher (or anyone) move faster than the law, so Gearbox reportedly outsourced the bulk of the game’s dev-work to Section 8 studio TimeGate in a last-ditch effort to stave off Phoenix Wright.
Sega would go on to contradict Gearbox themselves and deny this, but it’s a spurious denial at best. This is not the handiwork of the men and women who gave us Pandora to play on.
ACM is not just a window into the tumultuous juggling act of publishers, studios, big expectations and bigger licenses, but also into the nature of the games press. This guy has clearly not, in my opinion, actually played the game. That is not an assumption, it is clear and present fact: the vagaries of everything he mentions were all covered to the exact same hollow extent in every bit of preview coverage ever.
I don’t believe he was “paid off” but rather that he banked, like so many of us did, on ACM being a great game and thought yeah, let’s get those clicks early. Beyond unethical, but if he’d been right, no disservice would’ve been rendered (that you knew of).
Unfortunately for him, no one could’ve predicted this, and further to that is the fact nobody has been able to convincingly answer why ACM seemingly got worse during development and not better. This video, hey. You’ve seen it, but it’s still a mind-fry:
Development, press, and also the press as given by the developers themselves has not been spared by ACM. Randy Pitchford has worked as a magician IRL and some are starting to feel he’s still an illusionist over at Gearbox too. It’s true, he talked up some things that were simply not in the game (slashed, so they say) and the demo he flaunted in his pre-show runs at the media (see above) looked a lot more impressive than what hit storefronts. Death threats are taking it a little far. Don’t do that.
I interviewed Randy, in person, prior to the game’s release. He genuinely loves Aliens. He does. He knew more about its intricacies than anyone in that room. Not stuff media training would teach you; stuff a fan from way back would know. He looked like a big sad kid when he told me ACM director Brian Martell got to meet Ridley Scott to talk LV-426 and he didn’t. The passion is there and real, but Pitchford works with what he’s got, like any CEO stretched thin.
The whole thing has shone such a piercing light on just about all sectors of the industry it feels like it might actually have been good for something in that context. Gearbox are still suffering tremendous backlash and no doubt will for some time, but all’s not completely lost for ACM itself – because you know who’s going in to save the marines who went in to save the other marines? You guys are.
Header image courtesy David Rayfield.