Development hell is a term be used in relation to many things. Films, TV, music and video games. Aliens: Colonial Marines is the best example of development hell. The end product was the purest example of how much of a toll it can take.
Years & Years
For years, we had been teased with screenshots and cover spreads. This was the Aliens game we were all waiting for. Fending off Xenomorphs, firing iconic weaponry, it was all part of the deal. I remember seeing Colonial Marines in several different magazines, across five years. Each new spread revealed a more information.
The run-up to the release of Colonial Marines was bizarre. PR went into hyperdrive, making outlandish claims. Given the game was officially filmed canon, the game’s plot was a huge deal. Sold as the continuation of the Aliens story, theories and thoughts soon formed. How would they pull this off? Would it share tone of the first two films?
Gearbox claimed the story would make the player cry. Forging emotional connections between characters was highlighted. This wouldn’t be a simple bug hunt, it was a film worthy story. Bold claims weren’t exclusive to the story. Randy Pitchford expressed excitement over the A.I, calling it ”Sophisticated artificial intelligence”.
Mr Pitchford was often at the front of the PR offensive. He pretended multiple trailers and hands-on events. The hands-on events resulted in controversy, but only after the game had released. Pitchford claimed all of the gameplay shown in trailers (and played at events) was live gameplay. It turned out to be far from the truth.
On the 12th of February 2013, Aliens: Colonial Marines was released. Memories of seeing it unlock on my Steam library still linger. After years of build up, it was finally here. This was set to be the definitive Aliens experience, almost like I was side by side with the Marines. Loading up that menu, hearing that music chime. An hour into the game and it wasn’t that bad…but why did it look like shit?
The visuals looked nothing like they did in the promotional material. Where was the dynamic lighting? Why did everything look like cheap plastic? What the fuck did I just pay for? Questions popped up at every turn. Suddenly this game started to feel like a product sold on lies. Each lie started to unravel as the time passed by. Sequences showed in various trailers and demos were missing, replaced with stripped replicas. In truth, the whole game was a husk of what was sold.
Pitchford’s promised quality A.I turned out to be a lie. Enemies were hugely ineffective, often comedic. Running around in circles and firing at walls is commonplace. Witnessing such odd behavior was hilarious at first, but then I remembered that game cost money. Enjoying Colonial Marines was more of a challenge than anything else.
Corridors & Disappointment
After six hours of corridor shooting, the game came to a close. Its story was laughable, from start to finish. This was poor fan fiction injected into a Triple A release. None of the film’s charm, no Marine interactions. All the promises Gearbox made bout its story was yet another lie. By the time the credits began to roll, all I could do was exhale and click uninstall.
Aliens: Colonial Marines was one huge lie. If it wasn’t for the Aliens license and Gearbox lies, there could have been a solid shooter. The old school approach to weapons and health was oddly refreshing. Its mechanics were outdated, but they were still solid. Avoiding the obvious issues is impossible. This was a full price shooter, marketed through lies and misdirection.
History will show that Aliens: Colonial Marines will be noted for its failures. Perhaps it was a word of warning, showing the lengths companies will go to sell games. We’ve already seen the likes of Ubisoft claim to show ‘live gameplay’ only for the end product to look totally different.