So... there's this game that released this week, and err... it was kind of sucky...
Like, really sucky.
I am ofcourse speaking of:
As an Aliens fans, and an AvP fan (THE GAMES, THE GAMES DAMN YOU) I have to say I'm really, really disappointed. I was expecting, well yeah, a shooter, but maybe an intelligent one which maybe tried to make some clever points like Aliens whilst also being a lot of fun and a fitting tribute to a franchise of films of which about half I love.
It was not this.
It was so not this.
I don't want this to descend into a diatribe about the faults of the game itself, rather I thought I'd talk a bit about why the premise of the game sucks as far as I'm concerned. So, less 'hey, the motion tracker's useless!' and more 'why is this a dumb shooter?!'
Why is this a dumb shooter?!
I mean I get why it's a shooter Aliens has always been seen as action-heavy, and I get that Alien(s) is the sort of big-budget IP that a publisher would probably want to see out there as a AAA game, top-shelf material, and at the moment pretty much every best-seller is some sort of action-heavy, run-and-gun macho shooter.
I get that, and from the sounds of things the game has had a LOT of development problems. I just don't get why more generally there seems to be this notion that all you can make from the Alien(s) franchise is a straight shooter.
Don't get me wrong, I love shooters, and I'm not saying it shouldn't have been a shooter, I'm just saying why did it have to be this kind of shooter? Why a linear shooter? Why a game about a male white marine shooting stuff up? Why all the same clichι gung-ho tropes?
I mean I don't want to get pretentious sounding, or holier than thou about it, because at the end of the day Aliens is just a piece of fiction, an IP like any other, and I think a certain amount of twisting or contorting of source material to cross mediums is not necessarily a bad thing the series has had plenty of spin-off games that have taken liberties with the source material to do what they want, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that. One of my favourite Aliens games is AvP Arcade, a game that borrows from Aliens, borrows from Predator, mixed into together with a typical arcade game storyline and a host of stock game tropes (end of level bosses, heroic action hero characters, etc). It does all this in a very easy-going sort of way, taking a lot of liberties with the license (Dutch from Predator gets a cool cyborg gun arm!), and by doing so removes a lot of what made the movies the kind of movies they were (the atmosphere and realistic themes), and shifts the tone quite a bit.
However, it does this well.
It's fun for what it is. Which is the point.
Another of my favourite game's is Aliens vs Predator 2, released for the PC in 2001, it was an FPS that allowed you to play as all three races Aliens, Marine, Predator, but interwove a plot between the three campaigns and tried to add something of the cinematic depth of the films to the game, whilst still remaining A GAME. In doing so it added a lot of stuff but also changed things, it cut and merged the two universes until they fit, it took elements from the films and expanded on them the colony for example in AvP2 is much larger, and more like a mini-city than the frontier-town that the one in Aliens is.
In short it took liberties, but it did it in such a way as to capture the spirit of the films whilst observing the conventions of how a game works. It adapted the source material, but did it in such a way that it still felt like an 'Aliens' thing. It felt like it fit somewhere in the fiction, even if it wouldn't fit in the canon. Much like AvP Arcade.
While obviously the bugs, the poor graphics (at times) and the lacklustre narrative frustrate me a lot, they don't annoy me half as much as the apparent lack of thought and sense of integrity to the IP that's been displayed in Colonial Marines. Maybe integrity's the wrong word, it comes off sounding almost draconian, authoritative, as if there's only one way to make an Aliens game, and that's really not what I'm trying to say.
It's that sense of capturing some of the point behind the original films that matters so much, Alien was a horror movie, slow-paced, tense, agonising to watch; Aliens was a fast-paced scary action film, making a point about war and also the self-defeating aspect of human nature the corruption, corporate evil, that sort of thing. AvP Arcade was so good in part because it discarded a lot of that it wouldn't have made sense in an arcade game (though aspects of those points are brought up, just without the atmosphere of the films), it just made it about beating aliens and soldiers up, and cobbled together events that echoed parts of the film. AvP2, meanwhile, because it could make more sense (and make for a more engaging shooter) kept those themes, and explored them, using the starting point of 'well, what if Weyland-Yutani found an Alien planet and decided to put a research facility there, what would happen then?'
It's fun not just because the gameplay and levels are well put together, but also because there's an intelligent hook at work a story to reel us in. My biggest disappointment with Colonial Marines is that it doesn't have that. It just feels like a dumb shooter, designed to be a dumb shooter, with lots of fan service to an old film. Which is disappointing.
I think I could have atleast enjoyed it as a shooter if there had been sort of intelligent hook, or if the game had done something different compared to other games say had a black heroine as the lead, or multiple viewpoints to play from.
It's especially frustrating considering how fundamental challenge is to the franchise, Alien in part succeeded because it was challenging the norm in films at the time of the helpless heroine; with the monster as an allegory for the darker side of sexuality, and reversing the male/female dynamic; aswell as the different stages of the xenomorph life cycle having vaguely sexual connotations. Whilst Aliens was a reaction to the hawkish war-hungry attitude, the bravado, corruption and the sometimes self-destructive quality of human nature.
....HEY DEVELOPERS THOSE ARE REALLY COOL THINGS TO PUT IN A GAME!
ESPECIALLY AN ALIEN(S) GAME!
It's not even like you have to force them down people's throats, just have them going in the background, hinted at in dialogue or whatever. That's how AvP2 did it so well - most of the story you learn from overheard conversations or the occasional notepad.
At the very least they could have made you a female marine, as a nod to Ripley, or shifted up the dynamic in some other way. For example, with multiple marine characters, a story that branches, or perhaps a WY secret campaign, where you have to fight for the opposite side as a corporate merc, that unlocks after you finish as the marine.
Any of those would have been interesting.
It's terribly sad to me that the best thing to come out of Colonial Marines is that I found out that there was a 1984 game that was more imaginative about what to do with an entry in the franchise than Colonial Marines.
In 'Alien' you play as the crew of the Nostromo, and have to try and eradicate a single xenomorph. The interesting part being that it's a 'what if?' scenario, where the facehugger randomly attacks one of the crew members, and how you play, and how the game reacts to how you play, effects the eventual outcome whether you end up with everybody surviving or nobody.
Sure, it's simple, it's butt ugly, but atleast it's interesting. It's a 29 year-old game, that does something more interesting than a game that's been in development for 6 years and probably had dozens (if not more) of people working on it. That's depressing, SERIOUSLY. What's more, its a good adaptation of the source material, it gets the point of Alien and runs with it to create an interesting game. Why can't they do that with Aliens?
It's sad that we now have the technology, and publishers the resource might, to create really engaging, immersive worlds for games, yet instead of publishers saying 'this is what we want you to do!' or developers pushing for that themselves, seemingly the best thing they think they can make with the license is just a game where you move from room to room, shooting stuff, and waiting for your useless AI partners to open doors for you, because hey, if you could open them yourself then you'd be able to skip the boring combat sequences. Also, that might seem like choice or interacting with the world, and that's scary.
I think what Colonial Marines shows, apart from that buggy games are incredibly annoying, is that like with RE6, not everything can be a current-gen style, straight-shooter. Not every property or idea works that way. And note: I'm not saying that not everything can be a shooter, I'm saying that not everything can do things the way shooters at the moment do them and work not everything needs refilling health, waves of enemies, quick-time events, unlimited pistol ammo, AI partners, co-op, etc all that stuff. If something ruins the atmosphere or harms the point you're trying to make with your game it's probably a good idea not to stick it in, and you definitely shouldn't put anything in a game just because other games have it.
It annoys me especially because the fact they made the kind of game they did kind of implies that they thought that that was all they could do with the story and the gameplay, like as if somehow if they'd instead opted for a very claustrophobic, atmospheric experience with lots of build-up and downtime between fighting the xenomorphs, that somehow that wouldn't have worked. The 2010 AvP was a lot like this aswell, a very dull, middling shooter with really no sense of originality to it, that sort of felt as though it was trying to say 'well, what do you expect? This is all games can do!' Which I don't think is true.
I like the idea of the Spectrum Alien game, even though I think the game's probably long past it's sell-by date in terms of what consumers expect from a user interface and the graphics of a game. Still, it's interesting. I guess in the end what I'm saying is, of all the IPs out there I think Alien(s) is one of the most open to being adapted in all sorts of ways. Perhaps they could make a shooter with a branching story or levels; perhaps procedurally generated gameplay; perhaps a game with multiple characters to play as, each who add something different to the story, and give you a different kind of gameplay. Even if said game ended up being only a few hours long, if you could replay it over and over again in different ways and the plot was interesting, that would be awesome.
It's just generally a shame nobody seems to want to do anything interesting with the IP, so all we get is mediocre shooters.
5 random ideas for Alien(s) themed games that I think would be cool:
Corporate Exec you play a Weyland-Yutani corporate type (think Burke, you lucky dog you), and you have to move your way up the corporate ladder helping Weyland-Yutani collect xenomorph specimens, harvest eggs, avoid detection by the government, and generally being all sneaky and underhanded in order to exploit the aliens for the good of the company. With your end goal either being xenomorphs taking over the Earth (bad ending) or retiring to a tropical island somewhere (good ending) ...not long before xenomorphs take over the Earth.
Xenoworld Let's not kid around here: this is just Jurassic Park with aliens. You're the David Attenborough's brother of the Aliens universe and you're desperate to show everybody these super cool aliens you've found! Now try to show all those nice people what they look like without too much chest-bursting, lest the colonial space authorities come down on you!
Alien Just remake the Spectrum game. That sounds awesome.
Prisoner: Cell Block Xeno you run a prison, on a lifeless planet somewhere in the depths of space. It's desperately hard work, having to balance incoming funds against expenditures... I so hope a xenomorph doesn't pop up and ruin everything! WOOPS, spoke too soon. Now try running that prison without too many 'unfortunate prisoner accidents'!
Another Glorious Day in the Corps! This would be a bit more like a standard shooter, a bit like Battlefield 3 or Medal of Honor (the 2010, slightly less shit, one), only better: you play different marines, each having different experiences of some sort of xeno-infestation. Say, a regular marine, a smart-gunner, a co-pilot, the gunner on an APC, that sort of thing. Each sees something different that adds in a different way to the plot, and potentially you could use different characters for different purposes for instance making the gameplay for one horror-orientated maybe the co-pilot's involved in a crash and then has to survive with just a pistol, whilst another could be used for the full-on action sequences, say the smart-gunner. Also, the game would include proper female characters, not just ones shoe-horned in after the fact.
SOMEBODY GO REMAKE ALIEN OFF THE SPECTRUM FOR ME