There's been a lot of buzz lately about the the release of Gearbox's Aliens: Colonial Marines and just how bad it is. From the laughably inept AI, the ugly and dated textures, horrendous voice acting, weak plot... I could write pages about the laundry list of problems the game has and this blog originally started off as just that, yet another scathing review of the game. Yes, it's a bad game. Yes, they spent six years developing this and you have to wonder where that time was spent. Yes, this has ALL been said by seemingly every critic under the sun.
At least Hudson didn't live to see what became of his legacy.
Somewhere along the line of taking screenshots and replaying a few key sections of the game I found myself unable to really add anything more to the conversation that hasn't already been said. That's when I started to think about just how long this game was in development. After six years of development how did no one really see this coming? We've all seen what happens when a game sits in "development hell" for far too long. I Am Alive, Daikatana, and Gearbox's own Duke Nukem Forever all came out looking dated as technology passed them by. While not always indicative of a horrible game, it's never a good sign. Much higher quality product has been produced in significantly shorter time.
Did Gearbox try to pull a fast one on us and SEGA by using time and resources given to them to finish up another game or did they honestly not know how far away from their goals the game was until it was too late to change anything without a massive overhaul? An anonymous post on Reddit from a supposed Gearbox employee says that while working on the project, codenamed Pecan, the game was delayed numerous times in favor of other Gearbox launches as well as being outsourced to several other companies such as TimeGate, Demiurge and Nerve. As time ran out Gearbox was able to get one more nine month extension from from the publisher, and according to the poster "about 5 of those 9 months went to shipping BL2". By the time Gearbox was was done with Borderlands 2, they realized how terrible the final product was, but SEGA seemed to be tired of the delays.
"Considering that SEGA was pretty close to taking legal action against GBX, asking for an extension wasn't an option, and so Pecan crash-landed through certification and shipping. Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems. This isn't because GBX didn't care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn't risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get."
In 2011, Gearbox showed off a work in progress hands-off demo at E3.
Hands-off means just that, the people watching never get to play it. This isn't an uncommon practice, but when anyone shows a demo without letting the public play it, you have to assume the gameplay being shown is under extremely controlled situations or in the case of the infamous 2005 Killzone 2 E3 "demo", a complete fabrication. When E3 2012 came around and no playable demo of the campaign was put in the hands of the press or public, despite having shown the controlled one last year, another red flag should have been sent up. As far as I can tell, aside from a multiplayer demo at a few major gaming events that was still under tight control (the public only being able to controlled humans against Gearbox developer controlled xenos), no one outside of Gearbox was able to play the game until review copies were sent out just before release. To call what Gearbox showed off as unrepresentative of the final product is generous at best.
This is NOT what was promised.
Yet another warning came from the gaming press itself in the form of review embargoes. An embargo is an agreed upon time between the publisher and the gaming publication when information such as previews or reviews go live in return for early access to the game. The theory behind it is that an embargo will give journalists enough time to properly review a game or write a quality article without having to worry about being first to have the information on the web while publishers get to time information releases with their own marketing. Breaking an embargo can lead to a publisher cutting off all future access to their events as well as pissing off those journalists that follow the rules. Reading a bit deeper into these dates can give you a bit of insight into how confident the publisher might be in their titles. If a review goes early, say a day or two before launch, it can show the publisher has confidence in the title and hopes positive reviews will help sell more copies at launch. If a review is the day of release, or in the case of Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified a few days after, it can be seen as a lack of faith in the game on the publisher's end, hoping they can stave off poor reviews that might drive away sales. Most reviews I've seen for Aliens: Colonial Marines didn't go up until after midnight of the release date.
While all of these things on their own might not be enough to be worrisome, all of them combined should give pause to even the most die-hard fan out there. We should take the lessons learned from this to heart. The industry is full of embellishments and franchises who over-promise but under-deliver. From Fable to Dead Island we have all been sold one thing but given another in some way, shape, or form. It just hasn't been this bad in a long time. As publishers get more desperate to have each and every game a massive Call of Duty-esque blockbuster I only fear we will see more dubious marketing in the future. Hopefully now, however, we might be a bit more wise to it.
Capitalistpig211 dreams of working a desk job at Weyland-Yutani. You can follow him on Twitter @Capitalistpig21 and listen to his podcast GamePoints every Wednesday night at 8:30 PST