In 2001, a fresh faced and optimistic twelve year old (who happened to share my name), picked up a gaming magazine and read an article. The piece managed to bring up a convoluted range of emotions, beginning with joy and excitement and culminating in a weighty sense of disappointment and despair. The article in question concerned a game hitherto unknown to my young self, entitled Aliens: Colonial Marines. It gave a brief description of the development history, informed me of some cool sounding game play elements, teased me with one small, hard to make out screenshot, and then in the very last paragraph informed me of the title’s cancellation. I was hurt.
Like many gamers, I am a huge Aliens fan. James Cameron’s 1986 classic has arguably been one of the biggest influences on the video game industry as a whole, even to this day; from the claustrophobic, dimly lit corridors found in the Dead Space and Fear games, the squad dynamics in Call of Duty and Battlefield to more widespread in-game staples such as motion trackers and moveable turret guns – Randy Pitchford, President of Gearbox, has specifically stated his reliance on the film for inspiration throughout his career.
So the imminent release of Colonial Marines should be cause for mass excitement and celebration right? Maybe.
My concerns are with the potential tone of the game, more specifically, a heavy reliance on gung-ho action combined with chest beating machismo as opposed to a tense, creepy and perhaps somewhat stressful sense of horror and fear. These two different styles are both represented in the film, but I worry that some of the movie’s more subtle nuances will be lost in the translation as we end up mechanically moving from room to room blasting away at waves of xenomorphs flying from the walls and ceiling. And from what I’ve seen so far, this is likely the direction it will end up going, but is this just me being pessimistic?
Certainly, I’ve been burned before, excited enough for 2009’s Aliens Versus Predator to have bought it on the day of release, only to be left with a dull sense of disappointment – the marine campaign had involved little more than backpedalling whilst unloading copious amounts of pulse rifle rounds in a random spray, unable to aim down the iron-sights. And that’s when I wasn’t fighting androids with guns.
But perhaps I’m going into this with incorrect expectations, especially when my opinions seem to be so vastly out of synch with others concerning Colonial Marines. In all honesty, a good, marine-centric game would require teamwork, action, some passable characterisation, a well thought out but none too complex story and a heck of a lot of guns – all things which seem to be on the agenda for this new release.
But I find myself wanting more than that, mostly a decent set of character arcs. I want to see them deteriorate emotionally as they delve further into alien hell, going from rough and tough soldiers to quivering masses of flesh jumping at every sound and shadow. I want that big Hudson blow-out moment instead of a group of people managing to keep their head no matter what. Maybe we’ll get this too, but I fear that well fleshed out characters aren’t high on the agenda when thinking of elements that need to be transferred from the film to the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not casting stones at Gearbox or the primary writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle (of Battlestar Galactica fame), I have faith, but I also fall into the most hard to please category of media consumers – that of the fan.
And that is where the primary problem lays. Gearbox, like other developers before them, will be fighting an uphill battle against myself and the vastly populated community of Aliens fans, and I fear the fight won’t be won with referential one-liners and playable power-loaders (although that second one might help a bit). It’ll be won by capturing the tone, feel and overall essence of the source material and presenting us with a gritty, intense and hostile fight for our lives, with strong characters, and an intriguing story.
This could be the game we’ve been waiting for, and if not, it could still be an enjoyable multiplayer experience, blasting away at xenos through the campaign co-op mode. Most importantly though, I think it’s important to not get too wrapped up in the hype but to go in expecting an amusing romp in a well loved universe and to take anything else as a pleasant bonus. Unfortunately however, I can already feel the fan in me hoping and wishing for more. And that dude is hard to please.
By Jack Edwards.