How Creative Assembly could save the Aliens franchise

Colonial Marines is a disappointment, but there's still hope

You might think that the apocalyptic kicking bestowed on Aliens: Colonial Marines by reviewers is a disaster for Gearbox and SEGA. It's quite possible - likely, even - that the game will sell a bucketload of copies regardless. A couple of reviewers enjoy the new shooter, enough to supply a few glowing quotes for the ad campaigns, and the power of the brand shouldn't be underestimated, even within the mistrustful precincts of "core" games enthusiasm.


Wriggling through the conduits of the internet, like Bishop making that long crawl to the satellite terminal, I'm already picking up anecdotal evidence that Colonial Marines will overcome its dismal reception, masochistic comments along the lines of "well, it's an Aliens game and I'm an Aliens fan, so I'm duty-bound to try it". Gearbox has been here before with Duke Nukem Forever, don't forget - a game that went onto turn a profit for publisher Take-Two despite eventually landing a Metascore of 49 (neck and neck with Colonial Marines, at the time of writing).

In some ways, I hope it does do well. Not because I'm particularly enamoured of the game, which I've yet to play in full - an early hands-on suggested an impressive collection of movie assets, matched to a not-incompetent campaign shooter with utterly dreadful multiplayer (a sentiment not shared, incidentally, by Craig in our Colonial Marines review. Curse those reviewers and their differing opinions!) Rather, I'd hate Colonial Marines to be the game that tarnishes Aliens beyond recovery, landing the deathblow on a property bled almost dry by years of dodgy Predator tie-ins and the fatally flawed prequel-of-sorts Prometheus. There's light at the end of the tunnel, see. Rights owner Sega has big plans for the IP, beginning with Creative Assembly's untitled, next generation console project - a game the publisher apparently "got" instantly and liked enough to approve a massive recruitment drive.

There are few concrete details as to the new game, which is being crafted by members of the Spartan: Total War and Viking teams (boo!) with help from veterans of Crytek and Crysis 2 (yay!) - but what little Creative Assembly was prepared to share when I visited with them in 2011 paints an interesting picture. Specifically, I'd draw your attention to the following from studio director Tim Heaton. "We want to make a great game, and it just happens to be that it's easily communicable to people because people know about the Alien universe," he told me, adding that "we absolutely don't want to be 'lumbered' with a license, and have time constraints on top as well. We don't mind working within a well-defined, well-understood world but we want to do what we want with it."


At the risk of over-egging the pudding, you can measure the gap between that mild-mannered observation and Gearbox's slavish, gong-bashing rhetoric as to the authenticity of Colonial Marines in lightyears. One studio has crafted a spin-off that's faithful to the point of losing itself beneath the memorabilia; the other appears to view the license as an asset among assets, useful only inasmuch as it coheres with the overall aim to develop an enthralling experience. That's possible, perhaps, because the game's narrative isn't joined at the hip to those of the films. "It would be easy for people to misunderstand what our aspirations are for the title," Sega West's vice-president of production Gary Dunn cautioned fans in the wake of reveal. "That we're trying to do something akin to a movie title."

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