Aliens: Colonial Marines is not just bad, but it is a symptom of a wider industry problem.
It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Aliens: Colonial Marines broke my heart.
When I interviewed a member of the development team last year, his excitement and enthusiasm were infectious. This was an official, canonical story, made by diehard fans of the films in co-operation with the film studio, the original director, and even the concept artists. Rather than just another licensed knock-off, it was going to be a true sequel to Aliens in video game form.
When the reviews started to come in, I was startled, and then depressed. This was not just a flawed or problematic game, but a monstrous turkey that played terribly, looked ugly, and was an all-round insult to Aliens fans the world over.
Still, I am hard to dissuade. My review copy arrived, and I was determined to give it a fair hearing, not least because I do kind of enjoy being the odd man out, praising a game that everyone hates.
It was not to be. Far from the culmination of five years of work, my own experience of Aliens: Colonial Marines is that it plays like a cheap movie tie-in that was slapped together in less than a year by a dodgy work-for-hire studio. It turns out, this may be close to the truth.
Rumours started to surface, citing anonymous inside contacts at Gearbox Games, describing the long-running and wasteful debacle that the game's development had been. According to these stories, Gearbox had put in three years of work, raising the ire of publisher Sega by requesting multiple time extensions. Two years ago, when they got too busy with other projects - presumably Borderlands 1 and 2 - they outsourced the game's completion to another studio, TimeGate.
Allegedly, TimeGate disliked Gearbox's work to date, and simply threw it out and started again. Clearly there was a communication breakdown, because Gearbox were apparently unaware that TimeGate had simply tossed out three years of work. Around six months ago, with the game approaching its release date, Gearbox had a look at what TimeGate had been doing for the past two years, and they were not happy.
The leaked reports then go on to describe how Gearbox wanted to push the release date back again so they could fix the mess TimeGate had made, but Sega was not going to allow any more delays, and would start placing financial penalties on Gearbox if they didn't get their game on time. This resulted in six months of frenzied work by Gearbox to get the game into a somewhat releasable condition.
We may never get any kind of official comment to confirm whether these supposed insider stories are true, but what we do know is that the game that has resulted is a horrible mess.
It is difficult to explain exactly how bad this game is. Essentially, it lacks every bit of personality and atmosphere that would make it feel like part of the Aliens narrative. None of the locations in the game have a sense of reality or solidity to them. The huge spacecraft Sulaco, which in the film Aliens is all expansive gleaming spaces, is reduced to a series of narrow corridors. Rather than a horrific sense of being stalked by a wily, deadly foe, the xenomorphs simply pop out of holes in the walls or floors and stroll over to you. The camaraderie of the film's marine troop is entirely lost, with your companions all being lifeless dolls.
In one room, my AI-controlled squadmate took cover behind a desk and started firing into an empty room in short bursts. I couldn't work out why he was doing it, and eventually walked to the exit, only to find that one of the aliens was sitting in the doorway, facing outward and completely ignoring me.
Capcom is another publisher that has inflicted some turkeys on the gaming world in recent years, and it is clearly hurting them. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City was not a game I ever had high hopes for - I played it at E3 in 2011 and it seemed awful, like a rushed rip-off of Left 4 Dead in the Resident Evil universe. When it went on sale, it was almost universally panned by critics.
Late last year, Capcom released Resident Evil 6, a game that was not outright terrible like Raccoon City, but which was certainly burdened by outmoded design and misguided decisions. The reviews were mediocre, but it still managed to shift an impressive 5 million copies - far more than it deserved, in my opinion.
Even so, Capcom recently released their business performance figures, which stated that Resident Evil 6 had performed under expectations, and was not considered to have been successful. It makes you wonder about how Capcom runs their business when five million sales is considered to be disappointing.
All of this leads me to wonder how games like these - from lack-lustre to downright horrendous - are still being made in today's video game industry climate. We are no longer shocked when we hear that a popular studio or publisher has shut its doors, and these closures are now almost weekly events.
One terrible game can sink an entire company. While THQ was damaged by a series of poor business decisions, it was really brought low by a single game: the lamentably awful Homefront. 38 Studios was killed by its debut game, the underwhelming Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Even a good game can wreck a company's fortunes if it has enough problems, such as when Fallout: New Vegas missed its Metascore target of 85 by a single point, mainly due to rampant bugs. This review score shortfall meant that developer Obsidian missed out on a bonus and had to lay off a large number of its staff.
I fervently hope that game studios will start to take quality issues more seriously. Frankly, I am sick of playing games that are unfinished, poorly designed, or full of bad ideas. With the business in its current state, publishers and studios simply can't risk it any more.
More than this, though, gaming as a medium will never reach its full potential as long as the people who are making the games clearly aren't taking quality seriously. While many of us are enthusiastic about the storytelling potential of video games, most of us would admit that the majority of games just aren't that good yet, and improvement is slow in coming.
Those who make other creative, expressive media - authors, filmmakers, musicians - continue to look down their noses at games as a poor substitute for true artistry. And you know what? As long as there are still major game companies releasing terrible games onto the market, they are right to do so.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez