The reviews told how poor an experience Aliens: Colonial Marines turned out to be. Year-old comments and growing speculation gave us some possible reasons as to why. SEGA and Gearbox Software have already tried to shut down supposition that certain aspects of the game fell more under the auspices of studios outside of Gearbox than was initially let on. However, in a post on Reddit, a poster by the name of “throwawayacm” laid out a rather damning account of what may have gone on behind the scenes.
Claiming to have been on the Aliens: Colonial Marines team for about eighteen months, throwawayacm adds that some of his knowledge come handed down from more senior devs on the team, hence its range extending further than his own employment period, and on the whole, paints a similar picture to another famous Gearbox salvage job, Duke Nukem Forever. According to the tale, initial announcement of the title on SEGA’s part came prior to development having even begun, shortly after an agreement to work on the game had been made with 2oth Century Fox. A victim of bad timing, Colonial Marines was shelved several times while other projects were given priority, as far back as the original Borderlands.
Riding a series of contract extensions with SEGA, Gearbox managed to hang on to the project, finally shipping portions of the game out to other developers upon the last in a long line of such extensions. Allegedly, TimeGate Studios was handed the campaign to handle, with Demiurge Studios and Nerve Software being assigned the downloadable content sector, as Gearbox needed to devote people and resources to completing Borderlands 2. Between circumstances aligning to bring Borderlands 2 and Aliens: Colonial Marines into the same release window, and TimeGate’s campaign work lagging behind schedule, Gearbox is said to have approached SEGA for one final, nine month extension.
Half the allotted extension went to getting Borderlands 2 out the door, and once TimeGate delivered their progress on 85 percent of the campaign, which, funnily enough, runs almost directly counter to Gearbox’s “80 percent in-house” claims regarding the development. What TimeGate dropped in Gearbox’s lap was apparently a mess, with memory issues in the PS3 version, nonsensical story, and boss fights being completely absent, which forced Gearbox to overhaul as much as possible as the release date loomed. The addition of female marines due to fan outcry also slowed things down, to the point a decent release was looking unlikely.
The post claims that Gearbox then trimmed some options down in order to speed up the process, and crammed in other extras that were only partly finished, hurriedly finding and repairing any game-breaking bugs so they could ham-fist Aliens: Colonial Marines through certification to avoid the legal wrath of SEGA. Some blame may also lie in 20th Century Fox’s lap, as they allegedly green-lit the campaign’s disappointing script in the first place.
For what it’s worth, Kotaku also spoke with an alleged “anonymous source” who was “familiar with the project,” who mostly just smiled and nodded at the allegations made in the Reddit post, though this source did have some tidbits to add. According to Kotaku’s source, TimeGate completely scrapped the work and assets already created by Gearbox upon being given the task of handling the Aliens: Colonial Marines campaign, and upon realizing this, Gearbox employees were even more resentful about having to clean up the supposed “mess” TimeGate had made of things. Neither Gearbox or TimeGate have responded to contact efforts by Kotaku at this point.
Comments in response to the original Reddit post range the gamut from speculation to some defense of TimeGate, with claims that Gearbox oversaw TimeGate’s “disappointing” contributions the entire time, and that Gearbox had some of TimeGate’s best talent fired over the course of Aliens: Colonial Marines’ dev cycle. Another responder mentioned that he’d played a couple of pre-release builds and had been disappointed, but unable to express as much due to non-disclosure agreements. Original poster throwawayacm promised to respond to inquiries, though he admitted responses may be slow due to other responsibilities.
It may be worth wondering what Aliens: Colonial Marines may have been, had bad timing and bad moves not intervened. A rabid Alien franchise fan himself, Jim Sterling released a special, off-schedule installment of his “Jimquisition” video series over on The Escapist, citing each and every bit of an impressive, early game trailer that did not see implementation in the final game, as well as frequently explaining what watered-down encounters replaced them in the final product. Trailers, especially early ones, are notorious for being scripted affairs that rarely find inclusion in their entirety in finished games, but the disparity between Gearbox’s original vision for Aliens: Colonial Marines and the monstrosity that shipped is clear, lending even more credence to the accusations that something (or things) went terribly wrong between the game’s announcement and release.
Whether this storm keeps building, and how SEGA, Gearbox, and other involved parties may end up responding, has yet to be seen. Should the seemingly tragic saga of Aliens: Colonial Marines’ development cycle prove to be the subject of an extensive cover-up, it will be interesting to see the reasoning behind all the secrecy, if that reasoning ever comes to light.