Aliens vs Predator (2010). You can immediately see that if nothing else, the graphics are not going to disappoint.
Our 1982 Atari 2600 Aliens are crying right now.
Skidding to a halt with a broken trans-axle in February 2010, we are confronted by Aliens vs Predator (2010). For their third outing on PC (and also this time on PS3 and X360), Rebellion took a leaf from the Alien Resurrection playbook and gave the playable Alien a name, Specimen 6, similarly making it an escaped experiment. The three campaigns this time tell separate tales that overlap in places to form a larger narrative about human scientists studying the Aliens they find in a Predator pyramid, and (predictably), the acid hitting the fan and bringing down the wrath of both the Preds and the Marines on their heads. (I think at this point in Alien gaming history, we have to wonder at anyone employed by Weyland-Yutani who willingly goes to work on such a project). Development on the title was announced in a 2008 Kotaku article that describes Aliens vs Predator (2010) as SEGA’s first licensed Alien game (following their initial acquisition of the license in 2006), and also hints at the colossal Aliens: Colonial Marines fiasco to come: “The new Aliens vs. Predator will be the first title released as part of Sega’s Aliens franchise, meaning that the eagerly anticipated Aliens: Colonial Marines isn’t going to make its original 2009 release window.”
Aliens vs Predator (2010) on the Xbox 360. (Screenshot by Moby Games user BurningStickMan, here).
Further portents of the impending A:CM craziness were perhaps given in Aliens vs Predator (2010)’s poor critical reception. Many a critic stood unimpressed by the shiny graphics, wondering how Rebellion could have bungled the gameplay. Some found it odd that the Marine could push attacking Aliens away, whilst others moaned that the Predator’s ability to leap from place to place through the jungle was restricted to limited grappling ‘hot spots’. Overall, the words written about the game in the wake of its release were not happy ones. The numbers, however, were ecstatic: it topped the UK and US retail charts, was No. 1 on Steam, and within three months of its simultaneous worldwide release in February had sold 1.69 million copies everywhere, raking in GBP 14m in the UK alone. According to the game’s long out of date Wiki page, this made it the best-selling Alien game of all time, although I’d like to hear what Alien: Isolation has to say about that.
Apart from this slight mis-step, 2010 also saw a Predators film tie-in for Apple’s range of iThings, before clicking over into 2011, which brought us just one title – Aliens Infestation for the Nintendo DS. Note the lack of punctuation in the title – only the Alien Resurrection film dispensed with that excited little pause. Unlike the fourth Alien film though, Aliens Infestation is generally reckoned to be a good game, despite (or perhaps because of) the reappearance of our old friend the Gorilla Alien from the 1993 SNES Alien vs Predator. Since his debut back then, the Gorilla Alien had enjoyed a career as a Kenner-produced toy and all-round fan-favourite. Aliens Infestation was brought to the DS’s two small screens partly by Gearbox Software, as part of SEGA’s overall plan to fill the world with Aliens: Colonial Marines games. When that latter game was cancelled, the DS version was scrapped, and when Colonial Marines was picked up again, the DS version was resumed, completed and rebranded as Infestation. But speaking of Aliens: Colonial Marines…
Yep, thar she blows, Cap’n. The legendary (for all the wrong reasons) Aliens: Colonial Marines (2013)
Doesn’t look too bad, does it? If only it played as good as it looks…
Aliens: Colonial Marines begins in name alone back in 1993, with a 12-issue Dark Horse Comics run that was notable for featuring the first-ever appearance of a family member of a film character, in the form of Carmen Vasquez, sister of Jim Cameron’s Aliens’ Jenette Vasquez. Other than starring a bunch of USMC marines, there’s really no great similarity between the games and the comic. But, as we’ve seen before, the games have drawn on the comics for inspiration several times, and the next time A:CM appeared was 9 years later in 2002, on the PlayStation 2. Or rather, it didn’t appear, because it was cancelled by Electronic Arts before release. Developed by Check Six Games, another California team whose only other software credit is the first Spyro game on the PS2 and Game Cube (Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly), this is the sum total of our knowledge of this standard-looking shooter.
Finally, it’s December 2006. SEGA announced that they were the new digital rights holders for the Alien franchise, and made a joint announcement with Gearbox Software a few days later that their first order of business would be to blow us all clean away with the awesomeness of their first Alien game. Given Gearbox’s pedigree up to that point (Opposing Force and Blue Shift for Half Life, the Brothers in Arms WWII squad shooters, the Mac port of the original Halo), there was much rejoicing. Code-named Pecan throughout its development cycle, it was all quiet on the western front until February 2008, when the fateful name of Aliens: Colonial Marines was first specified.
During this time, SEGA excitedly told us that the new game was working from a script that had been approved by Fox, and was considered by the studio to be part of film canon. This enthusiasm from the studio could perhaps be explained by the fact that the story for A:CM, set in-between Aliens and Alien 3, retcons Hicks’ utterly pointless death at the beginning of Alien 3 and re-establishes him as the lovable ass-kicker we all remember from Aliens. This decision was a sign that clearly, someone at the studio had been listening to the years of fan rage at his death, and had seen a way of bringing him back to life, paving the way for more Hicks-flavoured Alien products, be they a fifth film or whatever. Of course, we now know that any kind of Alien 5 they may have been thinking about (and Cameron, Scott and Whedon had all been thinking very much about it at various points) was shelved in favour of the first AvP film, released in 2004 after a long period of development at the studio, predating even Alien Resurrection.
One of the PAX Prime 2012 screenshots
Ten months later, in November 2008, the gaming press reported that A:CM had been delayed, presumably due to some recently announced layoffs at Gearbox. At the same time, SEGA also declared that Rebellion’s Aliens vs Predator (2010) would now be their flagship Alien title. Time passed, until the first half of 2010 and the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), where Gearbox showed the gaming public five new screenshots from A:CM and reiterated their commitment to the game. A year later, in June 2011, they gave us a teaser trailer, declared that we’d see more footage at E3 that year, and slated it for a Spring 2012 release. But when January 2012 rolled around, SEGA announced that they were pushing back the release date to Autumn/Fall 2012. Oh, and at that year’s PAX, Gearbox chipped in with some more screenshots and the promise of a new trailer. A few months later, in May 2012, Gearbox changed the date again – this time, we were told, A:CM would be in the hands of PC, PS3 and X360 owners in February 2013, with a Wii U announcement to follow soon. This latest 13-month delay was explained by Gearbox president Randy Pitchford as being necessary to re-assemble some of the original Aliens actors to reprise their roles in the new game. These included the legendary Michael Biehn as Hicks, Al Matthews as Sgt. Apone and Lance Henrickson, who would be voicing a different Bishop android.
So, that’s the Kosher version. Lots of delays, but everything sounded reasonable, and despite some lengthy periods without much to go on, gamers and Alien fans everywhere remained excited and largely hopeful for a good product, bolstered in their optimism by the amazing news coming out of SEGA and the awesome videos and screenshots from Gearbox. Now here’s what really happened.
Here’s a picture of the cancelled Bioware Aliens RPG. Would it have been a classic? Or would it have been blah?
Keen to get on with Borderlands, an original new IP dreamed up by Gearbox for themselves, they began shifting personnel and resources from the Pecan team to the Borderlands team. The latter game was announced in 2007, so this juggling act was probably going down quite early on in the SEGA/Gearbox job. It’s safe to assume that SEGA would not have liked this, otherwise I imagine Gearbox would not have hidden this fact from them. So when SEGA found out that Gearbox were still taking the regular milestone payments from them, despite working with a smaller than contracted team, they pitched a fit and suspended development. That was 2008, the time of the first delay announcement. In their rush to fill the void left by A:CM (including the Nintendo DS version which would become Aliens Infestation and Bioware’s Aliens RPG), they obviously pushed Rebellion into the breach, making the Englishmen’s Aliens vs Predator (2010) the first SEGA Alien game, also as per SEGA’s November 2008 delay announcement.
Of course, SEGA weren’t the only ones burned, as Borderlands publishers 2K were also issuing cheques to Gearbox based on under-cooked work. The net result of all of this was the reported layoffs at Gearbox. Eventually though, Gearbox aww shucks!-ed its way back into everyone’s good books, and development was resumed. But wait! That’s not all!