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There’s very little doubt that Aliens: Colonial Marines and The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct are both wretched games. Each is a half-assed attempt to scam money out of two of the most rabid fanbases in all of nerdom, serving only to taking hot, steamy dumps on their respective licenses. Just two ugly, quivering piles of digital failure.
But which game is the bigger disgrace to its established fiction, you ask? Don’t worry, we here at Stealthy Box have suffered the indignity of renting each game — out in public with real money — to find out exactly that. You’re welcome.
There are licensed games you develop with no expectation of quality to go along with it — movie licenses like Happy Feet or Avatar, for example – and then there are licensed properties that have strong fan followings and come with the expectations of providing a quality experience. The problem with this is that some developers know that with an already established following, a licensed game can provide the opportunity to cash in quickly and simply head for the hills once the dust has settled. That’s what happened with The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct and it’s why this title is easily worthy of the Burial Ground long before Aliens: Colonial Marines.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct takes place prior to where the AMC show starts off and follows Daryl Dixon from the start of the zombie apocalypse — also included in the game is Daryl’s racist and ignorant brother, Merle. I can state right now that the voice work done by Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus is above and beyond the best aspect this game has to offer. However, once you get over how cool it is to play as Daryl, it quickly becomes evident how poorly this game is from the ground up.
One of the things that makes The Walking Dead on AMC such a wonderful viewing experience is the tension that it creates, but in Survival Instinct, this type of tension is never given the opportunity to present itself because the enemy artificial intelligence feels like it was coded by a walker grasping at a keyboard. Areas of the game where it expected you to just creep by are nullified by the ability to just run through as the walkers you’re trying to avoid simply look the other way or just stop caring. This removes you from the experience completely and instead, allows you to just boringly slink through the game with no real challenge or sense of impending death. To be honest, if you die in this game you should probably just hand in your gamer card now, and I’m not talking about the one that links to your XBL profile.
I could sit here for awhile and talk to you about how zombies try to open doors to get outside while you’re standing in the exact same room as them, or how chain link fences with open access are still too difficult for the AI to navigate through, or hell, even how the guns sound dreadful and the game mechanics are third-rate at best. But, to be honest, I’d be wasting your time like I wasted the $2 I spent renting this trash from the Redbox down the street.
What really pisses me off about this game the most though is how it preys on the die hard fans of this franchise who love everything that its environment is supposed to offer. Due to this, these fans are willing to buy games like this on day one without a care in the world, only to end up disappointed and regretful like Merle probably did when he woke up with a hangover after sleeping with one of his cousins (it probably happened). And yes, while Aliens has had decades to create a fandom of epic proportions, most of those fans have grown up by now and aren’t sitting on edge waiting for that next episode every week or even for the next movie installment. Most of these fans have moved on to greener pastures while keeping a love for the series close to their hearts. However, that’s not the same situation for The Walking Dead following. This franchise is just hitting its stride and the love for it is hitting an all-time high, making what Activision did with this game so repulsive.
In the end, if Gearbox is to be believed, Aliens was a work of love and therefore its licensed failure may be quite bigger due to that, but taking a license and completely throwing it into the gutter shortly after Telltale won Game of the Year honors for their same licensed title just makes you sick. It shows this was nothing more than a cash grab, and that’s worse for the industry than Aliens: Colonial Marines is. We need to bury this trash now or set the damn thing on fire so it’s never coming back.
There’s room for debate, but I’d argue that the dubious honor belongs to Aliens: Colonial Marines and its laundry list of story and gameplay problems.
Colonial Marines is a canonical sequel to the films Aliens and Alien 3. However, rather than simply add their story to the Alien mythos, Gearbox (or TimeGate, or whoever actually wrote this mess) saw fit to rewrite major plot points for literally no reason whatsoever. Specifically, a mystery Marine that you rescue on LV-426 turns out to be Corporal Hicks, who dies when Alien 3 begins. Super, can’t-get-much-deader kind of dead. When your squad’s Bishop android presses him on how the hell it’s even possible for him to be alive, Hicks simply brushes the question aside, stating that he doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s asked again later on, where he dodges the question once more. The developers couldn’t be bothered to explain their nonsensical retcon, and it comes off as intellectually insulting to anyone who has paid even a little attention to the movie franchise.
There are plenty of other, lesser grievances as well. Hadley’s Hope, the colony on LV-426 where you rescue Hicks, is teeming with xenomorphs. This is despite the fact that an atmosphere processing station exploded with the force of a thermonuclear weapon, decimating the colony and every living thing in it at the end of Aliens. Meanwhile, the way your squad of Marines are constantly saying “OOHRAH” and other military game cliches flies in the face of how Marines in Aliens actually act — by putting on a big display of machismo that is quickly betrayed by immediately shitting their pants upon seeing what they’re up against. There’s the way the Marines have names for the different kinds of aliens, despite encountering them for the first time. And to top it off, you don’t even see the game’s main villain until the very last cutscene, after defeating the final boss.
And that final boss isn’t so much a fight as it is a short series of switches that have to be pulled while avoiding an alien queen’s tiny little arms that juuust can’t reach you two feet inside a shipping container. There’s another baffling experience against an unkillable tank of a xeno where you’re not instructed on how to kill it, but you eventually move on to the next area when the game decides you’ve avoided it for long enough.
I could go on about how dull the core gameplay is, how enemies engage in convulsive break dancing after death, and how the graphics and animations are somehow a major downgrade from what was shown just last year. I could go into detail about how the only bearable way to play through the story is cooperatively, where you and up to three of your friends can all have a good laugh at how it took six years to make a game this bad despite the fact that it doesn’t try to anything even a little bit ambitious. At this point, though, I’d just be beating a long-dead horse.
What truly makes Aliens: Colonial Marines more insulting to its license than The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is that it takes over 30 years of storytelling and more or less farts on its head. While The Walking Dead comics have been going for about 10 years now, the show that Survival Instinct is based on is just barely wrapped up its third season, and isn’t as beloved despite its record-setting ratings. And while people were cynical about a first-person Walking Dead game from jump street, there were high hopes built up over Colonial Marines’s six-year development cycle that were systematically crushed by a product that one would be kind to describe as “subpar.”
If treated as a canonical Aliens story, Colonial Marines only serves to weaken everything before it. I’m not sure that things can get much worse for a licensed product than that.