Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Game Over, Man!

One of the toughest things about not having a bona fide career in games writing is not getting to join in the exquisite fun of lambasting a terrible game.

I’m almost certainly over-romanticizing the notion. I suppose I’ve played enough games that were soul-crushingly bad—and plenty of others that were on the fence but just bad enough to make me wish I’d gone to play outside—to know that playing enough of an awful title to give it a proper review can be a rough experience. But it’s an easy fact to forget when, for the past few days, my Twitter feed has been a mob of game journos gleefully chomping at the bit for Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines embargo to end.

As a semi-semi-professional games writer (“semi-professional” would perhaps be overselling my current freelance backlog), watching a release like Colonial Marines go up in flames is a uniquely frustrating experience. There’s a palpable desire to contribute to the bonfire—we are compelled to write about video games because there are compelling stories to tell, and what’s more compelling than an abject failure?

Penny Arcade Report’s Ben Kuchera at least makes me feel a little better about my lack of insider status:
Colonial Marines made me wish for a 9 to 5 job in the city. Something with a nice cubicle and a packed lunch.
I hate to go all Metacritic on people’s carefully paced reviews, but I can’t help but be awestruck at the degree to which this game has offended the sensibilities of games reviewers from around the globe. Nearly every aspect—gameplay, writing, animation, sound, and “tone deaf adoration of the source material” (says Kuchera)—has been found wanting. Polygon’s Arthur Gies explores that last point a little further in his review, outlining the degree to which the game leans on the legacy of the Alien movies while also circumventing canon.
Rather than work around existing fiction that most licensed games follow, Gearbox has instead taken it upon itself to play the part of revisionist. Aliens: Colonial Marines actively rewrites the film canon, and they do it in the most hackneyed way possible: by bringing back the dead . . . The end result feels craven and exploitative of its source material and the fans that will hopefully know better.
And perhaps most damningly of all, in a bullet-point review that also includes the words “Oh God, why won’t it end?”, Rock Paper Shotgun’s John Walker offers:
The saddest thing to report is that Aliens: Colonial Marines doesn’t even achieve that “so bad you just have to see it” place . . . It’s not even the “If you found a copy in a charity shop you’d have to experience it” level of awful.
That last part is pretty much the nail in the coffin for me—what’s left to say after we can’t even hold onto “so bad, it’s good”? Not much. I did not play Aliens: Colonial Marines, and it appears I never will.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m glad to see the system in action. There may be the occasional disagreement about the nature or purpose of a game review, but as a games consumer for whom the original Alien trilogy maintains a somewhat sacred status (let us speak not of Alien: Resurrection), I have to be glad not to have wasted precious funds. If you’re like me, please join me in my thanks to the brave Colonial Marines who sacrificed their time so that the rest of us might never have to.