Tuesday, February 26, 2013

MadCap's Mad Rantings - "Gearbox Steals For Borderlands"

I have no words.

...okay, that's  a lie, otherwise why would you be here?

Now, I've only ever played with the first Borderlands game.  I didn't enjoy it. Why? Mostly due to the fact that it was essentially Fallout 3 in Space something which I could actually do, thanks.  However, what Gearbox has done here is beyond detestable.  The fact that Randy Pitchford and the rest of his development team have not been dropped into the fiery pits of hell by SEGA is offensive.

The article that provides the basis for this entire rant talks about Gearbox using their funding for various other properties to fund Borderlands and its sequel, Borderlands 2 (and Duke Nukem Forever, as well) Y'know, the only games that anyone cares to remember Gearbox for.  One of those games happened to be Aliens:  Colonial Marines.  So, basically, what happened is, Randy Pitchford and the one hundred and eighty people working under him took funding for a game THAT COULD HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN REALLY, REALLY GOOD and gave it to Fallout 3 in Space.  And I can really even get beyond that, in all honesty.  I don't hate the Borderlands series, and perhaps I could have even gotten into it with a later installment.  Now? I'm not going to bother.  No Borderlands, no more Aliens games, no more Duke Nukem.  As long as any of those happen to have Gearbox Software stamped on them, I will never so much as touch them.

I'd call it a commonplace practice, because I'm sure Gearbox isn't the only company worthy of such scorn, but this goes beyond that.  Borderlands and Borderlands 2 are games that used SEGA funding that are not SEGA games, so SEGA didn't get a single cent of that money. Nor from Duke Nukem Forever.  So essentially, they were robbed blind.  So I can't blame SEGA for releasing Colonial Marines, they were just attempting to make back the money that Gearbox apparently embezzled from them over six years! Six years they were dragged around and screwed over by Randy Pitchford and his team so they could make their little pet project.

The article goes on to quote Jim Sterling (Esteemed Game Critic and the Sexiest Man Alive) concerning his insider sources:

"Now here is the company that should get most of the blame: Gearbox Software and Randy Pitchford. Gearbox stole from SEGA, they robbed us, lied to us about the game, and tried to get another company to make the game instead. Let's see where the funding went shall we? Everyone said the game went to both Borderlands games, but Duke Nukem Forever gets a mention as well, but it's pushed out of the spotlight, because people want to forget about that game, and I don't blame them! Duke Nukem Forever had a big impact on Aliens: Colonial Marines as well."

"It clearly shows that Pitchford and Gearbox wanted to focus heavily on Duke Nukem Forever, but how would they get the money to hire some of the 3D Realms team and even buy the intellectual property? Sure, they made a lot from Borderlands, but guess where they got the money to fund Borderlands in the first place? Yup, SEGA."

"So Gearbox essentially lied to SEGA, mishandled funds, broke agreements and contractual obligations to work on other projects, didn't want to work on a game they were contractually obligated to work on and gave it to another team, poor organization and direction on ACM, took on too many projects from different companies at once, and other things that we may not even know about. Hell, part of me believes that Gearbox wanted this thing delayed as much as possible so they can get more funding money to embezzle from SEGA."

I think that pretty much says it all. And I wouldn't be one to demonize just one man and throw him under the bus, but as Randy Pitchford is not only the head but the voice of Gearbox (as well as one of the people who directly deals with SEGA), the finger points to him.  Not only did he steal from SEGA, but he outright lied to the gaming community at large for eleven minutes.  Showing us a "demo" that is so stripped down in the actual game that people should be calling for the collective head of Gearbox.  And I'm not above joining them in that crusade at this point.

With Colonial Marines, Gearbox hasn't just failed on a production level, but on an ethical level as well.  They worked on a project they apparently didn't care nearly as much as Pitchford insisted that they did so they could get more funding to be used elsewhere.  On their projects that were their real passion.  And apparently (though its only rumor), SEGA knows about this all but can't do any of it due to some contractual red tape.  So, not only has Gearbox stolen money, lied to both a publisher and the consumers at large, and effectively screwed everyone over for their own gains, but they're getting away with it.

They didn't care about this project.  All the detail and care given to the game's visuals is now even more meaningless.  Because it's just an incredible thin shell over an egg made out of complete indifference and malice.  You, Randy Pitchford, didn't care about trying to "make a true sequel to the film in video game form".  You allowed the game to languish in development hell for six years while you stole money to fund projects that SEGA would see no return on, while you cheated by making an incredibly piss-poor game after dragging your feet for so long, and you lied to not only SEGA, but to your consume base.  The fact that you have not been thrown out on your rear end is just baffling and offensive. On the extremely miniscule (read:  no chance in Hell) chance that anyone from SEGA might happen upon this, I implore you to tell the charlatan to pack his bags so that he can't cause any more harm to the human race.  Please.

But as they won't, I'll just allow my money to do the talking.  They've not only failed to produce a game that I would enjoy, but they outright lied to me, and to everyone who saw that E3 trailer and thought that the game was going to be nothing short of spectacular.  And they're getting away with all of it.  ALL OF IT!  I played sixty dollars for that game.  I pre-ordered it, and I know so many other people who did.  Who thought this was going to be something worth that pre-order.  But it was more than just being lied to, we were all cheated.  And while I'm not one to defend the big company publishers, SEGA's only real crime in this is not putting the gun to Gearbox's head and pulling the trigger.  While I didn't give them any grief in the review (at least not to my recollection), I take back any that might have been implied.

To quote a man with a fancy hat, in the end, "EVIL WINS!", because there is nothing - and I mean NOTHING - to else to name thisI would implore everyone to boycott Gearbox.  To make sure that they never get to allow another game to go the way of Colonial Marines.  But, as it stands now, they win.  I have a sincere wish that Borderlands 3 will bomb right into the ground, Gearbox will eventually have its doors closed and Randy Pitchford made to pay for his crimes against the consumers, SEGA, and humanity at large.  Until that day comes (or the morphine I've taken to keep from completely losing my mind wears off), I'll allow Bill Paxton to play me out:

Friday, February 22, 2013

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Aliens: Colonial Marines"

Xbox 360 Box Art
Okay, let’s get one thing clear.  I was as entranced by the E3 gameplay demo for Aliens:  Colonial Marines as the next person.  I’m a fan of the two films of the Alien franchise that people care to talk about.  Apparently so are the folks at Gearbox, because they decided to give us a walking reference to Aliens instead of a game.  It’s interesting to see Gearbox fail for a second time in a spectacular manner with a title that has been in development hell for so long, in the case in a little over half the time it took Duke Nukem Forever to make an appearance on the scene.  Colonial Marines isn’t as maligned as that game was upon its release, though it certainly has not been received kindly by the gaming community as a whole and it is certainly with good reason.

Randy Pitchford, you promised us the moon and instead threw us into the searing pain of the Star of Lies.  Only Peter Molyneux is allowed to do that!

For those of you that aren’t up for a lengthy review (this is probably my longest yet), I'll just quote Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation:  "Never stick your dick in a pudding.  It might still be good pudding and you can spend all afternoon explaining that, but no one's gonna want to eat it because you stuck your dick in it!", exactly what I would be telling Gearbox and Sega right now.

For those of you not the in the TL;DR crowd, let me explain my erstwhile adventures in resplendent detail. I took on the role of a marine named Winter and I found myself heading back to LV-426, the planetoid upon which parts of both Alien and Aliens occur to discover the fate of the crew of the Sulaco, the Marine ship from Aliens. Being that I’ve seen that movie, I know how it goes, but sadly one of my super special awesome powers in this game isn’t the ability to break the fourth wall. Instead, I can shoot things, in various ways.

Pretty much as far as shooting mechanics go, if you’ve played any first person shooter pretty much ever, you’ve played this. The “X” button reloads, you hold down the right trigger until everything wall in the room looks like it’s been painted red (or, in this case, acid green), and so on. Nothing new or different except for the different varieties of tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, and sonic electronic ball breakers! It’s awesome. Even I have to acknowledge that having that rich variety of weapons is neat. And each and every one of them is either faithfully sculpted after the weapons in Aliens or looks just like it belongs in that universe.  This also includes from "legendary weapons" that are recreations of the weapons that the Marines in Aliens carried, such as Hicks' shotgun or Vasquez's Smart Gun.  Again, nothing more than references, if very detailed references that you don't really have the time to appreciate in a firefight.

"Hey, have I got something in my teeth?"
The environments receive adequate and sometimes even beautiful treatment (at least the recreations of the movie settings, but I'll get to that). I myself loved in particular the Derelict Ship and the Space Jockey from the original Alien being featured in one level, so have a gold star for that, Gearbox. It’s a gold star that I’m going to immediately take away, however, by asking a single question – why the hell can’t I see anything? This game goes for a survival horror theme, using things such as poor lighting to accomplish this. There’s such a thing as atmospheric lighting in there’s coming up with something to deliberately get on my nerves. More times than not - instead of setting the mood as though you’re up against something far greater than yourself in a tight, dark, enclosed space as in Alien – I have a hard time seeing anything. In the earlier sections in particular, this can be a bit like putting your balls in a salad shooter as far as trying to differentiate between enemies and scenery.

However, the problem arises in the enemies themselves. The “sophisticated AI” we were promised by Pitchford to be controlling the Xenomorphs in the game seems to have been cut at some point in development. I can only imagine that someone on the development team at some point said “No, having the aliens do sneak attacks from the vents is boring! Let’s have them run directly at then en masse!” And Randy Pitchford said, “Brilliant! Give that man a raise! I mean, we’ve already produced the gameplay demo trailer where we’ve shown them doing that sort of thing, but I’m sure that our loving and caring fanbase will understand. By the way, how’s Duke Nukem Forever coming along, guys?”

"High five, bro!" "Lol, eat lead!"

Y’know another thing I don’t remember from the trailer?  A bunch of Weyland-Yutani mercenaries never seemed to show up.  For some sections of the game, instead of fighting Xenomorphs, you get to fight some mercenaries hired by Weyland-Yutani, the evil corporation behind the operations there on the planet, once more attempting to get control of the Xenomorphs for their own purposes.  This wouldn’t be a problem, except there are entire sections of the game devoted to just fighting them without so much as an Alien showing up, and last I checked this game was not called Aliens & Mercenaries:  Colonial Marines.  When I put in this game, I was expecting to fight Aliens, not those.  They didn’t show up in the movie – oh, no, it was all about the Marines and their struggle to get far away from LV-426.

None of this really speaks to survival-horror, because this isn't a survival horror game.  This is a pure action shlock FPS.  Flickering lights and the occasional Xenomorph jump scare coming from a vent (in the floor, by the way, always in the floor!) aren't scary! The one section of the game where I was legitimately unnerved was a sewer level where the darkness was just enough that I could still see and there was a new breed of alien that operated on sound, so I had to very carefully step around them and then remain still when they drew close otherwise I'd suffer an incredibly violent, explosive death. So, naturally, once I got through that one section, this type of Xenomorph is never seen or mentioned again.  Normally, I'd be fine with this seeing as Alien was the more horrific film and Aliens was more of a sci-fi action film.  Fine.  But Gearbox was promising survival horror, and it failed spectacularly to deliver on that.

Getting back to the Marines, they’re almost all forgettable or just plain unlikeable.  Quite unlike the film, where you could actually sympathize with them. They were more than just people waiting to be killed off like in your run of the mill slasher film. They had personalities; they were very distinct (if not that deep) and were all buddy-buddy with one another.  Sure, they cracked jokes at one another's expense, but they all had each other's backs and weren't going to let a bunch of ugly ass space bugs mess them up. They had scenes setting this up in the beginning of the film on the way to the planet, and even after they’d gotten there. They were actual people, rather than just cardboard cut outs.  The point is, there was a reason to care when they started getting killed by the Xenomorphs.

Here, stepping into the role of Frost, we have a major problem. Frost may know these characters, but we don’t. There’s no conveyance of the characters – their personalities and motivations. We don’t get anyone like Hicks or Hudson, who we can relate to or even empathize with. And we don’t care about whether they live or die.  And as I said, when the Marines here do things that seem like the actions of the Marines in the film, they just come off as them being either uncaring or horrendous assholes to one another.  We don't have any connection to these Marines.  They don't seem like people, they're basically just taking up space until they become a snack for some hungry Xenomorphs.

That is if any of the Marines actually died within the course of the storyline.

Yes, it’s a bit of a spoiler, but only two Marines actually die in the course of the storyline and you care little to nothing for either of them. Particularly with one of them where you know its coming almost from the very beginning of the game, so when one of the deaths is set up as a powerful and traumatic death scene just falls pathetically flat…and you wonder why in the hell they didn’t just shoot her in the head earlier?

Oh, and speaking about spoilers concerning Marines, there’s actually one of the crew of the Sulaco who survived the events of Aliens and is still on the planet! And if you’ve ever seen the films in the Alien franchise, when you see him, you just might throw your controller at the screen in utter, brain broken rage and confusion. I won’t say just who, but keep in mind that, while this game is a sequel to Aliens, the developers have made it clear (both through their statements and through the game itself) that it takes place after Alien3. So, when you see the marine in the game, keep in mind that their presence on LV-426 is IMPOSSIBLE! In fact, the one way I could think that it might work makes even less sense given what we learn in Alien3.

Don't get attached to the Smart Gun. You only get it for a few levels...
And while I’m off on a tangent about the marines, did I mention that the AI was terrible? Not just for the Aliens, but for your Marine allies who really aren’t that much better. Wouldn’t it have worked better if it was just you on your lonesome going through these dark, poorly lit corridors that don’t live up to OSHA standards getting your face chewed off? Or running around on the surface of LV-426? Either way, it’s better than having to fight around your allies and having to watch from all directions as they pretty much will never give you cover or do anything that you would expect a highly trained squad of marines to be able to do together. But I suppose that’s just asking for too much, is it, Gearbox?

Oh, speaking of the surface of LV-426, lemme give you a spoiler – it shouldn’t be there! At the very least not being nearly as habitable as it is. It’s a bit of a spoiler for the film, but at the end of Aliens, the colony of Hadley’s Hope gets ransacked by a thermonuclear explosion. Now, I could expect that some parts of the planet could still be inhabitable after that. I couldn’t expect for ground zero of the blast to be just fine and seemingly radiation free a mere seventeen weeks after detonation, allowing most of the actions to take place in the somehow completely fine settlement of Hadley's Hope. I don’t know if you looked it up, Gearbox, but that isn’t how atomic explosions work. Even if it weren't directly in ground zero of the thermonuclear detonation, I doubt that many of the buildings would be standing up looking like they've been moderately scratched up and worn down.

The drop-in, drop-out co-op is pretty dull too. It’s not a new and interesting dynamic to it, there’s no alterations to the storyline that get added because of a second (or, I assume, third or fourth) player, you’re not even playing a unique character. I played alongside my pal EpicApathy for the first few missions and there was nothing at all unique about it. We were apparently both Winter, as when Winter was spoken to, we heard two voices speaking that were exactly identical. If we wanted to be simply a clone of the original character, we could have just put in the original Halo and there wouldn’t have been too much difference.

How Miss Weaver "politely" declined making a cameo.

In the end, there is a fundamental fact that completely ruins this game from just being a generic shooter in the vein of Halo, that it’s a tie-in game for a movie. But it’s even deeper than just the shallow attempt by studios to cash-in on their media in another format. Aliens is a fantastic movie, and it’s one of my favorites. Is it perfect? Well, certainly not, but it’s very good. While Alien had a big impact on popular culture, very few franchises can claim to have had a sequel not only been arguably as big, but that has been such a big departure from the first and be so successful, kind of a reverse-Highlander II thing. Aliens has influenced pop culture in many ways. There have been homages and parodies done of it in everything from Halo to an episode of Power Rangers (no, seriously), and with good reason. Again, it’s just an awesome movie altogether.

This is not a worthy sequel to anything. It has crappy AI, it’s got characters that are either unlikeable or forgettable, it’s got a plot that willingly creates holes within itself and then handwaves them, and everything but the movie locations (such as the colony of Hadley's Hope and the Derelict Ship) are completely bland, generic, and ultimately forgettable.  The game seems more about road trips to scenic locations from the films and making movie references than it is about giving us anything fun or entertaining.

Not to mention, the game ends on a cliffhanger, almost as if Gearbox is trying to set up a sequel.  Which made me realize that, besides the gigantic plot holes in the story nothing had actually been accomplished.  So, good job I guess, Gearbox.  The fact that you're able to produce an incredibly poor game and then have the sheer balls to presume you'll get a sequel if just astounding.  Gearbox, what you just did is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen.  At no point in your game's rambling, incoherent plot were you even close to a rational thought.  Everyone who got this game is now dumber for having played it.  I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Or to use a more appropriate quote...

"You mostly suck, Aliens: Colonial Marines...mostly..."

Aliens:  Colonial Marines is now available from Sega, 20th Century Fox, and Gearbox Software.