I was a weird kid growing up. My friends watched Transformers, Thundercats, X-Men and other popular Saturday morning dribble. I watched the Alien movies over and over. Aliens was my favorite. Every time my mom would take me to Blockbuster I’d follow the familiar path to where the VHS sat behind its display box in the Sci-Fi section. I was probably the person who rented it last, and I would probably be the person to rent it next. Like I said, I was a weird kid.
Jumping forward to today. I’m an adult of sorts; writing about video games in my free time. Aliens: Colonial Marines had its review embargo lifted yesterday, and there’s not much good being said. The game is a sequel to the same film I watched on repeat nearly 20 years ago. In theory, all the elements are there for an AAA title: futuristic guns, an enemy that’s easy to hate, life and death struggle, a chaotic environment… Yet, the overwhelming consensus is that it is, in fact, a very bad game.
There needs to be a word (perhaps in German?) for the pain associated with watching a beloved story poorly transplanted into another medium.
This word should encompass the full experience, which may include hilarious NeoGAF gifs:
We need such a word because that’s how I feel, and it happens a lot. I understand why, though. As a publisher/developer you’ve already got your setting, characters, plot — it’s just a matter of bringing it all to life, right?
Not exactly. This way of thinking ignores how the reader/player/viewer feels while experiencing the orginial story. In Aliens: Colonial Marines for instance, the player assumes the role of a marine. These seemingly invincible bros were actually a tool in the film used to make the viewer feel two conflicting things.
First, it made them feel safe. The marines swoop down upon LV-426. They are fearless, efficient. And most importantly, they’re shielded behind a wall of infallible technology. Can I get a hoorah?
And just when the viewer’s fear has nearly dissipated and a sense of comfort and order is beginning to solidify… marines begin to drop like flies, showing that organization and Pulse Rifles don’t mean squat. This is an extremely effective way to take that original fear and enhance it.
In Aliens I would argue that the viewer identifies most with Ripley, who is herself not a marine. This choice in a protagonist was a smart move. After all, if these creatures just sprayed sulfuric acid in the collective face of a dozen musclebound, trigger-happy jarheads, what chance does she have?
Therein lies perhaps the most fundamental problem with Aliens: Colonial Marines: the player assumes the role of a marine.
I tweeted this earlier today:
It was just a quick idle thought after tabbing through a rainbow of negative Aliens: Colonial Marines reviews. For anyone unfamiliar with this character, Newt was the lone survivor of LV-426′s outpost. It’s not entirely clear how she survived, but it definitely involved a lot of hiding and not a whole lot of soap:
But it made sense to me, and other fans started to chime in:
The essence of what makes the Alien films great is the fear, and that’s what we want in an Aliens video game. It’s a fear that comes with relative powerlessness in the face of a mysterious and monstrous foe. And while I didn’t play Aliens: Colonial Marines, I know enough to say that they missed the point right from the beginning.
Before I wrap this up, I should mention that I rewatched all the Alien films not long ago. With a few more years under my belt I’d say I actually now prefer the first film in the series to the rest. Why? Because that’s when we knew the absolute least about the aliens. And at the heart of the unknown, is fear.