Aliens: Colonial Marines – A Work Of Art

Haha, you thought I meant the game, didn’t you? No no no, not at all. From everything I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot by now, the game is absolutely rancid. I was planning to get it, but I’ve called off that idea after seeing so many awful reviews.

Om nom nom!

But in the midst of all the lambasting, there was a certain review that stood out. Brandon Justice of EGM Now wrote this review, and it is a piece of art. It is absolutely amazing, and I want to go over the thing and show you all the ways it rocks.

Before we start proper though, I’d like to say that there is always the possibility that I am completely off base, and this review should just be taken as is, and is truly mister Justice’s honest opinion.

What I think though, is that this is a masterpiece of deft writing, dodging and restrained opinion. The text doesn’t really match with the score, and it seems like he really wanted to say what he honestly thought. So he snuck in small references to what was actually wrong with the game, but then had to gloss over it because someone had told him to “give it a 9, and write nice things”. It feels like the 9 was decided beforehand, and then the text was written with the intention of justifying that 9 rather than explaining why it had gotten it. The text was meant to fit the score, rather than the score fit the text, if you know what I mean. Of course I have no proof of this, and it’s just a gut feeling, but it’s honestly more interesting and amusing to read it that way.

With that out of the way, let’s get started. The first sentence that raised a flag for me was this one:

Colonial Marines is billed as an official piece of series canon, and I’m happy to report that Gearbox has crafted a world that more than lives up to the hype; it’s dripping with fan service in the form of constant reference, re-creation, and respect for the source material that’s easily the best gaming representation of the franchise to date.

The emphasis is mine. Do people really use dripping to describe something positive? Jarenth and I discussed this a bit, and we felt it was not likely. If anything, I’d say the sentence is dripping with sarcasm, which he’s trying to mask as genuine because of obligation. There is more though:

Of course, staying true to the source wasn’t the only potential stumbling block; all those front-loading, flame-throwing moments needed to be fun, too. And, for the most part, Gearbox knocked it out like a cranky Queen on the wrong side of an airlock. From gunplay to co-op-friendly design, the core mechanics are largely spot-on, but more importantly, the various objectives do an incredible job of mixing it up. You’ll run-and-gun, make daring stands against waves of Xenomorphs, rescue your fellow Marines, find yourself forced to run away like a little weenie, and much more. While the action falls a bit short of the blend of first-person shooter and survival-horror I was hoping for, it’s all fairly well paced—thanks largely to some excellent level design and solid alien AI.

See what I’ve pointed out? This seems like the deft dodging of a man who does not truly believe what he’s writing, has to write it anyway, but adds a few little caveats to make it more palatable to himself. And then the use of the word solid towards the end there. You know what’s also solid? A brick. And I’m fairly certain you don’t want the xenomorphs acting like bricks, but from the footage I’ve seen, that’s certainly the case. How slow they move, how easily they get stuck on things, the awkward model transitions and the way they can hurt when thrown all seem pretty brick-like to me. The very next line holds the next clue:

The visuals are subpar in places, but the overall aesthetic makes creeping through the shadowy, blood-soaked wreckage with a group of Marines a real nail-biter.

He cagily admits to the graphical problems, but then has to quickly gloss over it, to the point where he possibly contradicts himself, as he already admitted the game wasn’t quite “the blend of first-person shooter and survival-horror” (which honestly sounds like code-speak for “this is all action” ) he was hoping for, yet it’s still a real nail-biter? Maybe, maybe. We don’t have to look any further than the next sentence again to find a true masterpiece of snark:

While the core Soldier Xenos should probably figure out that ramming bullets with their face isn’t the best strategy,

Do you see this? Do you understand the brilliance of this? I love this line, even though he again quickly glosses over it in the following sentences. It’s like he couldn’t resist allowing us a glimpse at his true feelings. It seems he couldn’t shake off those urges right away, because at the very end of that paragraph he finishes with:

Sure, you’ve got some definite dents in the hull here—such as the occasionally oblivious squadmate AI, the training-wheel cover system, and the woefully heinous cinematics—but the hits far outweigh the misfires.

Hastily mentioned, but they’re there, even if they’re again dismissed. He follows up with:

The main show offers a 4-player co-op experience that’s a significant step forward from the storytelling in Borderlands

Quite a serious dig at Borderlands there. Perhaps he’s resentful that he has to write this because Gearbox just had to put this game out. I could have sworn there was also a comment somewhere in the review about how they went a bit against established canon, but I can’t find it, so I might be mixing it with one of the other reviews I’ve read. And he ends it with:

  • THE GOOD: A modern Alien game that does much more than avoid being total crap.
  • THE BAD: AI teammates that seem to forget the alien menace must be obliterated
  • THE UGLY: The cutscenes. Love-ya-mean-it, guys, but next time, can ya get Halo 4’s CG squad?

Even in “The good” it seems more like a circumspect way of saying the game has invented new ways of being crap, but maybe that’s me projecting. And then finally ends it with the score of 9.0, and I still insist that this does not fit the text. It’s more like the text was written to try to fit the score. Also, the choice of word “robust” in the summary seems a curious one, as I don’t really understand what he means by it. Maybe I need a dictionary.

I will again state that I could be completely off-base, and this is mister Justice’s honest opinion. He might just be bad at explaining why that game deserves a 9, even if he truly believes it does. I’m hardly an ace reviewer myself, which is partly why I don’t use scores at all. So yeah, I could be wrong. That’s up to you to make up your own mind about.



Posted on February 13, 2013, in Games, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. “..completely off base”? Not bloody likely. I thought that you nailed it in the funniest piece o writing that I’ve seen you do. It is pretty clear that “Brandon Justice” was either blinded by a large brown envelope filled with money or he was forced to write that shameless PR pleasing tongue-up-the-arse piece because his family would be killed by Gearbox in a transparent blackmail ploy. The comments on that piece are a classic as well, where a baying mob of rationalist attempt to understand how a game that has 4.5 aggregate score on Metacritic is somehow completely deserving of a nine despite so many obvious and serious flaws. Brandon himself appears in the mosh pit of anger explaining some peripheral issues..but the serious unanswered question of how he could avoid reviewing a game objectively was completely ignored. It was either blackmail (review this with a good score or lose all this advertising revenue) or bribery. Either way, it’s obvious that EGM compromised it’s integrity (again) for money or ease to the point where they were a single instance where the review did not match the gameplay. It’s incredibly sad as this kind of practice will become more common as budgets increase and games have to recoup the inflated costs of development by manipulating the press and internet to ensure that no dissenting voice is allowed..

    • Yeah, I read his Dead Island review as well, which he gave 9.5. And… there wasn’t even any admissions that it could have faults. A little sickening, actually.

  2. Very excellent post! It almost makes me want to review bad games to fit a score as an exercise of fun and humor.

  3. Dear everyone: if you’ve never had a fifteen minute discussion on whether or not ‘dripping’ could be used in a positive way, I recommend you do so. Really. It’s exquisite.

    My personal favourite bit from the review, after re-reading it, is:

    It was going to be a tough task from the onset, but despite a ton of potential pitfalls for the talented team at Gearbox, they’ve gone a long way toward reminding us that, for folks who love the craft of building great games, the best challenges only seem impossible.

    This seems so much like a genuine compliment, but it just isn’t. It’s laden with implicit assumptions. Does ‘the talented team at Gearbox’ ‘love the craft of building great games’? Would creating Colonial Marines count as one of ‘the best challenges’? When is a challenge the ‘best’ challenge? I keep finding new layers to that statement, it’s amazing. ‘The people at Gearbox have partially reminded us that great people can do great things’.

    Brandon Justice at EGM, I salute you. It’s possible you are a fraud and a sellout, I can’t judge on that, but your skills in word-smithery are beyond any doubt.

    • Unfortunately, this was outsourced to Timegate and Nerve. Outsourcing can work out OK, if you’re giving your contractors very specific things to work on that are well documented, keeping in constant contact with them with regular build evaluations and progress reports and solving problems early before they become impossible to fix later. In this case I think they basically sent a few documents in an email..said “It’s January now, We’re launching in Feb, so we need this code done for Dec. Someone at the other end said “Sure, no problem..I’ve got some guys in China who say they can do this in six weeks, ten tops” and then they left it until November when someone asked “Hey, didn’t we ask you to do some code for us?”. Cue panic and rendition of “Yakety Sax”.

    • Great catch. I actually stared at that paragraph for a while, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on what felt wonky about it. Thanks for the help. 🙂

  4. Interesting piece on why pretty much all aliens suck. It’s about survival horror. The sense of helplessness you get when you’re stuck in a environment without effective weapons, trying to make sense and/or escape a threat that is evolving beyond your expectations.

    It’s also why the original films, where Ripley is a _civilian_ works better than putting tens of heavily armed jarheads with tonnes of ammo into a bug hunt situation. Even Aliens (the film) took everything away half way through so the survivors were using their wits rather than guns to get out of that situation.

    But a horror game where you’re armed with a piece of pipe and a pistol is not the sort of game that’s going to impress the Call of Duty market they’re going for.

  5. To me it just sounded like a reviewer who thinks Alien/s is really amazing, trying to justify the bad things about the game in light of his fascination with the Alien universe. He never had to be paid off, and I find it extremely unlikely that he was. There’s an unhealthy relationship between publishers and review sites, sure, but the PR nightmare that would ensure if people found out about it isn’t even worth it.

    Think about it this way: if publishers were paying off review sites left and right to write favorable reviews, wouldn’t one of those review sites use it to their advantage?

    Eurogamer: “Activision offered us money to favorably review BLOPS 2. See all those websites who gave it a good score? Untrustworthy. Come to us for unbiased reviews.”

    And surely some disgruntled reviewer would come out and say “Yes, our site was paid off. They fired me, but they’re a cesspool anyhow.”

    I’m not saying paid-off reviews could never happen, just that it’s extremely unlikely that it happens as much as people claim. I see people saying this all the time about every review, and it just doesn’t add up. There are much more covert means of influencing scores, ones more likely to produce positive results without hugely negative backlash.

    • I think paid-off reviews are highly unlikely. As you said, companies would never hear the end of it if they were actually caught doing it. But possibly he had some over-zealous boss who figured that since they were advertising the game, they’d best be nice to it. People are dumb, and apt to do dumb stuff. I highly doubt that either Sega or Gearbox gave them any money and told them to do this, though.

  6. Brandon Justice is the executive editor. I doubt anyone “told” him to write anything. I agree that his true opinion is clearly visible in the text (something I’ve seen before in paid reviews) but lets not pretend he’s a pleb stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  7. It’s an awful review, sketchy and flat and unentertaining. But to be fair “dripping” – the first point – is perfectly valid in that context.

    F’rinstance, Roger Ebert’s review of the first Harry Potter movie opens by describing it as a QUOTE red-blooded adventure movie, dripping with atmosphere UNQUOTE. Love or hate him, Roger Ebert is a much better writer than Brandon Justice. Lots of people are better writers than Brandon Justice.

    And, being really generous, Justice might have been trying to evoke the grungy, steamy atmosphere of the films, which were full of things that dripped. So I disagree with that point.

    I agree with the rest of your post though. It’s like Stuart Campbell’s demolition of Eurogamer’s review of one of the more recent Gran Turismo titles. Shorn of the final score the review portrayed a mediocre game with dated graphics and no advances on the previous games; 9/10. Campbell used to write for a magazine called Amiga Power, which was very proud of not being paid off. It tended to give universally-praised dreck the kicking it deserved. Over time the magazine found itself cut off from access. It couldn’t report on trade events, it didn’t get review copies, it was never “in the loop”. Pre-internet it had trouble getting hold of pre-release screenshots. Ultimately the gaming press is vulnerable to this kind of pressure, blogs massively moreso.

  1. Pingback: Update: Brandon Justice No Longer Works At EGM Now « Wulf Space

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