Aliens: Colonial Marines

Spoilers after the bump.

Aliens: Colonial Marines has caused me to blog again and for that I apologise.

The game, touted as a ‘true sequel’ to Aliens,1 has its fair share of detractors but I haven’t seen many address the main issue I had on my playthrough. The people who made this game, based on a film they’re big fans of, did not want to be Ripley.

“Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?”
Aliens

Or Vasquez. Or Dietrich. Or Ferro. Or at least that’s the impression. Over the course of A:CM’s looong development period, Gearbox and company ignored the role of women in the film. Y’know? That one which climaxes with a woman fighting the queen of an alien species to save a little girl?

‘Look, look, I’m a bit out of sorts at the moment. I’m having a woman’s period.’

Colonial Marines puts you in the boots of Corporal Christopher Winter, part of a team of marines dispatched to LV-4262 to investigate a distress call from the USS Sulaco. The first woman we see is the pilot, Lieutenant Reid.3 A promising start until the squad briefing to the “chicks and dicks” by Captain Jeremy Cruz shows that she is the only woman visible in the room. Winter is then sent off to catch up with Rhino 2-1, a unit assigned to reinforce Rhino 2-3. Around twenty minutes in, he and Private Peter O’Neal ‒ one of the few uninjured remnants of 2-1 ‒ have been stranded on board the Sulaco when they overhear the second and last prominent female character on the radio: Rhino 2-3’s Private Bella Clarison.4

To be fair, the characterisation of everyone is paper-thin but the first thing we learn about Bella is that she’s dying. Bella has woken up “gagging on” a facehugger and a considerable chunk of the game’s plot will focus on a futile quest to save her life. Once she drops off the radio we then get O’Neal telling us that Bella and he had “a sex thing”. Laughably, the script later compares O’Neal’s loss of Bella with the returning Corporal Dwayne Hicks’ loss of Ripley. (At least I hope Ripley is the girl he’s referring to.)

This is all wrong.

“The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.”
Alien script

A:CM wants to be on par with the movies, effectively a sixth installment in the canon, but the best it can offer is to pluck moments from those titles and recreate them. Yes, there’s precedent for the tie-ins to highlight the marines, and I do understand the appeal of them for gameplay as much as I’d like one to take a stab at a true survival horror experience. However, if you’re going to hype your game as being on the same level as the films, I’m going to hold it to that standard.

For starters, Prometheus through to Alien: Resurrection each star a woman. Whoops.

Thing is, the game is largely a retread of the second movie without its depth. It’s not hard to find some people dismissing Aliens as a dumb action movie (and I invite you to do your own Googling). That interpretation neglects little things like a woman who has lost her daughter building a new family while dismantling another before finally taking out their mother. Action that may be but dumb it is not. Also, and this is important, despite all their guns and bluster the movie’s colonial marines lose.

It seems the makers of A:CM thought the best thing that Ellen Ripley had to offer their title was her gun. While Bella’s story is supposed to be the emotional weight, all we know about her is that she’s had sex twice and on one occasion it was interspecies rape. “Get away from her, you bitch!” as the opening salvo to Ripley’s climactic encounter with the xenomorph queen is worlds from deciding to have Cruz casually call the matriarch a bitch for being angry.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is a dumb action movie.

Actual in-game FOOTage.

Not even addressing the reluctance to have leading women for games in general, it’s worrying that anybody could sit through Aliens and decide Ripley and the other female characters were the weakest part. Someone clearly cared about the movie enough to bring Hicks back from the dead. Hell, the downloadable content allows you to play as him and three other men of the United States Colonial Marine Corps. Vasquez is conspicuous by her absence. It’s possible that Janette Goldstein had zero interest in loaning her voice or likeness to the game but she did add her name to the thousands who objected when Gearbox producer Brian Burleson happened to mention that there were no playable female characters (around 28:30 minutes in). They are of course present in the final product ‒ as my teabagged marine can attest ‒ and Gearbox president Randy Pitchford told Kotaku’s Tina Amini that Burleson was simply talking about the demo. Right.

A:CM writer Mikey Neumann spoke of the importance of not breaking the canon and dismissed Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem as fan fiction. Yet bringing back Hicks reeks of fan service and, if the game was truly in the same league as the films, it would then undermine Alien³ by having Ripley attend the funeral of an unnamed nobody. A:CM essentially tries to take it from her and give it to Hicks. It may not have been a popular decision but there’s a reason why the third movie strands the woman alone on a prison planet full of rapists when she finds out that she’s already been got at by the giant penis monster she’s been battling for two previous movies.

ParableGames.net credits an unnamed writer as saying that Bella’s story was like “a mother losing her child”. If that’s the case then it was either hyperbole, gutted out from the story or carries an uncomfortable inversion of the original Alien movie’s desire not to have the facehugger victim be a man.

What if Bella actually was pregnant with both baby and xenomorph? What if O’Neal showed more affection for his sex thing? What if the vacuous player character was someone who, ideally a she, cared that Bella was going to die? What if Hicks was actually the man he was at the end of Aliens and could relate to O’Neal’s situation without it being total rubbish?

Ultimately, Aliens: Colonial Marines settles for being a standard, uninspired movie spin-off that seems to show little appreciation or understanding for the films it emulates other than what’s on the surface.5 Except for the blatant role women play in them.

Strange Shapes has a fantastic (and far better written) article about everything else that’s wrong with Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Footnotes
1 …set after Alien³ and the cover sleeve of which pretends Alien Resurrection never happened.
2 Or Acheron if you prefer.
3 Can’t find Reid’s forename in a Google search.
4 Third if you want to count Private Jennifer Redding, one of three playable characters that can assist Winter in the co-op campaign but have no impact on the story.
5 If the game wasn’t so heavy-handed with references to the films in general, The Raven sequence would have been a nice homage to both Newt’s dilemma in the sewer and a callback to Alien³’s bait-and-chase as the player tries to make their escape without disturbing the hive. The later Prometheus easter egg was a nice touch also and it’s a shame that the game’s delays put its release behind the film as it would have given attentive players a sneak peek of the movie without even realising it.

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