There is a scene towards the end of The Big Lebowski where The Dude walks out of a bowling alley with Donny and Walter to find his car set on fire by the nihilists. Throughout the movie, the car had been crashed, stolen, lodged against an abutment and beaten with a golf club. It was now up in flames and all The Dude could say was “Well, they finally did it. They killed my fucking car.”
This drain of emotion and overwhelming sense of fatigue is eerily similar to how I feel today. As millions around the world delve into the numerous multiplayer modes of Treyarch’s Cold war-era shooter Call Of Duty: Black Ops, news is emerging of the next game in the mega-successful series. Due this time next year, publisher Activision has tasked their latest acquisition, Sledgehammer Games, to develop what appears to be a long-rumoured setting for the next Call Of Duty title – the future. In previous games and indeed the current release, Call Of Duty has primarily been centred around historical conflicts (World War 2, Vietnam) and ongoing ones (Afghanistan). A decision to branch away from the norm and replace assault rifles with laser guns has long been a secret desire amongst gaming fans for quite a few years now, ever since the first risky departure in 2007- Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
Apparently, nameless industry sources are claiming that Sledgehammer Games’ Call Of Duty installment (due in 2011) will be set in the future and feature “space marines”. Publisher Activision released an official statement earlier this year, saying that this Call Of Duty will be “in the action-adventure genre”. The combination of these two events makes perfect sense and I have no doubt that November 2011 will be the release date for Call Of Duty: Future Something Something or whatever it ends up being called.
There’s another game on the horizon that could fit this bill. A game that has a troubled past and a long history with no release date in sight. First announced for the Playstation 2 in 2001, Aliens: Colonial Marines was shuffled back and forth between developers, delayed and forgotten about more times than I care to remember. Ironically, judging from the meagre amount of details that have scattered around the internet for the last few years, it has the potential to be amazing. Set directly after the film Aliens, a four man squad of marines dock with the USS Sulaco to discover what exactly went wrong on the now infamous ship.
Different reports describe the gameplay as tactically similar to Rainbow Six: Vegas and other say it has the same frantic pace of Left 4 Dead. Everything points to Aliens: Colonial Marines being a decent well-designed experience set in a very special universe. In the past, Aliens video games have been sub-par. Whether piggybacking on the back of other science-fiction characters or making ludicrous design decisions contradicting the films, we have not seen a single worthwhile game entry that captures the raw, nervous energy of James Cameron’s 1986 action masterpiece. Obsidian Entertainment was once working on a Aliens RPG, but it was cancelled by publisher Sega in favour of a game nobody wanted.
Hardly anybody talks about it. Every six months or so, current publisher and licence-holder Sega, releases an extremely quiet statement to say one of two things:
1) They are still working on it.
2) Some other developer is now working on it.
In 2008, the game floated around and landed with Gearbox Software, makers of Borderlands. This was a coup for the Texas-based developer, matching the recent success of Borderlands with the licence of one of the most heralded science-fiction franchises in history. Then, at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo they went and ruined it by announcing that they were also working on the idiotic farce Duke Nukem Forever, a game people stopped caring about ten years ago. They would develop Duke first, with a firm release date of 2011. When quietly asked about what would happen to Aliens: Colonial Marines, CEO Randy Pitchford was quick to assure fans that:
“We are still working on it.”
Whatever shaky, false hope Pitchford gave me then has today been totally destroyed and the final nail in the coffin of this potentially-incredible game is now being hammered home. Activision’s new direction in the Call Of Duty franchise will basically negate anything Gearbox comes up with in Aliens: Colonial Marines. It will satisfy any future-warfare needs for gamers even without chest-bursting xenomorphs. It was never a sure thing that Pitchford and co. would successfully translate the movie franchise into video game form but a Call Of Duty title featuring space marines will come close enough in tone and atmosphere to do a severe amount of damage to any sales of an officially licensed Aliens game. Further to that, two points of interest are cold, hard facts that will add to make it damn near impossible for Gearbox to fight against:
1) A Call Of Duty game is never delayed. Activision is a well-oiled machine and stick to release dates like honey. You can guarantee Sledgehammer Games will have a game on shelves this time next year.
2) Any game with the words ‘Call Of Duty’ on it will instantly sell by the millions, regardless of quality. Even though there are fans of Aliens throughout the world, it won’t matter. Even a consensus of five-star reviews couldn’t even begin to make a dent in Activision’s earnings.
Gearbox Software has exactly eleven months to get out in front of Sledgehammer Games. November is always Call Of Duty time and Aliens: Colonial Marines needs to be released before then to have any chance in hell of making money or an impact.
But that won’t happen. This game has been in development for almost ten years. It is been passed back and forth between so many people and mentioned so few times, that it may well be that family member who just got out of prison at the Christmas dinner table. It is not going to magically turn around, be finished and be awesome in such a short amount of time. But perhaps this is good thing. A strange form of catharsis; a final decision to light a match and burn away any last, lingering hope I may have had for Aliens: Colonial Marines.
They finally did it. They killed my fucking car.