Aliens: Colonial Marines: how too many cooks may have ruined the game

Aliens: Colonial Marines, by all accounts, is a mess. Even after two delays, the game had a lot of issues that not even a huge day-one patch could fix. The game looked promising early on, so how did it end up so bad?

Apparently the bulk of the problem is too many cooks in the kitchen. According to a story pieced together by Kotaku, Gearbox Studios had four years of development on the project, but outsourced the single-player campaign to TimeGate Studios as it worked on Borderlands 2. TimeGate then proceeded to get rid of all the art and production work that Gearbox had done and replace it with its own from 2010 to late last year, according to an unnamed source speaking to Kotaku. Once Gearbox got the game back and saw what had been done, it basically had to start from scratch to try to retain the game it had envisioned. The version from Kotaku's source lines up with a Reddit thread posted by someone claiming to be a Gearbox employee:

"Campaign didn't make much sense, the boss fights weren't implemented, PS3 was way over memory, etcetcetc. GBX was pretty unhappy with TG's work, and some of Campaign maps were just completely redesigned from scratch. There were some last minute feature requests, most notably female marines, and the general consensus among GBX devs was that there was no way this game was going to be good by ship. There just wasn't enough time."

Gearbox had already gotten a nine-month extension from Sega and was not going to get another one, so Gearbox supposedly was forced to do what they could to make the game certifiable:

Features that were planned were oversimplified, or shoved in (a good example of this are challenges, which are in an incredibly illogical order). Issues that didn't cause 100% blockers were generally ignored, with the exception of absolutely horrible problems. This isn't because GBX didn't care, mind you. At a certain point, they couldn't risk changing ANYTHING that might cause them to fail certification or break some other system. And so, the product you see is what you get.

A responder in the Reddit thread with apparent knowledge of TimeGate's side said, however, that TimeGate only did what it was told to do by Gearbox:

Everything Timegate did was under clear and explicit direction from Gearbox. Gearbox had creative control of everything that occurred at TG. In addition, Gearbox was responsible for firing some of the most talented people (and internationally recognized as such) TG had employed, all of which were snatched up immediately by competitors. It was Gearbox's shitty oversight of the project that led to the product you all now have before you.

The day before the game came out, Gearbox head Randy Pitchford maintained to IGN that TimeGate only handled the game for about "20-25 percent of the total time." He also acknowledged assistance from Nerve Software on multiplayer maps. Ryan Hawkins commented that some Polycounters worked on the project late in the development cycle, and that a lot of the art assets were outsourced to Shanghai.

Videogamer did a comparison of a demo from last year and what was actually released, pointing out some glaring differences in how the same locations were shown, including the lack of dynamic lighting and even missing characters.

Shacknews received a late copy from Sega, but expect our review soon.