Bronze: Zeno Clash II by ACE Team
Man, I was so excited for Zeno Clash II. At the time they announced it, I had never played the first Zeno Clash, but I was so happy that they were getting a chance to make a sequel to such a weird and unique first-person action game. There's not a lot of those left in the business anymore. The buzz was pretty positive when it released on PC, but after a prolonged delay and veil of silence over the Xbox Live Arcade port, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get my hands on Zeno Clash II anytime soon, as I prepared by the day before it was supposed to have released by finishing the original Zeno Clash on XBLA.
Finally the port of Zeno Clash II came out, and hurriedly I picked it up off the digital shelf. After finishing the game, I was extremely disappointed that theyreally changed nothing that was initially wrong with the first Zeno Clash, indeed even unbalancing it further with some broken new weapons, especially since they made some cool changes like making it a more open world for you to explore and a more improved, fucking insane story in terms of establishing a universe. I love the concept of Zeno Clash, and the franchise has always had kick-ass music, art design and a really fascinating story, but ACE Team still hasn't gotten me to love playing playing Zeno Clash.
But despite being disappointed by it, I'm totally psyched for a Zeno Clash III. I'm super invested after Zeno Clash II's incredible story twist, but I really hope for the follow-up that they take a good, hard look at the gameplay and actually change it. It's right now the unfortunately weakest link in an otherwise very, very cool and special franchise.
- Isaac Wagner
Silver: Aliens: Colonial Marines by Gearbox Software
Like a lot of people, I like the movie Aliens a lot. I don't have any tattoos of Bill Paxton's lovely mug on my back or anything, but it's a damn good action film that many videogames have borrowed elements from.
You would think that making an Aliens FPS would be a fairly simple task. You already have the cool weapons, intimidating bad guys and a unique setting which could all be used to make a great game. So far, developers have tried many times to make first-person shooters with the Alien licence with decent results at best. The Aliens versus Predator games are fairly good but they aren't true Aliens games, they follow their own crazy fiction and they involve another sci-fi great who really shouldn't be there in the first place. Alien Trilogy was a good Doom clone back in the late 1990s but fans have been waiting for a long time for something better.
In the early 2000s, Aliens: Colonial Marines for the PS2 was unveiled, which always looked cool in screenshots but the game mysteriously went off the grid. EA at the time had the Alien licence but obviously the Aliens: Colonial Marines project must have been scrapped at some point. What did we get instead? A bloody RTS called Aliens versus Predator: Extinction which came out in 2003. It was actually a decent game but it wasn't what anyone had asked for. The game went straight into the number 3 in the UK, probably just because of the front cover. That shows how desperate folks are for a great Aliens game, and that was 10 years ago!
Fast forward a couple of years, and Aliens: Colonial Marines officially resurfaces in 2008. I am not talking about that old PS2 game anymore, this looked to be a new game, developed for the then current generation platforms. The thing that really got me excited was that fact that Gearbox Software were working on the game.
At the time, I thought, "What a perfect fit." At the time, Gearbox were not known for those bloody Borderlands games. They were instead known for the underrated Brothers in Arms games, which displayed great squad combat and humanity in the cutscenes, two vital elements needed when making an Aliens game. The screenshots at the time looked phenomenal and I was sold on the game already.
At the end of 2008, bad news spread about the state of Gearbox Software. Their then new title, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway sold below expectations and some people had to lose their jobs at the company. Everyone worried thinking, "Oh no, what is going to happen to Aliens: Colonial Marines?"
For the longest time, we didn't know the answer to that question. Publisher Sega deployed a smoke screen by announcing and releasing Rebellion's latest entry of the Aliens versus Predator franchise. A solid game, but I still hadn't forgot about Aliens: Colonial Marines.
Finally at E3 2011, we got to see some new footage and material for Aliens: Colonial Marines. The game was not dead and it still looked great.
Since then, I hadn't paid too much attention to the game until it was released. Game journos seemed to be pretty down on the game, but I still wanted to check it out for myself. After all, everything that I had seen of the game looked great and Gearbox had never let me down. Yeah, I know some people will point out Duke Nukem Forever but that was its own special situation.
Finally the game came out in 2013 and it's frankly piss-poor. My expectations weren't too high as my friend had got the game early and he said it was complete crud but I thought maybe I would still enjoy it.
Despite being in so long in development, Aliens: Colonial Marines feels like such a rush job. The graphics are ugly, the game is filled with glitches and the enemy AI is a joke. Core shooting didn't feel to hot and why am I spending so much time shooting Weyland-Yutani mercenaries?
It wasn't a complete disaster. The environments did a good job of looking like the ones you saw in the movie and they absolutely nailed how the Pulse Rifle felt and sounded. Aside from that though, the game was short, easy and was nothing that Aliens fans had hoped for.
Oh, and the game did a great job in making me lose respect for Gearbox Software. The footage from E3 2011 was a complete sham. The graphics were miles better in that video than they are in the actual game and there are elements featured in that video that aren't present in the full game. I get that games change during the course of development but games are supposed to get better, not worse. Obviously, the video was something of a proof of concept but if you can't deliver on what you are showing, then don't show it at all!
Aliens: Colonial Marines makes me sad.
- Ross Hartley
Gold: Batman: Arkham Origins by Warner Brothers Montreal
It says a lot about Batman: Arkham Origins that I was severely disappointed by it even though I couldn't care less about it when I picked it up at my local brick-and-mortar store. From the start, Batman: Arkham Origins looked like an unnecessary cash grab, following in the footsteps of God of War: Ascension and Gears of War: Judgment, a prequel being made by a secondary studio. It was obviously a stopgap for Warner Brothers to pad margins while Rocksteady worked on the Next Big Thing, whatever that was. The difference between the Batman franchise and those other two ones I listed above is that I think that the Arkham games are brilliant video games, with Arkham Asylum being one of my favorite games of all time, and indeed one of the most influential games of this generation. And even though I wasn't as hot on Arkham City, it's was still a fantastic game with rock solid gameplay systems at its core.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I got back home and played through Arkham Origins and discovered that it was a turd. By completely breaking the predator and free-flow combat systems with broken gadgets and making a larger open world than in the previous game, but only adding more fucking Riddler Trophies to populate it and nothing else that interesting, and it was apparent that developer Warner Brothers Montreal didn't know how to make a Batman game. Not to mention the worst story and mission design in the franchise yet, throwing away its interesting premise of assassin's hunting Batman and the Blackmask being his primarily villain almost immediately as they disposed of them in quick order and just put the goddamn Joker back in it. It was easy to overlook the poor multiplayer component, but the awful, awful technical issues were not. The game crashed on me at least 8 times in a 2-hour window of play, it was so bad that I contemplated never finishing the game. That's unacceptable on any level, especially with how remarkably stable the Rocksteady games had been.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a disgrace on almost every single level that a Arkham game can be at this point. I came away from the game incredibly frustrated and angry about the whole thing, lessening my opinion of Warner Brothers even further, an incredible feat after their coldblooded murder of Monolith, one of my favorite developers in the business already had them pretty high on my shit list. Arkham Origins is a remarkable bummer, one that I definitely didn't see coming.
- Isaac Wagner