Creative Assembly: Colonial Marines Proved ‘Alien’ IP Still Viable

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Posted on January 7, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Creative Assembly: Colonial Marines Proved ‘Alien’ IP Still Viable

Whether it’s fair or not, The Creative Assembly and its newly announced survival-horror game, Alien: Isolation, are working against a deficit.

That deficit is Gearbox Software’s Aliens: Colonial Marines. Finally released in 2013, publisher Sega’s last entry into the Alien franchise was considered a huge disappointment for many players. The game received weak reviews and was full of plot holes; even more notably, players felt betrayed by the handling of the game after Gearbox showed promising demos at conferences such as PAX and E3.

So even though The Creative Assembly had nothing to do with Colonial Marines and has been working in relative secret on Alien: Isolation for the last three years, the negative feelings among players that follow the former have cropped up surrounding the official announcement of the latter. But according to The Creative Assembly, there’s an upside to those negative feelings: They prove people still care about Alien.

“One of the most important things for us as a development team is, you know, is the IP still relevant; do people still want it?” said Lead Designer Clive Lindop in an interview with Game Front in December at an Alien: Isolation preview event at The Creative Assembly’s studios in England. “Ironically, the passion with which people wanted to say what they felt about A:CM and what they wanted to see from the franchise was actually very positive for us, because okay, here’s a group of people who still expect and want the best possible game, the highest standards from the game, and there are clearly still people who care a lot about Alien as an IP. That audience is still out there.”

And in fact, The Creative Assembly found that players weren’t just complaining about Colonial Marines, they were speculating on the game they’d like to see out of the franchise — a slow-burn survival-horror title more akin to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien than its 1986 sequel Aliens, directed by James Cameron. Nearly all the games created in the 30 years of video games in the Alien franchise have focused on Cameron’s take instead of Scott’s, Colonial Marines included — but not Alien: Isolation.

Senior Producer Jonathan Court said it was difficult to remain silent about The Creative Assembly’s game even as players were asking for the very game the studio believed it was creating.

“Obviously, we spent a long time scouring the forums and feedback from Colonial Marines once it was released, and one thing we saw repeatedly was people talking about the game we were secretly making,” Court said. “It was really, really encouraging and really exciting, and we kind of wanted to shout out to them, ‘That’s our game you’re talking about there!’ One thing that came from the Colonial Marines thing is people want what we’re making, and what we’re making is very different from what came before. It’s interesting, that’s for sure.”

That’s another big point of emphasis for The Creative Assembly: that Alien: Isolation is different in a fundamental way from the games that came before it. During the preview event, in which journalists were first introduced to the game, CA gave very little up-front information about what would be experienced before presenting gameplay.

The idea, Lindop said, was to let the game speak for itself. Alien: Isolation’s focus is on interactions with a single alien, and Lindop said the developer wants to reframe the player relationship that has formed with that alien across previous games. Alien: Isolation is a first-person survival-horror title, and the demo given to journalists featured no guns or other enemies of any kind.

And it’s pretty clear that The Creative Assembly and Sega want to avoid any of Colonial Marines’ pre-release missteps. Rather than show video of different portions of the game — similar to how Colonial Marines was presented in its previews — the developer chose to give journalists a working hands-on demo, which centered on the alien, for their first experience with Alien: Isolation. The time The Creative Assembly spent in its reveal establishing the systematic behaviors and basic lethality of its single, nigh-unstoppable alien already puts Alien: Isolation into a different category than its shooter predecessors.

Court said he sees Alien: Isolation as being something players will judge on its own merits, rather than based on those games that came before it.

“I think we’re making something so different from what’s gone before that it stands up on its own, and we’re so confident about the quality of what we’re making,” Court said.

Whether its differences really will be enough to protect Alien: Isolation from the bad (acidic) blood associated with Aliens: Colonial Marines won’t be apparent until The Creative Assembly’s game drops in late 2014. But it does seem like the developers are right about at least one thing: There are still a lot of people who are very interested in the franchise, and they’re still watching intently for their dream Alien game.

Read our full preview of Alien: Isolation, in three parts: One focused on the alien, tech and art direction; one about protagonist Amanda Ripley and the game’s story; and one that chronicles our hands-on impressions of the game.

Phil Hornshaw is deputy editor at Game Front. Read more of his work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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