Is Gearbox Really a Great Studio — and What Happened to Aliens? Let’s Look at the History.


While our review of Aliens: Colonial Marines is still in the works and our reviewer is shying away from opinions until he’s played it himself, I’ve been keenly watching the review scores and, well, they’re not good. The follow-up game to Gearbox Studio’s excellent Borderlands 2 is widely being regarded as a dud. Right about now, a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering how a studio so obviously talented could take six years and deliver Aliens: Colonial Marines, a game described as so undercooked that it’s draws their whole PR campaign into question. It really makes you wonder how Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox and admitted Aliens nut, could stand so heartily behind something so easily picked apart.

Like those players above, I wondered: What happened, Gearbox? Without an official Vagary review, I won’t draw final conclusions on the game (the questions raised here don’t represent any “official” opinion — none of us have beat the game yet), but I decided to do a little digging. Gearbox hit the ball out of the park with Borderlands, no doubt about it, but how about their other games. Did they review well?

Since 1999 the studio has had a major hand to play in ten games. They played less tangible roles in a handful of others, so this chart doesn’t represent the entirety of their work. Still, if we’re looking at “Gearbox Joints” we can paint a pretty good picture.

Have a look:


Note: All scores are derived from Metacritic aggregates with the exception of Half-Life: Opposing Force.

As you can see, Gearbox has a decent track record, but not great and leaning towards inconsistency. There are some high points in that list but some real stinkers too. If we look at the best scores for each game, their average is just over 77. Respectable. Their low scores, on the other hand, average out to about 72. A little less so but still not bad — not great, either. There is an incredible 46 point spread between their highest and lowest scores. What’s especially noteworthy here is that Aliens: Colonial Marines is their worst reviewed game ever by 5+ points depending on your platform. Worse even than the crapshoot that was Duke Nukem Forever. Now, without these two outliers, the average jumps to 81 high and 77 low.

Fellow writer, Tony Odett, and I talked a bit about these numbers. Is it fair to include Duke Nukem and Aliens in our assessment when the disparities are so high? Both games aren’t necessarily Gearbox brainchildren, after all, with Duke being brought on years into a troubled development cycle and Aliens standing in as a chronically sub-par licensed franchise. Something obviously went wrong in each game’s development, because ideas borne and bred in Gearbox’s wheelhouse tend to do much better. As a gamer and a critic, I can’t help but feel like Gearbox needs to own these games and their reception. Franchised or not, they took them in, marketed them, and asked the consumer to pay for them all while sticking their name on the front of the box. And a couple of them haven’t done very well.  That’s theirs.

So what happened to Aliens: Colonial Marines? Read on for some ideas from inside tipsters.

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Author: Christopher Coke View all posts by
Chris is a lifelong gamer that brings his writing degree to bear at Vagary TV, Rift Watchers, and Game By Night. His current game of choice is RIFT, though he can often be seen plumbing the depths of Call of Duty, Darksiders, and virtually everything Rockstar.
  • W

    Even a great studio can make a mistake like this, Borderlands 2 was spectacularly good and while it’s a shame ACM was a bit of a dud, I still look forward to whatever they release in future.
    Also, Duke Nukem forever shouldn’t exactly be held against them, they simply finished off the game. You can’t polish a turd.

  • lol

    gearbox sucks. They made 3 good games in their entire history as a company. Borderlands 1 &2 and brothers in arms. Whats so good about this pos developer? DNF sucked (not their fault i dont blame them for this one), Aliens sucks hard (wtf is the author of this site talking about regarding a bad franchise or whatever? Aliens on PS1 was amazing. All it takes is a good dev.), and nothing else is even worth mentioning.

    Everyone expects these guys to be amazing. Why? because they made 1 game with a sequel that gives you more of the same and another good game? Thats hardly a track record to worship these losers for.

  • But they took on the responsibility, stuck their name on the front of the box, and asked you to pay for it. I agree in a large sense, but they can’t simply dodge the bullet because they had the final hand. -They- had the final hand.

  • Aliens isn’t free of good games, but it certainly isn’t free of bad ones either.

  • ProphetofTruth

    Actually customers will be able to get a full refund for this as it is proven in time that a concerted effort on the part of gearbox to defraud purchasers of this game. Take a look at any of the many videos comparing pre alpha “gameplay” videos to what was delivered and there is clearly a difference that goes well beyond the usual dressed up demos. What was shipped was not anything resembling the shown product. No mistak gearbox will be made to refund people

  • I hope you’re right. I felt duped for pre-ordering. (I usually don’t pre-order anything).

  • DarthDiggler

    What’s a Gearbox Joint? Is it a special doobie?

  • Chris Scott

    I honestly don’t see this happening. It’s not a broken unplayable product, it’s just not very good, and both SEGA and Gearbox have publicly stated they stand behind the product.