Aliens: Fireteam Elite Is a Gut-Busting Good Time

Aliens: Fireteam Elite Impressions

Although it has been over six years since a high-profile Alien game was released (Alien: Isolation, 2014), Ridley Scott’s films and the Alien universe remain a staple of science fiction and popular culture. Now that Disney has acquired Fox (including the Alien and Predator licenses), there are rumors of a series reboot or even a theme park ride.

In any case, we soon have Aliens Fireteam Elite, a three-person coop shooter/wave-based survival game from developer Cold Iron that is poised for release on August 24. It both draws from and extends the popular sci-fi horror world of Aliens, combining familiar mechanics with environments and enemies that fans will immediately recognize and enjoy fighting.

Not A Mickey Mouse Shooter

You play as a Colonial Marine whose Expeditionary Force has been rerouted to investigate a distress call from planet LV-896. Over the course of the four-chapter campaign–each with three extended missions–you will comb through derelict space mining craft, planetary bases, subterranean corridors and eventually, breach the Alien hive itself. While your missions involve piecing together the events on LV-896, it’s all in service of the action combat, surviving waves of Alien forces and living to fight another day.

At launch, players will be able to choose from any of five classes, all of which are based loosely on characters from the original films. For the preview build, each class — Gunner, Technician, Demolisher, and the Doc — came equipped with a specific loadout and tactical function that is pretty easy to guess from their names.

For instance, the Gunner specializes in fast reload times and volume of firepower, while the Demolisher specializes in weapons with large areas of damage. The Doc is a healer and the Technical has an arsenal of automated weapons like sentry guns. You can probably guess that each class’s starting loadout is just that and naturally, the player has access to a growing array of ever more powerful weapons, consumables, special items and abilities on cooldown timers and more, and each enemy type is weak to specific weapons and approaches so that between your three-person squad you should be prepared.

Adding to the list of collectables and powerful upgrades, players can also opt to use Challenge Cards for each mission. Challenge Cards are modifiers that change up the risk/reward equation or give mission boosts to XP or bonus damage. While the vast majority of weapons and toys are standard shooter staples, there are a substantial number of ways for players to craft their characters and make them unique members of the team.

Speaking of the team, it is clear that Cold Iron wants players to experience Aliens: Fireteam Elite with other human players. Although AI will fill in the ranks of the squad, and the bots are serviceable in the early parts of a mission when the going is easy, the AI isn’t so great in the boss battles or when the Xenomorphs come to party in overwhelming numbers. Further discouraging reliance on the bots, they’re unnamed characters whose loadouts are out of the player’s control, and they often have little situational awareness or the ability to predict likely attacks.

More Than a Bunch of Goofy Aliens

In addition to HR Giger’s indelible influence on sci-fi design and Ridley Scott’s masterful transposition of jump scares to outer space, the Alien films will forever be synonymous with oppressive atmosphere and tension, not to mention the terrifying, iconic Facehuggers and other Xenomorphs. The best Alien games (like Isolation) have nailed this, and Aliens: Fireteam Elite leans into the classic Alien aesthetic pretty hard. There are all the recognizable Alien enemies, plus quite a few new additions to the menagerie, including acid-spitters and exploding Aliens that do incredible amounts of corrosive splash damage, plus beefy, hard-to-kill Alien mini-boss super soldiers. Just going by the preview, there are more than a decent variety of enemies to dispatch, and even on the most casual of five difficulty settings, the game offered plenty of challenge and inventory management.

There’s some validity in comparing Aliens: Fireteam Elite to survival shooters like Left 4 Dead, but unlike zombies, many of the Aliens come in mobile swarms from the walls, ceilings and floors and are incredibly fast and agile. While the game does have a cover mechanic, I personally found it less useful than in games that are really designed around it. With enemies coming from 360 degrees around the player, firing from behind cover was only marginally effective.

If, when you imagine Aliens, you immediately picture dark corridors filled with Alien-obscuring steam and open hatches ready to launch a surprise attack, you know what you’re in for with Aliens: Fireteam Elite. Although there are plenty of jump scares throughout each mission’s procedurally generated levels, scripted events like pulling a switch or blowtorching a sealed door predictably triggered an attack, taking some of the tension and uncertainty out of the moment. On the flip side, the lack of mid-mission saves means that death will take you back to the start (although still earning points towards progress and upgrades), not a happy prospect after several minutes of inching through a long level.

Especially when playing alongside the silent, dead-eyed AI, Aliens: Fireteam Elite can feel a bit mechanical, amplified by the sometime repetitive corridors and cliche-laden radio chatter coming from your headset. On board the station, the mission-giver and other NPCs stand idle and stare blankly while you read their dialogue, leading to the down time seeming like perfunctory filler between missions and not adding much drama to the story. A few of the NPCs are written with an ironic sense of humor that falls pretty flat. The game’s sound design and music are generally good, with the musical score hitting some unexpectedly classical notes during the between-mission sections on the base.

Third-person action co-op seems like a match made in Alien heaven for the franchise, and indeed Aliens: Fireteam Elite seems like it does a good job of both paying homage to an iconic sci-fi world and surrounding it with gameplay mechanics that shooter fans will be immediately at home with. It definitely is more fun with humans than the serviceable AI, but in any configuration Aliens: Fireteam Elite does the franchise proud and any excuse to return to the Alien universe is worth looking into.

***PC preview code provided by the publisher***

Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.

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