Aliens: Fireteam Elite might seem like an IP cash grab, but this co-op shooter has a lot more tucked under the hood than you’d expect.
I’ve always been more of an Alien fan than Aliens. It is, in part, why Alien Isolation remains one of my favourites as the perfect burst of nostalgia. Approaching Aliens: Fireteam Elite, I was hesitant to delve back into a more action-orientated Aliens shooter.
It’s personal preference, but the Alien franchise for me has always been about the dread induced by a single salivating Xenomorph. However, within the first 10 minutes of Fireteam Elite, there wasn’t a whiff of dread, fear – or even any sense of challenge – as the game throws dozens of the titular beasts at you like cannon fodder.
The first impression is that the Xenomorph had been moulded to fit the archetypes of video games. You’ll be shooting your way through “tanks”, “snipers”, “bombers” and “grunts” throughout Fireteam Elite’s six-or-so-hour campaign. I genuinely burst out laughing as a “warrior” Xeno stomped up to me, pinned me down, and started to slap me across the face.
Despite a variety of quickly introduced enemy types, I felt as though I was coasting through much of its opening act. Casual difficult felt too easy, but Intense, too hard. Mixed in among this cocktail of boring design and cheap difficulty levels, were the cheap nostalgia bumps of iconic weapon sounds, movie references, and the Alien checklist of grated corridors with steaming pipes and flickering lights.
All of it looked like Alien, but none of it felt like Alien, and I was convinced that this was another trash shooter cashing in on the Alien IP. However, in the twist of the year so far, Aliens: Fireteam Elite not only managed to engage me to its conclusion, but actually managed to win me over?
Despite a dull start, combat in Fireteam Elite slowly began to show its true form as enemy hordes grew larger, and ammo rarer. While it was uncommon to be left with your base pistol for a lack of ammunition, an incline in difficulty meant that you had to be smart about which ammo you were using for which enemy type. Got a wave of “grunt” Xenos? Whap out the Smart Machine Gun, which splashes acid blood all over the walls with its auto-targeting system. Here comes a face slapping Warrior; it’s probably best to land those headshots with an M41A Pulse Rifle. There isn’t a massive range of weapons but enough of every weapon type to keep players happily levelling up.
With its increased difficulty, co-op play suddenly began to click. Xenos, androids and some of the other beasties the game has in store will at times come from every angle. Dropping from the ceiling, scattered across the walls, and rising from below, teams have to stay in constant communication. The game’s class customization system had just the right level of complexity, meaning you could align classes, perks and weapons that complimented each other.
And if this last section has been any indication of the importance of team play: don’t play with the AI bots. A lack of checkpoints means that failure of a mission will send you back to the start, and bots almost always bottle it when it matters.
While it might take a while to kick in, combat is solid and at times managed to reach the manic peaks of the likes of World War Z. And while its campaign may be relatively brief, challenge cards and a horde mode give you plenty of ways to test out your skills, and boost replayability.
As an Alien nerd, the game really won me over with the dialogue options which flesh out and expand upon the universe. By chatting with various NPCs in the game’s social hub, I combed through every dialogue option in a way I have never done. Not even for the likes of The Witcher 3.
Just as combat increased the fun I was having, the backstory to contextualise its settings emphasised it even further – and I even began to warm to the game’s cheap nostalgia references. As one of about seven people who actually enjoyed Prometheus, the giant stone-like head of an Engineer marked the point in which I had become fully engrossed in Aliens: Fireteam Elite. It’s a moment that genuinely gave me chills.
However, there are a bunch of technical issues that players have to endure. I encountered an audio glitch a few times which meant that the constant sound of an iconic M41A became too much to bear. And while the bots may be rubbish, the less said about matchmaking the better. You can’t win either way with that one.
But these are small complaints in a game I otherwise thoroughly enjoyed. Somehow, against the odds, Aliens: Fireteam Elite won me over.
Game: Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Cold Iron Studios
Release Date: Out Now