“Is this going to be a stand up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?”
With the immortal words of Hudson ringing in my ears, I embarked on a playthrough of one of the most anticipated games of the year, Aliens: Fireteam Elite. Coming from Cold Iron Studios and 20th Century Games, Fireteam Elite has been billed as a third person co-operative survival shooter, which ticks many of the boxes that many of us are looking for. The rest of the boxes are ticked by the fact that this set in the Aliens universe, and features the Colonial Marines. Promising intense action, Aliens, firefights, aliens, and a few more aliens, I strapped on my smart gun and dived on in.
The story of Aliens: Fireteam Elite takes place 23 years after the events of the Aliens film, and again features a colony in which the colonists have lost contact with the rest of the galaxy. In these situations, despite the protestations of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (or ”the Company” as it is forever known after this point), the Colonial Marines have the authority and the jurisdiction to go into these places, find out what is going on, and extract anyone who is still alive. And this is just what we are going to do.
The game opens on Pala Station, a space station in orbit around a planet owned by the Company. As we board the station, we are given a series of things to achieve, such as finding floor plans and surviving waves and waves of aliens. The aliens look exactly like they do in the films, and seeing the different types is extremely gratifying. The Dogbursters from Alien 3, the drones from Aliens, and then all the new ones that are invented just for this game are all present and correct. You see, the Company has been experimenting with a substance called Pathogen, which mutates the Xenos into new and exciting forms. Exciting that is, as long as you don’t mind Xenos that explode into a massive shower of acid, that are armoured and that even seem to be bulletproof from the front. There are 11 different types of Xenos in Fireteam Elite, ranging from tiny Facehuggers up to Pretorians. When put alongside various other enemies that attack, from Synthetics to mutated versions of local wildlife, you are never short of things to shoot.
The material is top notch, as are the visuals with things playing out exactly like the films. This is high praise indeed. In fact, I was so inspired by playing Aliens: Fireteam Elite that I just had to head out and purchase the Aliens DVD, if only to watch it again, mainly to make sure all the quotes I want to shoehorn into this review are correct. The animation of the aliens in-game is absolutely bang on, and the way the drones, as an example, run in, give you a good kicking, then run off and dive into a vent, rinsing and repeating until you finally kill them is just so evocative. We can even delve into how the marines run about and detail the weapons they hold as all being very true to the source material.
However, it’s the audio and sounds that really finish the immersion off. The noise of the motion sensor, the scream of the pulse rifles and the trumpeting of the Xenos as they die are all absolutely bang on. Full marks have to go out for the presentation and how Aliens: Fireteam Elite is delivered.
But how does it play out, I hear you ask? Well, imagine Gears of War on Monster and you’ll be about there. The aliens move so fast, and come at you from all angles, that trying to take cover and shoot them from a static position is asking for trouble. Indeed I’ve found it better to stay mobile when fighting the Xeno swarms, backing away as they approach and picking them off. However, the Xenos can approach from any direction: on walls, on the ceiling, climbing and jumping over the cover, so you need to keep one eye on the approaching foes and one on the motion sensor to see where the next wave is coming from.
By contrast, fighting the synthetics, as they are armed with guns, turns Fireteam Elite into a more Gears type of experience, and this also works well. The pace of the action, the amount of shooting you need to do, and the fact that there is no respite to the action keeps the adrenaline running high. You know how in Gears, when you reach the end of a wave, there’s that kind of guitar power chord and you know nothing is going to come at you? There are no power chords here, and the Xenos pretty much never stop coming. In fact, for the most part you have to clear a room and then make a run for it, before more Xenos wander in to have a look at what you are doing.
As you complete missions, you gain experience that can be put to good use. You see, there are five classes in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, and each one has a different job assigned. Gunner is the basic class, armed with the pulse rifle, while Demolisher is basically Vasquez from the film, with a huge smart gun. Doc does what it says on the tin, being a support class, while Technician comes with a handy smart turret that can be deployed. Finally, Recon is only unlocked when you finish the campaign. Each class has access to a different skill tree, and as each class is levelled up, more perks can be added to the tree, increasing your effectiveness. The skill tree is nicely structured too, working a bit like the inventory system from Resident Evil 4, as you can rotate and squeeze in various different perks depending on the space you have unlocked.
So, Aliens: Fireteam Elite looks and sounds great, and the gameplay is both sufficiently fast and furious enough to never allow you a moment’s breathing space. Are there any issues? Well, sadly, yes. You see, if you’re not playing with friends, you’ll find the other two spots in your Fireteam are filled by AI members. They are okay in the initial throes, but by about the end of the third mission, they are battered pretty much constantly. And if you are playing with friends, when inviting members to join a fireteam, it is very much hit and miss as to whether they can ever make it into the game. I have seen no end of “Lost host connection” messages – but please remember I’m playing this prior to launch so would hope that gets ironed out. The final thing that must be mentioned is that there is a fair of screen tearing, with flashes of white light on the screen when movement is engaged. This occurs both in the hub area and in the missions, and is, frankly, very distracting indeed.
In conclusion, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is very good indeed. There are issues, but the presentation is bang on, the action is unrelenting, and with missions taking 25 minutes and upwards to complete (four main missions, with three sections each) the campaign is a good one. The levels are easily replayable, as the attacks and any crates that you find seem to be randomised and different each time you play through. Throw in five classes to go at and this should well keep you busy. That’s not to mention the horde mode that unlocks when you complete the campaign.
All in all, Fireteam Elite has been able to take me right back to the days when Aliens was new, and that’s a very good thing indeed.
Hark back to the good old days of Aliens in Aliens: Fireteam Elite on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One