I watched Alien before I could even attend Kindergarten. Seriously. I’d watched a whole host of hardcore horror films (The Howling, The Incredible Melting Man, The Evil Dead) before I was old enough to attend preschool. My late grandpa loved horror (and gaming and pro wrestling…all traits I inherited) and had tons of VHS tapes stashed in the cabinet. What was I to do but watch them all and dream of a day something like Aliens: Fireteam Elite would come along.
Out of all the horror movies I watched, Alien was the one that I loved the most. I wasn’t creeped out or scared of the Xenomorphs, I was intrigued! My love affair with them didn’t fade with time either…the opposite in fact! I read the Alien novels (my first ‘adult’ novel was the Alien 3 novelization), watched the movies religiously (I killed two VHS copies of Aliens due to watching them to much) and played the games (every one…from the old Atari 2600 Alien to Alien Isolation).
Needless to say…I was looking forward to Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
Now that I’ve played it (on both Xbox Series X and PC), is it a good game?
Keep reading to find out.
What is Aliens: Fireteam Elite?
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a 3-player cooperative survival shooter for the PC, Xbox and Playstation consoles. I played majorly on the Xbox Series X, although I have some experience with the game on the PC as well. It’s developed by Cold Iron Studios, with publishing duties done by Focus Home Interactive.
At its most basic level, Aliens: Fireteam Elite can best be described as Left 4 Dead (or World War Z) with Xenomorphs instead of zombies. While that comparison is pretty apt, Aliens: Fireteam Elite actually goes beyond what those games did and establishes itself as a solid entrant in the genre.
For one, there’s a hub you can around in before you deploy on missions. The hub allows you to meet up with other members of your fireteam, buy equipment from a vendor, explore the docking bay of the Endeavor (the ship you’re deployed from) or talk to NPCs about the lore items you find in the stages.
It’s the game’s focus on lore that sets it apart from other games in the genre…hell, it’s even an outlier compared to other Alien and Aliens games. Before I talk about that, know that there are actually two different Alien series; Aliens and Alien.
This pretty much applies to everything in the franchise; books, comics and yes, games.
Notice the titles? Alien and Aliens. Two different styles but both are connected to Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
Alien media are like Ridley Scott’s seminal horror film. Horror and the nihilistic nature of space are the main themes in play. For Aliens however, it’s the opposite. Everything’s about gung ho action and the horror elements are minor. Take a look at Alien Isolation and Aliens: Colonial Marines and you can see what I mean right off the bat.
Now the kicker is this…Despite there being two different series, most of the events in them are canon in the main Alien universe. That’s why being familiar with lore of most of the past games and books is so important for Aliens: Fireteam Elite. Somebody at Cold Iron Studios really did their homework for the game because it’s replete with references to Aliens: Colonial Marines, Alien: Into Charybdis, Aliens, Alien, Prometheus, Alien Covenant and a whole lot more!
If you’re a hardcore fan of the series like I am, you’ll be in hog heaven as you take in all the lore entries you can unlock. It’s seriously the stuff hardcore fans will appreciate, as they shed light upon events that are only lightly touched upon in other media, like the United Americas vs the Union of Progressive Peoples war (which was started in Alien: Into Charybdis).
Lore entries aside, it’s also telling that the enemy types you encounter from the game are all from established games and or movies. There’s the Runner Xenomorph (which had animals like dogs or ox as hosts, a nod to Alien 3), the Drone (the Xenomorph type from Alien), the Warrior (the Xenomorphs from Aliens) and even certain Xenomorph types inspired by or ripped directly from Aliens: Colonial Marines (which is canon in the Alien universe).
The only thing that doesn’t seem to be canon (or at least I haven’t found connection yet) are the information from the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. While the basic weapons are the same, the other weapons like the SADAR rocket launcher (which also appeared in original PC Aliens vs Predator) seem to be MIA in Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
Whether they have been phased out of service (though unlikely considering the Pulse Rifle is still in use) or removed from canon is yet to be determined though.
For the casual fans though, all this isn’t the least bit interesting. It’s understandable…you buy an Aliens shooter to shoot some xenos, right?
That part’s pretty damn good too.
Xenomorphs will swarm you relentlessly almost from the get go. They pop out of vents, from offshoot corridors, from darkened recesses of the stages…they come from everywhere. They crawl on walls, they skitter on the ceilings, they jump over cover…they are just like what you’d expect if you envision the action from the Alien movies as a game.
Incidentally, that’s when the game is at its best.
When you’re firing non-stop at rampaging xenos, backed into a corner as you wait for an elevator or for a door to unlock, it’s where you truly feel like you’re in the movies. Many times, I’ve found myself unconsciously shouting Vasquez’s iconic ‘Let’s ROOOOCK!’ line as xenos swarm my position and I open up with my Smartgun.
The explosive combat of the game is incredible and truly in sync with the action seen in Aliens.
Xenomorphs explode deliciously when shot, with limbs and acid spraying everywhere. I’d have loved a more nuanced destruction physics (you can’t blow xenos apart piece by piece) but what’s in the game does the job well enough, especially when you consider that this isn’t a AAA title.
You can tell that Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a budget title. The selling price notwithstanding, there are a ton of features missing from the game that you’d get in an AAA game. There are barely any cinematics, no mission intros and there’s no even an ending movie after you beat the final mission in the game. Lips also don’t move when you’re having conversations, and the environments you run around in are pretty linear and barren.
That just makes the game even more impressive, given that the developers behind the game were hobbled by a budget.
The missions are pretty varied though they vary in quality. The best missions are the first and last, which are set in the space refinery Katanga. The third mission, set in the innards of an Engineer installation and later, ship, are the creepiest. The second set, those in the caves and some ruins, are the most boring. There’s nothing interesting at all about them (other than the Engineer architecture) is a major departure from the settings in the Alien series, which is why I hated them so, so much.
Mission objectives are static, though the stuff you encounter in them can change…supposedly.
To be fair, despite my playing through the first two missions (Katanga and the caves/ruins) a ton, I’ve only noticed one major change during the 3rd stage of the second mission. On my latest playthrough yesterday, there were mines in the stage. They definitely weren’t there the last couple of times I tried the stage.
One awesome thing about the game is that it allows you to create your own marine. You can customize the face, what they wear, the sex and other basic options, which keeps you invested in the game. There are also 4 different classes (each with their own skills and weapon capabilities) that each have their own in-game roles. Once you finish the game, you’ll even unlock a Horde mode and a hidden 5th class (Recon).
My personal favourite’s the Demolisher, which can equip a rifle class weapon and a heavy weapon. Most of the time, that’ll be the Pulse Rifle (though there are different variants of it in-game, as well as other rifle types), coupled with the incredibly fun Smartgun (you can use a flamer or rocket launcher too).
The different classes serve a purpose, which is why it’s to your benefit to always play with humans. While you can play solo (with two AI bots), the bots’ class can’t be changed. That means you’re always stuck with bots playing the Gunner class. It’s fine in most stages but in some, the added flexibility (like the healing capability of the Doc class) human players can bring can be the difference between a win or a loss.
Losing is incredibly painful too as you immediately fail the mission. There’s no way to continue or restart if your whole fireteam’s wiped out. All the loot you found during the mission is lost, though you get to keep whatever experience you’ve earned.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite isn’t perfect…Xenomorphs can exhibit some janky animations, especially as they transition from surfaces. Sometimes the transition animation (such as a leap) doesn’t play, making them appear to slide as if they’re on ice instead.
I’d also have preferred a levelling system that improves your player avatar.
You can customize guns and equip skills to grow stronger but your health stays relatively static at 1500. Also, I’d have preferred the game to have randomized stats for the loot. As it stands, since the stats are all the same, once you have every single piece of gear in the game there’s little incentive for you to keep replaying the stages.
Thankfully, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is poised as a live service game, which means we should hopefully see meaningful overhauls of the gameplay systems as the months go on. Hopefully the game’s success means there’s already a more robust sequel being planned.
The gear system (which makes use of a Combat Rating system to gauge your strength, similar to games like Destiny or The Division) seems a bit half-baked to be honest, and I really wish it had more depth to encourage customization and replayability.
One thing that has me scratching my head though…is the lack of a crouch button.
In the game’s cramped corridors, not being in the line of fire is essential. That’s why you crouch if you’re in front, so those behind you can fire over you! You can’t do that in the game, leading to a ton of friendly fire issues. It’s especially problematic on higher difficulties, as friendly fire hurt your allies more.
There are also some technical hitches that mar an otherwise impressive experience.
Slowdown is prevalent on the Xbox Series X in multiplayer whenever the Recon class’ PUPS (the floating scanning devices used to map out the Engineer ruins in Prometheus). In the game, the PUPS highlight enemies in the immediate area, which puts a severe drain on the hardware.
In Horde mode, the hit is pretty huge, making the otherwise smooth experience into a stuttering affair.
I’ve also experienced connection issues. I’d get kicked out in the beginning of a mission (despite being in a group with my other friends in the standby screen) or randomly get booted out while in the middle of a Horde session. You can’t rejoin once you’re kicked and all the XP and mission rewards you’d get are lost too, which hurts a ton!
Other than those nitpicks, this is pretty much the best Aliens game ever. The art design mixes in elements of Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 and even Prometheus and Alien Covenant giving it a very familiar feel, which is exactly what fans are looking for. It really feels like an authentic part of the Alien universe, just like Alien Isolation’s was.
The sound effects too are very similar to the movies, though the Pulse Rifles sound a tad different. This is mainly due to them being an updated model than the ones used in Aliens, so there’s a logical reason to things. Some of the music is great as well, evoking the melancholy and loneliness present in the original score from Alien. The more action packed tunes aren’t as good as their counterparts from Aliens though, which is a damn shame. Then again, you’re going to be knee deep in xenomorph bodies, so it’s not like you have lots of time to admire the music.
The Bottom Line.
As an Aliens game (remember, there’s a difference between Alien and Aliens), Aliens: Fireteam Elite is one of the best games in the series bar none. It’s certainly not as scary as Alien Isolation (though it does have its moment), but then again, it doesn’t have to be. Anybody expecting this to be a horror title is obviously barking up the wrong tree…though I do admit that Disney does need to educate the general public on the difference between Alien and Aliens media. Most people think they’re one and the same, which is going to generate a ton of confusion.
If you know what you’re getting into though, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a great game. There are some kinks (some technical, some gameplay based) but patches and future content drops should hopefully iron those out. Just make sure to have 2 other friends to maximize your enjoyment of the game.
Great Aliens game that truly replicates the intense firefights of the movie.
- Authentic Aliens atmosphere.
- Intense shooting action.
- Great lore to expand the Alien universe.
- Silky smooth gameplay 99% of the time.
- Horde mode.
- Disconnection issues.
- Leveling system could use more depth.
- Loot could be randomized.
- Using the Recon’s PUPS can cause massive slowdown in Horde mode.