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Aliens: Fireteam Elite review - Killing every Xenomorph that ever existed

Cold Iron and Focus Home Interactive have prepared their own take on the Alien franchise that will likely please those who live to shoot aliens.

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The history of video game adaptations of the Alien film franchise is decidedly uneven, ranging from the highs of Rebellion's award-winning shooters at the turn of the century to the bumbling Xenos of Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines. With the second film in the franchise, Aliens, director James Cameron delivered an action-packed sequel that would go on to provide influence to an untold number of video games. Before Cameron’s film, the space marine concept was nearly non-existent and is now one of the oldest tropes in the book. The film has inspired more licensed video games than you can fit in a bookbag and will likely continue to do so until the end of time. 

A fresh take on space marines?

The newest of these attempts at bringing the world of the Alien films into the digital realm is from Cold Iron Studios and Focus Home Interactive. Aliens: Fireteam Elite puts players in the shoes of space marines against a seemingly insurmountable number of Xenomorphs (and unwanted meddling from the ever-present evil corporation Weyland-Yutani). Its third-person perspective and mission design elements make it feel like a relic from fifteen years ago, though it carries modern trimmings that may please those who love unlocking cosmetics and similar items, even if those parts of the game feel weirdly disconnected from the source material.

Fireteam Elite is a third-person shooter where groups of three combatants dispatch from a hub ship to engage in various missions (and a Horde Mode that unlocks once players wrap up the campaign playthrough). There are five total space marine class types to choose from, each with its own special abilities and firearms selection. The Gunner class gets the iconic pulse rifle from Aliens and the ability to enter Overclock Mode, which allows for faster shooting and other buffs over a limited time period. The Technican starts with a shotgun that is less capable than the Gunner’s pulse rifle but is able to deploy sentry turrets that work on cooldowns. As more time is put into the game, additional weapons, attachments, consumables, and more allow the deploying team to customize their loadouts for a specific mission or expedition.

New consumables, attachments, and cosmetics can be found hidden throughout the game world, awarded upon mission completion, or purchased from the base ship’s armory. Fireteam Elite offers a few different in-game currencies, with some types of credits being used for armaments and others for clothing, stickers, or emotes. It can be debated how appropriate such visual customization fits the game universe as the wilder equipment can potentially kill immersion, but many other parts of the game already do a solid job of that, so the heavy push towards cosmetics is one of the lesser evils in this package.

The main campaign is divided into several sections and can be completed with a full team of buddies, pubbies, or AI-controlled androids. A team of three will always be on the ground for each campaign mission. If you find yourself downed during play, your teammates can revive you and vice versa. The AI teammates do an admirable job of helping players progress through the proceedings, but bringing along real-life space marines is always preferable.

Once you are boots on the ground, things ratchet up instantly. You will be shooting and killing so many Xenomorphs. Think numbers like Left 4 Dead or the number of bad guys Topper Harley wasted in Hot Shots Part Deux. It is hard to move more than a few meters through any of the levels without being under constant bombardment from the Xenomorphs. While the better movies in the film series offer an excellent lesson in tension, Fireteam Elite chooses the opposite approach. At times, it can feel like a powered-launch roller coaster that just takes off into five straight loops and then returns to the station at 70 miles per hour.

Things get mixed up with the inclusion of special Xeno variants like the spitter or brute, but many times, you’ll lose track of the bigger or special-colored aliens just because you’ll be fighting the camera while swarmed by the rank and file creatures. Other times, you’ll see the pack coming and each of the Xenos gets a yellow outline that does help with shooting but kills immersion. 

Speaking of killing immersion, some of the design choices in Fireteam Elite work to pull you out of the moment rather than make you feel like an actual space grunt. Within seconds of starting the first mission, you see an air duct grate fall in front of you in a corridor. It is a classic trope of the franchise, but then you see it happen again a few seconds later. By the time I cleared the opening act of the campaign in one of the refinery areas, I felt like the trick was shown fifteen times. The special Xeno variant hiding behind a corner to jump you and initiate a dreadful quick time event also happens over and over, drawing me back to 2006 when this type of thing wasn’t completely played out.

Within the missions, you’ll really only be moving from point A to point B and holding a button to watch a circle fill in the UI. Whether it's opening a door, checking a computer, or picking something up off the ground, you will be getting to know the circle fill UI element like the back of your hand. I lost track of how many times you have to hold a button to trigger the next onslaught of Xenos while you hold a position for a fixed time. Deeper into the campaign, things are mixed up with the introduction of other enemy types, though the action that results also feels like it was pulled directly from any generic cover shooter from the mid-2000s.

The sound design also caught my attention more than a few times. While many of the sounds and cues work well, everything in the aural mix is uneven. The pulse rifle sounds like it was copied directly from the movies, but it's also quieter than just about everything else that’s going on (including simple reloads or Xeno death gurgles). Some things trigger odd sounds that drown out the things you'd expect to dominate a chaotic firefight, including what sounds like violin stems that play every time you hit a normal Xeno in the head. Some special variants make other sounds when hit, and those sounds are louder than the guns, oddly enough.

On the visual side of things, the story is a bit better. While it certainly won’t win any beauty contests, Fireteam Elite looks good enough for the purpose it needs to serve. The early refinery areas look close enough to the architecture in Hadley’s Hope from Cameron’s 1986 film. The graphical effects feel dated in places and I would prefer something more atmospheric, but if the plan was to shoot 6,000 Xenos without stopping to breathe, what we get from Fireteam Elite’s graphical presentation suits its design. The game ran very smoothly on my PC with solid frame pacing, even with everything maxed out.

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit

I have mixed feelings from my time with Aliens: Fireteam Elite. I love the movies (well, the first two) and cooperative shooting is usually in my wheelhouse, but I could never connect with what is on offer here. The feel of the gunplay, mission design, and pacing have been a big turn-off for me, so I don’t personally see much value in endlessly repeating these missions for better attachments or cosmetics. It feels worse at conveying the spirit of the movies than the best of the preceding games adapted from the films and generic even as a modern online co-op shooter. I can see a dedicated group of Alien buffs spending some time here through the end of summer, but beyond that, the future is about as bleak as a visit to LV-426. 6/10 M41A2 Pulse Rifles


This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Aliens: Fireteam Elite launches on August 24 for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation consoles.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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Pros
  • All content is online cooperative-enabled
  • Decent selection of weapons and attachments
  • Serviceable visuals
  • Solid performance on PC
Cons
  • Dated mission and encounter design
  • Lack of immersion
  • An excessive amount of Xenomorphs eliminates the chance for tension
  • Uneven sound presentation
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