Now comes another attempt at creating an Aliens game from Cold Iron Studios, a new game company based in San Jose, California.
The first film about Xenomorphs has always been the pure “sci-fi horror” which is why Alien: Isolation’s direction was something the fans have praised, loved, and appreciated. Gearbox Software’s attempt to adapt the second film Aliens was, undeniably, the worst, buggiest Aliens first-person shooter.
Having Aliens: Fireteam Elite as Cold Iron Studios’ first game of choice is quite brave, and a little ambitious knowing developing an Aliens game that is highly inspired by James Cameron’s film is tricky.
I had reservations about the success of the game but the time I’ve spent in Aliens: Fireteam Elite was nothing more than pure bug hunting fun.
Fireteam Elite gives you four different campaigns with three missions each. The plot revolves around a distress call from an orbital refinery called Katanga in the year 2202. It’s your job as part of the Colonial Marines Delta Squad from the UAS Endeavor to infiltrate and rescue any surviving colonists or personnel. As you venture through the corridors of Katanga, the caves and ancient ruins of LV-895, you slowly unravel the mysteries of Weyland-Yutani’s schemes.
The story isn’t what you call hooking but what I liked about the narrative direction is that the main plot seems to be just a backdrop of what the game is really trying to tell: a quick history check of the Alien universe. If you haven’t followed the films, the game does a great job of simply summarizing what the franchise is all about. By gathering intel hidden throughout each mission, it impressively expands the stories that happened before Fireteam Elite.
The game compensates for its lack of narrative focus by having you interact with non-playable characters aboard the UAS Endeavor as you progress through the missions and by looking for hidden Intels. They talk about bits of what it’s like to be a Marine, what they think of the politics within the United Americas, and some interesting “Alien franchise” facts about the things you bring back from finding Intels such as after the USCSS Prometheus went radio silent, the academic papers of Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway were taken out of publication.
Fireteam Elite’s plot is pretty straightforward, mostly forgettable, and it could have been better in so many ways but with the type of gameplay it offers, I believe it’s a perfect fit.
Third-person cooperative games have their own charm. These games don’t rely on compelling narratives nor deep character developments. They often focus on how to make the coop experience fun, which is why it’s always recommended to play them with friends.
Fireteam Elite is a linear 3-man co-op game that highly encourages its players to play with two other people than relying on bots. While you can still play the game alone, increasing the difficulty level to Intense and beyond that is what Hudson from the 1986 Aliens film would say: “Game over man, game over!”
We were lucky to get enough codes to experience the game’s multiplayer, and we can guarantee that it was enjoyable. I was able to play the game at ease without the worry of some players progressing through the mission by themselves like they’re playing alone.
The game currently has issues that would ruin a mission run. There was a time when our second player got disconnected because the game crashed. The lack of a reconnect-to-session feature forces your entire fireteam to either quit the mission or finish the run. If you’re planning to progress the missions with your fireteam together, when one gets booted out from the game, that player won’t be able to access the next chapter. Meaning you and your other squadmate will have to replay the previous mission again to help the other member unlock the next level.
Fireteam Elite’s gameplay loop works well in its favor as a conventional coop action shooter. You’re tasked to go from point A to point B, defend against waves of xenomorphs and/or synth gunmen, then repeat. Every mission ends with a huge battle, with the game throwing you elite variations of enemy types that are bullet spongy like the Xenomorph Warrior and Crusher or the Warden and Synth Incinerator.
It’s worth noting that with the use of robot enemies and mindless xenomorphs, the studio can easily get away with stupid artificial intelligence. But when they charge in huge numbers then they start to become a real threat.
The fun stems when you’re playing the game in higher difficulty modes as enemies are far stronger and deadlier despite, lesser aid kits, and the friendly fire is off, making you and your fireteam be extra careful where to shoot. You don’t want to incinerate your squad member with a flamethrower because this happened during our playthrough. There was a moment when a Xenomorph Prowler jumped onto my squadmate and I had to use a flamethrower to push it back forgetting that he would also get caught in the flames and die. Lesson learned.
And when you’re done with all the missions and would love to test your capabilities to survive endless waves of Xenos then the Horde mode is the best place to showcase your skills. This new game mode, however, is only available after completing the campaign at any difficult levels.
Players can choose their roles in missions and customize their own Colonial Marine. As the game offers five unique sets of Loadout kits (classes), one of which you need to unlock by finishing all four campaigns, you can either be an all-around grunt (the Gunner) with a close-quarters weapon such as a shotgun, or the man who carries the famous L56A3 Smartgun (the Demolisher). While my personal favorite has been the Gunner, the Technician and Recon kits may look like they’re underwhelming but they prove to be very useful in tricky situations where you need their defensive abilities in higher difficulty levels.
You can also level up your loadout kits and weapons individually by playing in missions but the progression is a real pain. You only get minimal experience points when playing the game on Standard difficulty, and even playing it on Intense won’t get you as much as you would expect.
You have to rely on Challenge cards to get 2x the experience points. And if you think the daily and weekly challenges called “Tactical Opportunities” will help you level up faster, think again. You will only get Requisition Credits to buy attachments and perks, a loot box that contains a random Challenge Card and attachments, and Rep Scrip to buy cosmetics. Fortunately, there are no microtransactions.
Challenge cards are mere game modifiers. You can either use a card for your fireteam’s advantage like doubling your health or entirely screwing up your team by activating a modifier that frequently jams all your weapons. It’s a nice way to spice up some missions and earn a few more XPs.
The overall grind is a bad design choice. This would have been implemented better if they could have at least included XP in the daily and weekly challenges rewards.
Weapon upgrades are pretty simple. Level up your gun by using them frequently in missions and earn XP to unlock permanent perks, and you either buy attachments from the Armory with Requisition Points or get them from a Hidden Cache in a mission.
While it’s that easy, the implementation is rather lazy and disappointing at best. There are multiple weapon attachment varieties that offer distinct augments but the combat rating of each one are identical.
What this means is when you get to the point of having the best attachments for your M41A2 Pulse Rifle and your CQW weapon, there’s even no point in buying overly expensive attachments from the Armory.
Fireteam Elite performs really well in terms of controls consistency. The gunplay works so well that it’s fun to gun down Xenomorphs, blast their heads wide open with the M41A2 Pulse Rifle. The control’s been responsive enough that it feels great to shoot, maneuver, and dodge incoming attacks all thanks to the 60 frames per second performance on the PS5.
Aesthetically, the game is surprisingly impressive. The level of detail you see from the ruins of LV-895 to the xeno-infested corridors of Katanga down to the weapons is fantastic. But even if Cold Iron Studios managed to capture the look and feel of Aliens, the soundtrack felt kind of off. There’s still that Aliens vibe to it that mimics an 80s sci-fi mafia horror, however, it doesn’t come close to James Horner’s iconic ‘Futile Escape’ track. The game lacks the intense music during huge fights which will certainly leave the fans disappointed.
Playing Fireteam Elite on a PS5 does have its perks. You get to immediately witness how sharp the visuals are on a 4K screen. The game, however, mostly hits 60 FPS but when the screen is filled with tons of actions the system struggles to maintain that. I was impressed at first with how the game felt so smooth until the last two missions.
I haven’t had enough fun in coop games until I’ve played Aliens: Fireteam Elite. Sure, it isn’t spectacular, some may even call it “boring”, but the time I have spent playing the game as a fan of the franchise and as someone who loves shooters definitely made the game enjoyable despite the complaints I had.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite – Review
You better have to choose if it’s worth spending your spare cash, because it might not be the game for you and it might be for others.