We’ve got just about a month to go until the release of Aliens: Fireteam Elite, the new co-op survival shooter by Cold Iron Studios. After only hearing rumors about the game since development was announced in January of 2018, the game was finally revealed to us in March of 2021 as Aliens: Fireteam. Now with the recent slight name change to Aliens: Fireteam Elite, and pre-orders with their incentives available, the game is finally on the cusp of release.
The folk over at Cold Iron Studios invited us to get a taste of Aliens: Fireteam Elite with a limited preview build of the game. So Alien vs. Predator Galaxy staff members Corporal Hicks, Darkness and Ridgetop kitted up the latest hardware that the Colonial Marines had to offer to experience some of what is in store for us all come the end of August.
And we’re all nerdy fanboys so that meant we came out of the experience with a thought or two to share, and plenty of gameplay footage to accompany our enthralling commentary!
The game is set in 2202, which in the context of the main Alien series is 23 years after the events of Aliens and Alien 3. You play a new recruit assigned to the USS Endeavour, a Colonial Marine vessel responsible for patrolling the frontier and providing assistance to the colonies against indigenous species, Xenomorphs or those even deadlier mega-corporations.
For those of you interested in the expanded lore outside of Fireteam Elite, we also see a familiar face in the way of our commanding officer, Colonel Olivia Shipp from Alien: Echo! We’d known she was likely to be involved in the game since the cancelled prequel comic series Aliens: Colonial Marines – Rising Threat was to have focused on her.
But given how much we actually enjoyed her character in the book, it was a huge treat to get to see her in the digital flesh and throw a salute her way. Unfortunately, we didn’t get much from her in the preview build so we’re really hoping for a larger presence in the finished game.
Story-wise, from what we experienced in the preview build Fireteam Elite does seem to be largely self-contained, but it draws on some of the newer elements from the wider Alien lore. Seegson are back as the former owners of the Katanga refinery, and there’s some heavy prequel influence in the Engineer presence in the second – and we assume third – campaigns.
The game picks up following the events of Weston Osche’s Aliens: Infiltrator after the Endeavour picks up Dr. Tim Hoenhikker’s distress call. The first campaign sees us board the Katanga – which Weyland-Yutani has been using as an isolated Alien breeding grounds – to rescue and retrieve the scientist. And if you’ve read the prequel novel you may recognize a certain individualized Xenomorph drone that serves as the game’s first boss.
The preview build contained only the first two campaigns of the game, the first set aboard the Katanga and the second set within the Engineer ruins on LV-895, each of which has its own distinct aesthetic which we particularly enjoyed. It gave each campaign a unique identity and felt like something of a journey. Based on what we’ve seen of the other marketing material, it looks like this is something that will be continuing with the other two campaigns as well.
We have also got to mention Austin Wintory’s score. Even that has unique flavors for the campaigns. Hicks was particularly tickled by the amount of flute and weird sounding melodies in the Engineer campaign. That’s something that we can’t wait to hear people’s thoughts on!
So what kind of game can you expect with Fireteam Elite? To try and compare this to what’s come before, to be honest we’ve ever really had an experience like this in the history of Alien games. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is described as a “cooperative third-person survival shooter” by Cold Iron, and the closest comparison we can make is to the Left 4 Dead series. The game is ‘swarmy’ and you’ll be using crowd control in dealing with Xenomorphs and other enemies.
As with Left 4 Dead there are certain points where activating something will trigger intense waves of enemies and you’ll have to tactically hold an area. You’ll have warning at these times to prepare and set up turrets, mines, and other equipment to keep the Xenomorphs from getting up close and personal.
For a survival shooter though, this game really does have some depth with how much class-types, their customizable ‘perk-grids,’ and team co-ordination come into play. There’s a real focus on progression, performance, ranking, and unlocks. The more you develop your classes, the higher your combat rating will be.
The game also reminded me of Gears of War a little bit once we started engaging combat synthetics. There’s a cover system, which is also more helpful with Xenomorphs on the higher difficulties when you’re trying to avoid each other’s fire, and ‘dive-rolling’ is crucial for evading enemies.
We know there were some comments about how Fireteam Elite looked like just an arcade horde game. As gamers who grew up with AvP Classic and loved the skirmish mode, we can’t say that perception – inaccurate or not – made us turn our noses up at Fireteam Elite. And we’ll talk more about it later, but while the Standard difficulty may feel a little arcadey at time, there’s more to the game than just that.
Most of the time, this game plays like Aliens: Colonial Marines told us it would. Do you remember being promised time to get holed up in a location, get our sentry guns setup and watch that motion tracker bleep down? We didn’t really get that with Colonial Marines, but we do here. And we just had so much fun playing this with as a squad.
It’s great that you can still fill in the gaps with AI combat synths – and we both absolutely love Alpha and Beta, they look amazing – but there’s just that special something always being missed when it’s a slot that could be filled with a buddy. This game was just at its best when we were able co-ordinate with each other, and calling out placements for sentries and the like.
It was interesting in that despite the wave-based nature of the game, it did really feel like Aliens in the way that while you had a working front-line with sentry guns and equipment you could manage at range, but the moment something went down, or an Alien broke the line, it could descend into chaos. It became an Operations situation.
From our time with the preview build, the only thing Hicks can really complain about with gameplay was how little he felt the need to use the motion-tracker. Because the Aliens did tend to come at you at once, he very rarely looked at it, or felt like it added much to Fireteam Elite. It would have been nice to have the Big Chap – which does fill the same role as Colonial Marine’s Lurker – roaming around the levels and attacking more, giving you a reason to fear that ping on the tracker during the quiet moments.
Please forgive us for bringing up the cursed game again, but one of the things we did genuinely enjoy about Colonial Marines was it brought us a more modern customization system. Sure, it was shallow as hell and barely scratched the itch, but it was there. For Fireteam Elite, it looks like Cold Iron just went to town on coming up with weapon and equipment ideas!
It put a big smile on our faces seeing the variety of weapons. Looking at it from an aesthetic point of view of “I like the looks of this” we weren’t in love with every single weapon, but we just get such a kick out of seeing people try to expand on that M41A look and imagine other weaponry with the same linage. Colonial Marines did it well, even if it was limited. And in our opinions, so has Fireteam Elite. You can also tell that Cold Iron’s developers clearly had a blast working on these.
And what we had access to barely scratched the surface. The preview build only had around two/thirds of the final game and there was still so much! There’s a lot in this game to unlock. And those of you who enjoy tinkering with attachments for attaining different stats will likely find a bunch of stuff to enjoy in this. That level of gameplay isn’t really Hicks’ jam – he had to turn all the RPG UI elements off – but it’s there for folk who dig that element.
Though he is a little worried this might require more attention paid to stats than he was giving it – or normally want to give this kind of thing. Hicks found the last segment of the sixth mission a bit hard, even on standard, and it may have been incorrect setup.
There are some light RPG elements here within the extensive class system. Perks can be tweaked with modifiers, combinations of weapon attachments will affect several performance percentages. RidgeTop was actually really surprised with the amount of depth in how much the perk system can be tweaked with both class-specific and universal perks.
The game features five distinct classes, four of which we were able to try out. A fifth class, Recon, will be unlocked after completing the full campaign. Each class brings their own unique abilities to the table and deciding who will run what class will have quite an impact on how you tackle a mission.
Beyond the extensive gameplay-affecting customization, it’s clear that character personalization and player expression will also be a factor. You can place decals on your weaponry and change their base looks with a number of skins and camos.
From what we had access to in the preview, while it would seem like the majority of the customizable content went into the weaponry, we were also able to customize our appearance or voice to a certain degree, and to purchase other outfits.
It would have been nice to be able to apply different camouflage patterns or stickers like we could with our weaponry though. However, given what we’ve seen in the trailers there maybe more appearance customization coming.
Hicks didn’t find himself too enthralled with the emotes. There were couple – like the salute, or the exaggerated hip-firing – that made him smile, but overall it wasn’t something that really caught his attention. They seem like something aimed at a different generation of gamer.That said, RidgeTop had plenty of fun performing knife tricks and dancing on the corpses of our enemies.
The challenge cards were something we were really interested in seeing in action! We’re both concerned with game longevity at the minute. To switch to Predator, Hunting Ground’s lack of maps was something we were always particularly worried about. And Hicks found himself having to take a break from it due to lack of variety. And it’s a worry we carried over to Fireteam Elite.
The challenge cards have been spoken about as a way to make the experience unique, so we were keen to experience that in action. And we both really enjoyed them. Sometimes they’re just cosmetic like a video effect overlay, sometimes they can help you such as increased damage output, but most often it’s to make the experience different.
How about no Runners, but just a bunch of Bursters? How about your damage to anything other than the head is only a third of normal? We really dug the ones we tried. They did add a unique twist to later playthroughs.
Hicks’ only bother here is that you have to play the RNG game to get the cards. As they’re single use consumables, it means once you’ve used one card you’re not guaranteed to be able to get the same one again to try on a different mission. Some are more so just boosters, but those lack the XP and currency incentives you’ll see with the more challenging selections of the cards. Daily and Weekly challenges are featured as well, offering multiple rewards for completion.
The difficulty also makes a difference in how you play the game. And that’s in more terms than just shoot the enemies more because you do less damage. The interesting thing is in the friendly fire being turned on and increased the higher the difficulty you go.
You have to be careful. To not get in the way of your squadmates, and to take that finger off the trigger when a buddy moves into your field of fire. Your mentality has to change from being this arcade style play, to trying to get more in the squad-play frame of mind. We really dug how that switched things up.
As mentioned previously, our only real fear with the game is whether it can keep people’s interest. Sure, there’s loads of weapons and gadgets to unlock, but are those four campaigns, those four visual aesthetics, going to be enough to keep us entertained, even with the challenge cards? We don’t know. We can tell you that we’ve played the same 2 campaigns for 16 plus hours and neither of us were bored!
It’s nice that there is some variety not just in the campaigns but in the missions themselves. Each ‘sub-environment’ of the main ones featured in a campaign also have a lot of their own unique elements to make it feel like you’re exploring deeper into the location.
The individual missions took us about 15 to 30 minutes to complete, so even with all the replayability elements here, we can see ourselves craving more campaigns for the game not too long after its release. As Illfonic did with Hunting Grounds, Cold Iron has built a great foundation here, and we really hope the game – even if it isn’t intended to be a long-term live-service model – receives some substantial story-based DLC continuing the journey of our Colonial Marines.
But we really hope we’re going to see further regular content drops. The whole premise of the Endeavour is around traveling around, putting out fires around colonized space so we hope we get to go visit other worlds, and new locales.
One element that we particularly enjoyed was the ‘hub’ space which can be accessed in between missions aboard the Endeavor. Here you’ll be able to talk with Marine NPC’s, purchase new upgrades and cosmetics, and prepare for how you’re going to tackle your next mission. The first thing we noticed in this area was the new UD-9C ‘Condor’ dropship model in the hanger bay. This ship’s deployment area, and surrounding areas were a nice ‘safe-room’ in-between the intense campaigns. We just hope there is more of the ship to explore in the final game.
While it was unavailable in the preview build, there is also a Horde Mode featuring increasing waves of difficulty in the final game, so we’ll be curious to see how that plays and how much further it adds to the game’s longevity. We can imagine smaller, more contained maps being added just for this mode. This could be perfect for some iconic locations from the films themselves.
Also we must say again just how fantastic the Alien models look in this game, and RidgeTop is really hoping we see a model viewer and potentially a replay & photo-mode in the final game so we can get a good look at them when they’re not darting around.
Hicks: It’s always difficult to get a genuine reading on what the finished product is going to be like from these tasters, but I’m feeling confident about Aliens: Fireteam Elite. I’ve no doubt I’m going to get some good fun, some good last-stand moments. I’ve already got my pre-order in, and I’m not regretting it. I’m ready to dive into the full game on the 25th.
RidgeTop: Having put in some hours into Aliens: Fireteam Elite, I’m really hyped for it now. This seems like the Colonial Marines experience I’ve always wanted in an Alien game. On the 35th Anniversary of Aliens, it feels fitting that we go on a proper ‘Bug-Hunt.’The visuals are impressive, the game feels polished, and we didn’t run into many issues for a preview build. From what I’ve played so far, and given this is Cold Iron’s first game as a new studio, I’m genuinely impressed. Stay tuned for our full review once the game launches in late August.