One of the things I truly love about the Alien series is how so many of the entries have such unique styles. It’s as true for the video games as it is for the films. That variety in the types of games is something I appreciate. I love that I can pick up a nonsensical 32 bit Alien shooter dripping in atmosphere that is just trying to replicate the original films. Or an RTS game where I assemble my Alien Hive or Marine forces from the sky view. How about the pinnacle of terror in Alien: Isolation?
However, if you’d have asked me if I fancied an Aliens horde shooter, I might not have jumped to that one. Tell me it’s actually a squad-based co-operative game that the abysmal Aliens: Colonial Marines had kind-of promised me, and I’d be singing “yes please” instead.
Before we get too far into the review though, I just wanted to take the time to mention that I’m just happy that the game was released. After all the turmoil that Cold Iron went through following Disney’s buyout of 20th Century Fox and the multiple changes in ownership the studio had to suffer, and that this was the studio’s first game with a large part of development taken during the pandemic, the team deserve a huge round of applause for releasing such a solid game amongst all that.
On the surface Aliens: Fireteam Elite looks like an arcade horde shooter, but it’s got much more going on for it than that – but you need to be playing it with your friends. You need to be communicating to really get the most out of this game, especially when you crank up the difficulty and it really does become more than that arcade shooter you first thought it was.
The game I played most when I was in my teenage years was Monolith’s Aliens vs. Predator 2. I sank so much of my life into the multiplayer more than anything, engaging with fellow Alien and Predator fans online. So when, after three years of expecting some sort of Destiny-esque Aliens game, Fireteam Elite was announced as an online co-operative game I was pretty curious.
For those of you who aren’t into really playing online, Cold Iron did include AI companions in the form of Seegson manufactured combat synthetics Alpha and Beta so you can still play the game on your own. But really, a full squad of you and two buddies is where this game just truly shines.
That’s the core of Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s experience. Sure, you can play on your own but the narrative is a little thin on the ground when compared to other recent games like Alien: Isolation or the recent Aliens vs. Predators. It’s the experience of playing with your friends, and building up to those big defence sections or those “holy shit” reveals where Fireteam Elite stands up strong.
Which brings me to my first concern. No crossplay. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a game that’s going to live or die depending on its ability to match up with other people. If you’re risking randoms on online match-making it requires population. If your friends are spread around multiple platforms, it’s hard to get a full squad together. While I’m fortunate enough to have friends to play with on the PC, Aliens: Fireteam Elite needs crossplay for those who might not.
I found myself really enjoying the third person perspective. I wasn’t sure how I was going to take to a third person Colonial Marines shooter, but it felt right given the more frantic action orientated nature of the gameplay, especially when you started to ramp up the difficulty and you’re taking cover more.
Casual and Standard do play more like an arcade shooter, but when you start to turn it up to Intense and beyond, it becomes a more tactical shooter. The ability to take cover and shoot around corners allows you to watch your location and field of fire better, meaning that you won’t be damaging your own squad-mates with friendly fire. Intense and above is the way to play Aliens: Fireteam Elite in my opinion.
An element where Fireteam Elite stands out from the other Alien games is in the class system which feeds into that squad-play. It ties into that communication and the decisions being made as a squad to best get prepared for a mission and also to your individual play-styles. If there’s a certain role you normally like to play, it’s here for you and for you to fit into the squad. The class system is also one of the places that Fireteam Elite also offers you replayability in the way of ranking up individual classes.
There are a lot of things to rank up. Each weapon can be ranked up, each class can be ranked up and your over-all rank too. But the bulk of the things to return to for ranking up is in the weapons because there are just so many of them!
And honestly, I’ve been really enjoying going through the various weapons because you can just feel the amount of fun that the developers have had trying to visualize other weaponry in the Alien universe and it’s so satisfying seeing all these weapons with the perfect kind of visual language. I can easily see these being used as reference material for comics going forward.
I’m also enjoying the various visual customisations for the weaponry too – the shaders and the emblems. The emblems don’t always wrap around the weapon model as nicely as I’d like, but I’m in love with some of the shaders, especially that Geode Purple. I do wish we’d be able to use emblems on our actual armour though. I think that’d be fantastic.
Graphically speaking, I’ve found the game to be gorgeous. The rendition of the Runner’s in particular look fantastic. This game looks so good.
I’ve really been enjoying trying the various weapons. There’s plenty of fun to be had in actually trying out the different kit, to experimenting with the attachments to fine-tune them to work for you.
I hadn’t originally thought I was going to enjoy the stat manipulation when it came to the weaponry, but it’s not been as time intensive as I thought it would be, and it can really work wonders in changing how a gun feels and performs.
However, ranking up those weapons is going to involve plenty of replaying which is perfectly fine if you’re enjoying replaying the missions! And though I’m not at a point where I don’t enjoy replaying these missions, I’m still worried that I’ll hit that mark at some point.
But before we talk about that possibility, I just want to say that there’s so much to love about the campaigns that we’ve got at launch. Each mission takes around 30 minutes to complete, and that equals out to about an hour and a half per campaign. Four campaigns at launch, so we’re talking about 6 hours’ worth of gameplay which really isn’t too bad.
Something that Cold Iron have done with the campaigns that I think really add to the Fireteam Elite’s ability for freshness is that each campaign is so distinctive from the others. Each one has its own flavour that is enhanced by a unique visual aesthetic, the type of specialist enemies and even the music score.
There are four campaigns – Priority One, Giants in the Earth, The Gift of Fire and The Only Way To Be Sure. The first campaign is set aboard the Katanga and features a distinctively Alien/Alien: Isolation vibe which was a nice ease back into the universe.
But once we hit dirt in Giants in the Earth; when we get to the surface of LV-895 and start shooting our way through Engineer ruins, Aliens: Fireteam Elite starts to give us something different from the recent Alien games and that is a deeper inclusion of the prequels.
Your mileage may vary here depending on your fondness of the prequels, but as someone who enjoys (for the most part) Alien: Covenant I really did get a big kick out of seeing Hall of Heads type locations, with Aliens pouring out dark eyes like obsidian tears.
But where the game really made me smile was in the third and four campaigns. The Gift of Fire takes place in an Engineer facility and not only do we get to re-experience some brilliant recreations of moments from the prequels, but this campaign is easily the best blending of Prometheus’ more metallic take on Giger’s aesthetics and actual organic looking environments as originally envisioned.
The amount of times I stopped to admire a tube going into some orifice, or simply appreciate the rib-like curving of a simple hallway. The level design team on this campaign just excelled in my opinion. I’d like to buy them a drink for their work here.
The fourth and final campaign The Only Way To Be Sure returned us to the Katanga, but we were diving into the depths of the hive which meant a lot of hive resin which still maintained a unique visual identity for this campaign. And I love me some hive scenery.
While I’m really pleased to see a narrative here, I do think it is a little on the weaker side unfortunately. To me the most interesting narrative aspect of it was being chased by Monica during the first campaign, and that only really resonates if you’ve read Aliens: Infiltrator.
Given how much I actually disliked Aliens: Infiltrator I was surprised to find how much I warmed up to the depiction of Hoenikker in Aliens: Fireteam Elite. The moments of excitement he had during The Gift of Fire were exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see from the characters in Prometheus!
Otherwise, the game doesn’t really do anything new story-wise that we haven’t experienced in other media. It’s more about the satisfaction of experiencing those recreations from the prequels for the first time in a game. There are certainly possibilities of new narrative places to go from here – given some of the fallout from what we actually accomplish, particularly in the third campaign, but we just don’t know that as of yet.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite did have some real meat-and-potatoes in the way of its intel though! There were a lot of lore drops in there that I found genuinely interesting and smile inducing. The mention of the lion-worm, along with Colonel Shipps as my CO did bring a genuine grin to my face – but I really would love to see more involvement from her. I felt really disappointed we didn’t get much of Shipp.
I did find the mission ends to be somewhat anti-climatic though, especially after completing the final mission. The lack of any sort of cut-scenes just means a fade to black and back in again in the Endeavour. It just ends. I really wish we’d have had some intro and outro scenes to really give the missions that extra umph – especially on the final mission! To just end with a fade to black was really a letdown.
Once you’ve completed all the campaigns you also unlock Horde mode which is essentially a skirmish mode. I love the inclusion of this. Skirmish modes have been in a lot of the more recent Alien (and vs. Predator) games and it’s a fantastic way to just give the game an element of pick up and play. That said, I was really disappointed to find it was only a single map with a single point of defense.
Something I particularly enjoyed was Fireteam Elite’s handling of the usual Aliens – to have the Runners be the fodder. I think it works particularly well with David Fincher’s mentality that the Runner be a more bestial version of the Alien given its host, and I think that works well in regards to the swarm nature and feeling more true to the series.
It’s also satisfying to see the Big Chap and Warriors being such tall and imposing forces in the game as well. It just feels like the game takes them more seriously – especially on those harder difficulties.
Also making a return are re-envisioned Aliens from Aliens: Colonial Marines such as the Spitter, Burster (formerly the Boilers) and the Crusher. The Prowler also slots in as a slightly weaker and more Runner-esque variant of Colonial Marine’s Lurker. And of course, we also get a variety of Combat Synthetic enemies – primarily in the second campaign though.
I was pretty excited to see the Accelerant- Pathogen as they’re called in Fireteam Elite – based enemies. It was pretty refreshing to see some new enemies! That said, I was disappointed by how they were only in a single campaign mission, and how few of them there were. I also wish we’d have been able to fight against an Engineer, especially when I saw all those suits lining the wall.
If we get more campaigns in the future I’m hoping we’ll get to see more of those Pathogen enemies – give me a Neomorph, or a more obviously Alien-esque variant unique to LV-895.
Which leads me onto my concern over the content. While we’ve got 12 missions, we’re generally still only playing through 4 distinct styles. It has the potential to get stale. The game does offer some minor bits of variety in some of the missions, but it’s still a largely linear game when it comes to what you do in the missions.
The Challenge Cards will offer you a way to introduce some variance into what the gameplay experience will be, but again, it’s still those same 4 campaigns. And there’s only a single Horde mode map on launch too – which I found really disappointing.
I just really hope we see regular campaign missions. To me, they’re far more important than new weapons, classes or cosmetics. I had the same concern with Predator: Hunting Grounds. It took me 4 months to get bored of the same 3 maps, and it took Illfonic nearly a year to get to a point where I thought they had the right amount of content they should have had on launch. I don’t want to see that here.
I’m playing on the PC and I’m happy to say the game has largely been stable for me. I’ve suffered some frame-rate drops during the final swarm on the last mission, and the weapon fire audio bug when partied up, but otherwise no issues to report from me. Though I typically play with my own fireteam, the match-making system hasn’t given me any issues when trying it from PC.
But from various reports I’ve seen, it looks like the consoles – particularly the older generation – are having stability and match-making issues.
Something I was really curious about after playing the preview build was how people would react to the game’s score. The music is another element that brings unique flavour to each campaign and that’s because there’s a very specific texture to the music in each campaign.
Straight from the opening menu we’re treated to a demonstration of Austin Wintory’s brilliant Alien/s-esque pieces that just feel right at home in the Alien series. The first and fourth campaign feature some orchestral and some very high tempo pieces that feel perfect alongside Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner.
But for the more heavy prequel campaigns, I immediately noticed some very different pieces with some very unusual instruments – wind instruments. I was unsure of these particular pieces to begin with, but I actually ended up really liking them. I know I might be in the minority with this one – and quite frankly I’m curious to see more reactions – but I really dig the meta use of the flute in these campaigns.
I’m really hoping we get to see the actual soundtrack released in some fashion. I’d like to be able to listen to it more in isolation.
At the end of it all, I’m really enjoying my time with Aliens: Fireteam Elite. There’s just something about that sensation of having control of the situation, co-ordinating with your buddies until you don’t. In our preview of the game I compared it to the Operations scene from Aliens and I still think it applies. It just feels like Aliens in that regard.
I’m particularly enjoying the customisation and the visual language that Aliens: Fireteam Elite has to offer. My only concern is in how regular any future campaign – or Horde mode – content will be, and whether or not it’ll have meatier narrative content. But I won’t have to wait long as the first content update is to drop very soon!
I really struggled to settle on a final score for this. It feels like I was trying to review with the possibility of what may come in the future. But ultimately I decided to split the difference and award Cold Iron Studio’s Aliens: Fireteam Elite a 7.5 out of 10! This is Aaron Percival, last survivor of the Katanga, signing off.
All screenshots are taken by Alien vs. Predator Galaxy’s talented resident virtual photographer RidgeTop. Go give him a follow on Instagram for more of his work!