The history of video games set in the Alien franchise makes for grim reading, with only Alien: Isolation (2014) doing the beloved sci-fi classic series justice in any form (we’re not even saying it was very good, but it was better than anything that came before it). That sense of dread and the intensity that only the xenomorphs can bring have hardly been replicated in this medium, but perhaps that’s because we’re not seeing it the right way. Cold Iron Studios latest, Aliens: Fireteam Elite functions best as a cooperative and straightforward shooting gallery filled with swarming monstrosities, and something to be enjoyed with friends.
If you love the xenomorphs but aren’t a fan of the slow-building tension, and welcome gunning down hordes of enemies looking to make mincemeat out of you, then you are signing up for the right assignment here. Similar to other cooperative shooters like Left 4 Dead or even the upcoming Back 4 Blood, it is all about the action and getting out alive.
In that sense, there is not much narrative to immerse yourself in. Players are dropped into a universe that is already aware of the threat of Xenomorphs, and whatever objectives you hope to complete will involve plenty of acid blood spilling.
Perhaps this explains why the non-playable characters (NPCs) speak without moving their lips, or the feeling that the hub area could easily be replaced by a set of menus. Aliens: Fireteam Elite sits comfortably in the middle, neither a AAA production nor a low-budget indie creation, and that is the way it is.
Yet, when you are able to jump in with two other eager marines, there is little doubt that the entire experience is much more enjoyable. Flaws notwithstanding, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a proper riot with real-life partners.
Throughout the entirety of four different chapters, each made up of three missions each, your team will be headed through a variety of environments that would sit right at home in the franchise. While environments are great to look at, they are mostly window dressing and it won’t be too long before you find yourself in tight spaces holding off the alien swarm.
That kind of claustrophobic feeling should be nothing new to any Alien fans, and it works extremely well in funnelling the action right to the players. That sheer intensity and oftentimes, panic, that sets in while dealing with hundreds of xenomorphs never go away, and is essentially the formula for fun in Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
That extends beyond the standard corridor shootouts to the game’s version of a horde mode. With waves of xenos looking to tear you limb from limb, the survival sections that usually break up the gauntlet are a refreshing addition so either you set up your defences right and make it out alive, or go down in a neverending swarm of black, writhing monsters.
The class system in Aliens: Fireteam Elite allows for some complementary setups, with the Gunner and Demolisher handling most of the grunt work. The smart gun on the latter definitely invokes nostalgia, while the Tactician and Doc help beef up the rest of the squad with their support abilities.
How deep you want to dive into customising your best squad is up to you and your teammates. You can plan for buffs to work in tandem, or have the right perk setups to deal with a number of situations. Otherwise, just being good with your aim can get most squads through it all.
That said, the xenomorphs are packing a few toys of their own as well, and it’s not just the standard movie monster that is chasing after you, as there are Spitters, Bursters, and the ever-annoying Prowlers here for the party as well. The latter, in particular, loves hiding in corners or on ceilings, ready to pounce with a jump scare or two.
There are also the Drones, Warriors, Praetorians, and more, organic killing machines that are out for blood. Add to that gun-toting synthetics deeper into the game and it becomes a menagerie of targets to aim your gun at and pull the trigger.
If that is not challenging enough, players can trade safety for more rewards using the Challenge Cards in Aliens: Fireteam Elite. These add different modifiers such as new enemies or no consumable use to your current run, with each player getting to choose one. Even on the default difficulty setting, a truly chaotic trio of Challenge Cards can up the ante in crazy ways that will be both fun and challenging at the same time.
All these systems in Aliens: Fireteam Elite work great, but only when you have a dedicated group of teammates willing to join your adventure. While there is the option of solo play, the AI bots pale in comparison to human marines. With little personality and even less utility, you can be seriously up against it when playing solo.
Should you choose to opt for online matchmaking though, the way the game does it leaves much to be desired as well. Only when others are playing the same mission on the same difficulty would you get matched, otherwise, it is as though you are screaming into space and no one can hear you.
For a game that is so heavily dependent on the action and places little onus on any narrative, it makes little sense for content to be gated in such a way. Being able to enjoy Aliens: Fireteam Elite requires the help of other players, and if that is not possible, the AI is in need of a major revamp.
By focusing more on the action-packed sequences that are hardly the attraction of the franchise, Aliens: Fireteam Elite does provide a different kind of experience for a potentially new audience. As a cooperative experience, it has all the right ingredients for an enjoyable time, but outside of that, it is held back by questionable design and poor matchmaking that is in need of a genetic reset.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Best enjoyed with friends, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a fun cooperative shooter that does little to redeem the classic sci-fi franchise’s name in the video game world.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 5/10
Presentation - 7/10
Value - 8/10