As a fan of the franchise, I’m sure a good chunk of the community can agree that games built around the IP have been superbly lackluster. Well, that was until Alien: Isolation came out that many realized, if in the right hands, we could get a game that perfectly captures the essence of the Alien IP. For many, this is horror, which is why Isolation was such a fantastic game based that used its IP intelligently.
It embodied every horrific emotion felt from the very first Alien movie.
Now looking before that, a majority of Alien games haven’t exactly been that great, with Colonial Marines being the biggest stain on the franchise since the Resurrection movie. In fact, to this day it still has the lowest score for a review that I’ve given to any game on this site. Just the fact that I’m even mentioning it is enough to get my blood to start boiling.
I could go on for hours about everything that’s wrong with that mess of a game, and maybe I will one day, but today I want to focus on the newest game endeavor into the film IP — Aliens Fireteam Elite. So where does it fit into what fans want? Well, if Isolation was the embodiment of Alien (first movie) then no doubt, Aliens Fireteam Elite is exactly what you’d expect if someone made a game based on the sequel film, Aliens.
It’s Aliens, Not Alien
You know, it’s really hard for me to say which is better, Alien or Aliens, because the truth of it is, despite being directly tied to one another these films could not be anymore different.
For Alien, the plot was solely focused on a crew and their survival against an unknown, bloodthirsty monster that all seemed impossible to stop. It made space scary for generations to come, inspiring many other movies, and even game IPs such as Dead Space.
One of cinema’s most iconic, and goriest scenes
The film was the stuff of nightmares, created from the darkest thoughts and beautifully realized. It’s really hard to come by any monster film, or game and not see any kind of references to Alien. That’s how big of an impact it is today, and will forever be.
Alien Isolation capitalized on a lot of the good aspects of the film, solely focusing on a single monster and your survival against it. It’s why so many are demanding a sequel, because it feels as close to the original film than any other game before it.
Now with Aliens, the horror side of the franchise takes somewhat of a backseat, and instead opted to be more fast-paced, filled with action crammed in every moment that it could. Rather than follow a crew of people with little to no combat experience, Aliens presents itself as what would happen if a team of highly trained space marines were to suddenly face off against one of the universe’s apex predators.
Well, as it turns out killing a Xenomorph isn’t all that hard, but facing off against hundreds is.
What took Ripley a full hour of film time in the original took her seconds to do in the sequel.
Truth be told, this was a sequel that probably shouldn’t have worked, yet against all odds, it did. James Cameron took his (Ridley Scott) horror classic and turned it into a jammed packed action flick that still holds strong to this very day. Really think about that, how many movies, or video games can successfully be one thing and then suddenly be something entirely different, yet still manage to keep most of its fans happy? Not a lot, if any, do come to mind.
For me I loved every bit of Aliens. The action sequences kicked ass, the story and dialogue was fun, with all the characters feeling super relatable to the point that I was heartbroken to see some of them go. It’s such a fun flick.
You’re a bit more relaxed in the sequel, that is until shit hits the fan and suddenly people start dying left and right from an onslaught of relentless monsters.
This is what Aliens Fireteam Elite captures. It’s a game about playing with your friends, having a good time going around and doing what you do best, only to suddenly start getting your shit wrecked by an endless wave of Xenomorphs.
No Misspelling “AI”
You may not feel a dripping sensation of horror going down your spine in Aliens Fireteam Elite, but there is certainly something to replace it. Having played with a group of my close friends, who also are massive Alien fans, the one big constant smile putter that the game has is how AIs are handled, and how the game really pushes you from full offense, to defense in a matter of seconds.
Like foreign species invading an ant colony, so do the Xenomorphs send waves after waves of themselves in hopes of stopping you from your mission. It’s the hive mentality and it feels well captured.
Now I know some of you may already be saying this isn’t very “Alien”-like of the Xenomorphs, but if we have learned anything from the films it’s that there is a great level of intelligence that differs between all the types of Xenos.
Aliens taught us that when it comes to dealing with them right inside their own hives, they will stop at nothing to make sure you’re not the one left standing.
That’s what I like about Fireteam, because it makes sure that you’re always on constant alert. Even after we cleared up a massive wave of Xenos and had a moment to freely explore, the game made sure that the threat wasn’t over as new waves would spawn, wanting to keep pushing us deeper into the level.
There are a variety of different types of Xenos in Fireteam, which really makes the AI shine. The Soldier are the primary ones you’ll battle with, which are the ones that like to rush at you in numbers.
Then there’s the Warrior. This Xeno is all about brute force and getting right up close and personal. They’re loaded with armor, so taking one out isn’t quite as easy as the others. One could say they serve as a distraction to allow the normal soldier types to rush in and overwhelm you.
Spitters, as its name suggests, shoots out acid projectiles. They hurt a lot. You typically find these guys hanging back, but one thing we (my friends and I) did notice about them is that they also seem to like to hide behind cover to avoid being shot. If they do happen to be out in the open, then it’s likely they’re trying to get close enough so they can deal massive acid damage when you kill them, as they burst into a puddle of it.
Pouncers are the ones that like waiting for the players to come to them. On levels, their locations differ in each run, but you’ll usually find them hiding behind a corner or some sort of small cover. They’ll leap on you and begin hacking away at your health with the only way to knock them back is either by completing the QTE (quick-time event) or by having a teammate shoot them off.
The Elite Drone is the one players have to look out for the most. Unlike the others, these seem to randomly appear and at almost any moment. If you’re wanting a bit of Alien Isolation-type dread in the game, you will undoubtedly find it in the Elite Drone.
These fellas only come out whenever they really want to, and when they do it can be quite intimidating as they stand tall through crowds of Xenos.
Like Warriors, they, too, also like getting close for insane damage. However it’s unlikely you’ll see one stick around long enough to be killed as they’ll often retreat back to a nearby vent.
In one of our runs, we were so occupied with killing all the other Xenos that we had forgotten about the Elite Drone thinking we had already killed it. Our objective had been completed for that area, so we pressed on, only little did we know that the Elite Drone was still alive, stalking and waiting to strike us at the right time. It wasn’t until I was lagging a bit behind that I noticed something pop out of a vent and rushing towards me. It did get me spooked a bit, but I was more amazed by a moment like that happening.
There is another Xeno that I’ll talk about in another section, but do mind that we haven’t experienced the whole game and know that there are more Xeno types available.
Now it wouldn’t be Aliens if it didn’t have some sort of involvement from the super mega corporation, Weyland-Yutani, and it does. The final known enemy types from our preview are the Synthetics, and like the Xenomorphs, they also come in a number of different varieties.
Seeing that they’re based on humanity, the Synths are essentially human types of enemies. They come in loaded with guns, turrets, and all types of different weaponry, and unlike the Xenos, do appear to have some strategic planning during combat.
They will purposely send in working joes (yes the very ones from Isolation) in order to flush you out of cover so that they can unleash a barrage of fire power on you. They really hurt, even on the lowest difficulty you may find yourself having a hard time dealing with them.
Overall, I do like how the AI is handled in Aliens Fireteam Elite. It might not be the most advanced there is out there, but for the kind of game it’s trying to be it does a lot to keep you on your toes. The AI genuinely feels like it wants to do everything in its power to kill you, and will try to throw you off by flanking you, or creating diversions so that it can create an opening to get close.
We wanted to take things slow and easy because we always love exploring levels, but even then we still found ourselves being pressed against a wall and fending for our lives. Upping the difficulty is definitely another beast as friendly fire gets turned on as do other modifiers.
There were other difficulties that were locked in the build, but if fans are looking for a challenge, trust me, it’s going to be there at release.
The only complaints I do have with the AI is the bot companions are dumb as shit. I’m not surprised by that, and if anything have grown used to having bad AI companions in co-op games.
Heck, even the developers recommended not to use them when playing on the higher difficulties, and it makes a ton of sense why as they will purposely stand in place, get in your line of fire or if you go down, will ignore everything just to try and revive you. It’s laughably bad, but they get the job done in the casual mode for those wondering.
The big issue I did have when playing with bots is how field resources are allocated. When you play as a full squad of real people, every crate (boxes of resources found in level) has a defensive item that everyone can pick up. Example, a turret. If you have three people then you have three turrets, one for each player, but no more than that.
If you are playing with AIs they don’t bother picking these up, probably because they aren’t programmed to and would pick bad location. Sadly, that doesn’t mean an increase to the number of turrets you can pick up. You are just stuck with the one. I think it would have been nice if they made crate equipment similar to their health kits. Everyone can see it, and the amount that is available is all shared. So if there are only two health kits, then that is it. One user can hog them for themselves by using one and then picking up the other, a jerk move if I saw one, but at least the option is there.
I only bring that up because if you plan on playing solo, you may find the big end level battles to be a bit too much. If the AIs aren’t helping, some additional defensive measures would be nice.
Lets Kill Some Bugs
That’s the AI stuff out of the way, I guess you’re wondering how the game actually plays? To my honest-to-goodness surprise, it felt great.
When I first saw Aliens Fireteam Elite I was a bit worried about the third-person perspective. All the past Aliens games have had the marines being played from first-person, so naturally it was assumed that would be the case here. It wasn’t the case, though it’s not a complete deal-breaker.
While it would helped with the immersion level, I found the third-person combat to be very enjoyable. Character movement didn’t come off as janky as I expected it to be, with the controls feeling very responsive.
And this isn’t just a game about pointing your gun and shooting, as it also features a tactical roll that doesn’t feel weak, along with a Gears of War-style cover system. This system wasn’t all that effective against a hoard of Xenos, but it did really shine during combat against the Synthetics. We used it a ton, because as mentioned they tend to play in a more strategic manner.
As for the gunplay, I’m sure fans are going to love how all the iconic weapons handle once they start unloading clips into Xenos. I honestly can’t say I disliked the overall feeling. Now there were some guns I didn’t like, but that’s all subjective.
There isn’t a whole lot I feel I can really say about the overall gameplay, outside that your probably going to have fun with it. I know I did, and that to me, is what matters the most.
Having played through two out of the four available campaign missions, you’re probably wondering how long Aliens Fireteam Elite is going to be? Based on the completion of the full two available campaigns in the preview, it should take you somewhere between 6-8 hours. Pretty modest for a $40 game, but that’s only factoring in the fact that we were able to clear each campaign in roughly two hours. As of writing this preview I have about 10 hours, based on just the four hours it really took us to complete those missions. Why? Well because there are a lot of reasons to want to go back and replay these missions.
One of the exciting components of Fireteam Elite is that it features Challenge Cards. Challenge Cards, as the name suggests, are essentially additional challenges that players can select before the start of a mission. They typically reward you with more EXP and currency, but the big draw to them is how unique they all feel. While there are some that do aid you, such as bonus damage, a majority of them are accompanied with some insane conditions.
Take the Warrior Xenomorphs for example. They’re taller, stronger, and far more deadly than your average Drone Xenomorph. In missions, the game will throw them at you during the more battle heated moments, when there are swarms of drones rushing you. They can be very devastating if left unchecked, so usually you and your team will want to dispatch them as quickly as possible.
There is a Challenge Card that instead of spawning a Warrior, it spawns a Praetorian Xenomorph, which for those who don’t know, are the Xenomorph Queen’s royal guard. In-game, they’re massive and come heavily stacked with health and armor. They’re not easy to take down at all, and playing on insane or higher you are going to find them to be a force to be reckoned with.
Other challenges include taking no damage, being able to use only the last resort pistol, no motion tracker, and so much more. While levels, for the most, remain the same, these challenges truly felt fun, with us wanting to go back and replay all the levels with the different stipulations. There is a ton of replayability in this system, though I will say my only disappointment is that we weren’t able to stack cards for added difficulty. Hopefully that will be in the full release, or a future update.
Then there are the different classes. In our preview, we were given pretty much unlimited access to four out of the five classes. Like many other titles, these classes followed the standard archetype, with the Gunner being an all-rounder, Demolisher being the heavy with the Smart Gun, Doc the medic, and finally the Technician, whose focus was using traps and turrets. The fifth class, which was unavailable, is the Recon class who specializes in snipers and has the ability to call in ammo and boost team accuracy.
The demolisher has some pretty awesome kit abilities as the class can shoot rockets, along with a small AOE (area of effect_ blast wave to damage and knock back enemies. Not only that, but the class also gets to use the iconic Smart Gun, and even a flamethrower (not exclusive to the class). For me, this was by far my favorite class to use as it proved to be a quick bug killer.
The Doc obviously focused on healing. I found myself playing this role a lot, as it’s easily the most important when it comes to playing on higher difficulties. You’re able to lay down a small healing pool that you and your teammates can step into to heal, and while the game does give you a healing item at major checkpoints, it’s the long moments in-between that are going to get pretty sweaty with health. This is basically an essential class that every fireteam needs to be running.
Now with the Gunner and Technician I do think these are the weakest classes as they feel they may need some buffs. Gunner has an overclock ability that boosts weapon damage and fire rate for you and the team, but it only lasts a few seconds. It feels like a bad trade-off because the cool-down rate is 30 seconds long. There are some perks that can be equipped to extend the duration and lower the cool-down, but even then the base rates just don’t feel too beneficial for the team. A little tuning there could go a long way.
The Technician gets to use electric traps and a smart turret. This turret differs from the ones you get in crates as it lasts way longer and perks can be paired up to increase its damage. Additionally, you could swap out the turret for a heavier damage one, or one with incendiary rounds.
However, the gun types that are assigned to the Technician are extremely low in ammo, and chances are you’ll run out of ammo before anyone else does. It’s not a very fun feeling having to use the last resort pistol, which I wish could be upgraded to be stronger. I’ll admit it can be a pretty OP’d class once you start unlocking the extra perks, but it’s definitely one of the classes you need to invest more in to see the benefits.
All these classes have their own progression levels, which unlocks new perks along with expanding the loadout grid. The nice thing about some of the perks is that not all of them are class specific. You might need to play as a Medic in order to unlock a certain one, but chances are it can be used universally across all playable classes. It’s a nice way to get players to try other classes out in my opinion.
What I found most surprising is how perks are handled. Every class has their own grid that features a number of slots that perks can fit in. Think Tetris, where each perk is a different shape and can be rotated to fit a different part of the grid.
This allows all kinds of different set-ups, as perks offer a variety of benefits, not just to you, but to the team. Example, the Gunner has their overclock ability that boosts fire rates and damage. I mentioned earlier that it did need an increase in its duration, and I still believe that, but there are perks that do just that.
The same idea also applies to the other classes, like Medic getting enhanced healing, or Demolisher adding damage bonus to knocked back enemies. There is a great deal of synergy between every class and available perks, and I’m sure the player base is going to find crazier combinations than what we did.
That same concept follows even in the weapons, as they each have their own individual passive perks that get unlocked with each leveling. Attachments also exist, with three slots being customizable. These are the magazine, muzzle, and scopes, pretty standard stuff though there are bonus perks on each attachment, such as increased staggering, accuracy, damage, and more.
Going into Aliens Fireteam Elite I had low — and I mean LOW — expectations because of how much fans have been burned with past tie-ins. Bad games, and bad movies, that is what us fans have been dealing with for the last few decades, so can you really blame me for going into this negatively?
But if it wasn’t obvious from the all praise above, then I will make it clear now: We f###ing loved it. I think Aliens Fireteam Elite might just be the game that all us Aliens fans have been lusting for since the disappointment of Colonial Marines. Again, I know Isolation was great, but that fits in line with the original film, whereas Aliens Fireteam Elite undoubtedly captures everything we loved about the sequel, Aliens.
Cold Iron Studios is exactly the kind of studio that knows exactly what the fans want, because they are the fans. If you’re worried this is some shameless cash grab, don’t. I promise you, come next month’s release you won’t be disappointed.