We’re here again, time for another Aliens game, the question is will this sit in the rare category of a good one, or slide into the flop/mediocre pit where many have fallen over the years? I’m a huge fan of everything Alien. The franchise as whole has been with me since I was a kid and I watched it long before I was officially old enough, and played the games far younger than most children probably should have. Due to this, any time we get a new entry, whether it’s a movie, game or book, I’m hyped. Aliens: Fireteam Elite has been on the motion tracker since its surprise reveal last year, and even though the Codec Moments team thought it could be hitting the underside of the bar on release, we’ve all bought into it. Does that mean it’s worth playing?
Firstly I’m going to go over Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s story… as it’s easy to miss. There is one here, but it’s bare bones at best and mainly because it’s only told through NPC voiceovers during the mission briefing, or from collected intel. It covers what’s being asked of the team, yet it’s a bit lacklustre, which is a shame because the latest novel (Aliens: Infiltrator) is a prequel that sets up pretty much everything that’s happening. I’d say to get most out of this game and better details on what the Colonial Marines are doing visiting Pala Station, and why Weyland Yutani are messing with Xenomorph DNA, then start with the book. Understanding the tale will likely be a problem for the majority as I’m positive most who play won’t even know about the book, nor can I recall any game media prior to release even suggesting it. There’s always a risk with having two different mediums telling a cohesive story, only those in the centre of the Venn diagram are going to fully get what’s going on. The game should have done a better job defining the plot background, or maybe even have at least one establishing cutscene. Nope, it’s text with a voiceover with accompanying static character model. The lips could have moved as a bare minimum.
I know what you’re thinking – this doesn’t sound good at all so far – but it’s about to get better! Fortunately the game play mechanics themselves are a tonne of fun. Being up front, this game is very much rinse and repeat which for many will not be deep enough. However, if you’re here to shoot Xenomorphs and androids whilst having a blast in co-op with friends, then you’re sorted. It’s easy enough to finish the campaign, and I was impressed that I did it mainly with random people online, but you can squad up with friends. If you take a look at the videos from the team playing together, you’ll have a rough idea what to expect, and shooting Xenos has not been this fun in a long while. Essentially each mission plays as follows: drop in, get to a point which may be a data terminal in a large room, or scan an object, and then have many, many Xenos come at you. This is how the entire game is. I particularly enjoyed the last set of missions as they’re mostly in the alien’s hive, which is designed very well. Once any mission is done you can go back to the base or carry onto the next, and I’d recommend going back to base each time simply because you can buy gear to help you. This repetitive approach certainly for some might be off-putting, but Aliens: Fireteam Elite is designed to be played over and over so you get better gear and challenge yourself. The base hub (which nicely is the Colonial Marines carrier and staging location) is important as it’s where you can get more bits of the story or spend time tweaking your characters loadouts.
As the gameplay loop is all about you coming back for more, the shooting and enemy variation has to be on point, and Aliens: Fireteam Elite excels in both. When you pull the trigger on the Pulse Rifle it sounds exactly like you’d expect it too; the shotgun has the right kind of pop as you get up close to make mincemeat of the smaller drones. In fact, whilst there are many guns in the game I noticed online that it consisted mostly of people sticking to the Pulse Rifle, Shotgun or Smartgun… mostly. Gadgets are on hand to lay defences down to help throughout a mission, and prove most effective against the scripted swarm attacks. As it’s very rare there’s a break from a fight, a simple mine, electric grid or classic sentry turret can buy a bit of breathing room. The latter come in various forms with some targeting specific situations over others depending on the different type of ammo they hold, so there’s incentive to mix it up. Running out of ammo means the turret is done for, yet they act as alien magnets too, so sometimes just having them give you space as they’re turned to scrap is better than the bullets they unleash. Of course, the Xenomorphs come in many types to mix it all up, from simple drones to ones that will run directly at you just to explode and coat you in acid. There are also Spitters which will stay behind cover and try hitting you with acid streams like a demonic sniper, and the classic movie antagonist (called Warriors) which are brutes to take down and beautifully realised to strike terror in a solo players heart.
Speaking of terror, possibly the scariest of the bunch, the facehugger tries to get in on the action too. Pro-tip, shoot any eggs you see as the little buggers are hard to spot once out, and are very, very quick! There are also androids to destroy in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, and whilst you might wonder why they’re popping up in an Aliens game, they make sense being there due to what happens in the story, and who couldn’t have this subject matter without androids turning out to be bad? To at least give them some variety, they come in various flavours too. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what’s moving on screen, you’re going to shoot it. Making that as enjoyable as it can be is the upgrade and perk system. With multiple classes and playing in a team of three it’s always worth having this varied. Each class has its own set of abilities, like the Gunner’s Overclock that greatly increase fire rate and reload speed for you and nearby allies. With two cooldown driven abilities they’re usually complimentary, such as being able to throw a grenade which grants the start of a damage bonus which stacks each time you shoot an enemy, then ramping that up with Overclock. The more focused fire, the more chitinous carapaces and acid blood get splattered around the environment. With several classes at launch, and new ones being added, there’s always a chance to experiment to see which brings the most effective squad together.
Levelling up and finishing missions grants deeper access to the upgrade and perk system, as well as requisition points to buy gear and consumables. Purchasing weapons is pretty standard, but the perk system works like a grid that also wants you to chain abilities together and make them more powerful. Making it a bit like a Tetris puzzle means you have the flexibility to create a really unique build, and become the ultimate badass by increasing your combat rating. The higher the combat rating, the better you’re going to be and is where the end game challenge appears with unlocking horde mode. Of course, you can run through the story again on the higher difficulties, and each will grant better rewards. It’s also possible to make the game tougher on yourself even on a standard difficulty as there’s a challenge card system. During the lobby for each mission start, you and your fireteam can choose a challenge card that could be favourable (like 2x experience), or one that’s a risk (like gun does 2x damage, but you only have half the ammo). Cards are unlocked or you can buy them, though it’s random so you may not get one you’re after, and all is this is done with the (somewhat miserly earned) in-game currency, so don’t worry about microtransactions here. No squad shooter would be complete without options to customize guns, this can be scopes, weapon magazine sizes etc., and each will improve the combat rating making slaughtering the Xenos that much more fun. There’s also a flamethrower? Need I say more.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite makes it surprisingly fun to play with the grid system and the perks as you can tailor it to suit your play style. I really liked the card system as well as this does ensure more replayability, especially when you add the higher difficulty tiers. There’s no doubt that Aliens fans should be picking it up because there’s a massive amount of fan service in building the world and executing the atmosphere, and if you go into it knowing what to expect from the gameplay loop it’ll be a blast. If you’re wanting a good story in the Aliens universe then this might not scratch the itch as you need to work for the drip fed intel. That said, those just wanting a fun co-op game that’s easy to pick up and play with some added depth of class levelling, then it’s more than good enough. Will it last over the months to come? Maybe, depending on how much support it gets with future content, but for now I’m happy it just makes me feel like the Ultimate Badass!
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Series X|S and PC for around £30.