Aliens: Fireteam Elite Review

Richard Walker

In 2014's Alien: Isolation, you were, as the title suggested, very much alone. Trapped aboard Sevastopol Station with a single xenomorph, developer Creative Assembly expertly ratcheted up the tension and made every encounter with the acid-blooded creature utterly terrifying. Aliens: Fireteam Elite, partially a take on the movie sequel dreamed up by director James Cameron, is to that movie what Isolation was to Ridley Scott's 1979 original: a love letter and an interactive reflection on the same essential themes. This is a comparatively action-packed co-op affair wherein you embark upon a raucous bug hunt, rasping pulse rifles echoing through the corridors of whichever dark environment you're deployed to. It sounds promising enough, but the reality is that it's something of a mixed bag.


Aw, they just want a hug. And to chew your face off.

If the aforementioned description, and the fact that you're once again stepping into the acid-resistant boots of a Colonial Marine, conjures horrifying memories of 2013's maligned misfire Aliens: Colonial Marines, then worry not. Aliens: Fireteam Elite isn't nearly as ham-fisted as that game, instead getting right down to the business of exterminating xenomorphs, with scant narrative or much else in the way of fripperies. Any lore is delivered almost exclusively via voiced exchanges with the crew of the Endeavor (your orbiting base of operations), who, somewhat jarringly, have no lip sync. Their mouths don't move at all, which for a cinematic licensed game releasing in 2021, seems plain bizarre, unless I missed something about telepathy.

As for any attempt at delivering a narrative, the immensely skippable blather delivered by the boring NPCs lollygagging back in the hangar of the Endeavor simply doesn't serve that purpose, and you won't feel like you're missing out on anything by jabbing the d-pad to breeze past the dialogue. Your base is somewhere to spend rep on a new hat or sunglasses, stock up on consumable defences like turrets and mines, or rendezvous with your fellow squadmates – you probably won't want to spend too long listening to a puppet whose lips don't move telling you about this, that, and the other. I wish I could tell you all about the game's deep lore, regarding pathogens, hive-infested planets, and all that, but I gave up giving a toss within the first hour or two.

Of course, none of this makes much of a difference when you're out on a mission as your customised Colonial Marine, armed with a loadout of your choosing attached to one of five classes. Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, Doc, and Recon kits render you equally adept at fending off xenos and enemy synthetics alike, each granting unique abilities – be it the Demolisher's micro rockets, the Gunner's overclock skill, the Technician's sentry turret, the Doc's ability to heal up allies with a combat stim, or the Recon's support drone. Fireteam Elite also offers a slew of weapons, attachments, perks, and cosmetic items to unlock in-game, ensuring you can make your marine your own – I can only assume that there's no one quite like my female flamethrower-toting Demolisher, except maybe Ellen Ripley. But then, Ripley never had napalm rockets, now, did she?


A no-nonsense third-person shooter, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is concerned only with getting you in front of waves of targets to blast, be it alone - with two surprisingly competent AI synthetics, provided by Seegson (the company responsible for the red-eyed 'Working Joe' synths in Alien: Isolation) - or with two other players in co-op. Gunplay feels suitably meaty, with a good sense of weight and shooting that feels hefty and impactful, while cover shooter mechanics are robust, eventually making sense when you start fighting against more humanoid foes. Later missions do ramp things up significantly, however, leaving little room to breathe. Level design isn't particularly inspired either, regardless of how some locations manage to impress from a purely visual standpoint.

Consumable Challenge Cards present an array of modifiers that force you to play each of the game's twelve missions differently, whether it's cumulatively taking a target amount of damage, random gun jams, or heavy armour that slows your movement. Each card has its own gameplay twists to make things slightly more awkward, in exchange for increased rewards, like triple XP or bonus currency to spend at the Endeavor's requisitions counter, should you succeed. The downside is, if you experience a glitch or connection error, that means you have to quit back to the game's base (a very real possibility, as it happens), the active Challenge Card is instantly lost, which feels unfair, especially when it's one of a higher rarity that you've been saving.

For its first two chapters, Aliens: Fireteam Elite succeeds as a perfectly solid and enjoyable shooter, but by the third chapter – which takes an ill-advised turn into Prometheus territory, introducing rubbish 'Pathogen' enemies, mutated marines that look like gangly ashen apes with flailing limbs – the formula starts to become threadbare. A dearth of interesting objectives that almost exclusively involve deploying defences in preparation for an onslaught of aliens and shit don't exactly inspire. Developer Cold Iron Studios' game is far better when you're stalking murky corridors, watching for the flicker of a shadow, eyeing your blinking radar for movement, or simply grinning as xenos sprint into your bullets or billowing jets of fire. Moments like these are all too rare. The longer you play, the more obvious the uneven pace becomes, and the more thinly spread it all seems.


Burn ‘em! Burn’ em all!

And the campaign isn't exactly lengthy – you could conceivably beat it at the standard difficulty inside of about 6-7 hours with a three-player squad doing what they're supposed to be doing. Making it through the campaign unlocks a Horde Mode (which really should be available from the outset) for even more co-op xeno slaughter, but by the time you've got to that point, you'll more than likely have had your fill. Cool environments, decent shooter mechanics, deployable gadgets, and a good spread of customisation options only go so far, and, ultimately, Fireteam Elite is hamstrung by formulaic mission structure and repetitive objectives.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite suffers when it strays from what made its namesake 1986 movie so memorable and iconic – it speaks volumes that the best missions have you torching eggs in a xeno hive or second-guessing which ventilation shaft a warrior alien is going to spring from next to politely throttle you. If I was being generous, I'd compare Fireteam Elite to a third-person Left 4 Dead. It's certainly the closest touchstone, and it so very nearly nails the intensity and enjoyment wrought from co-op shooters of a similar ilk. Sure, there's a good few hours of fun to be had with Aliens: Fireteam Elite, but it gets tiresome all too quickly. You might admire its purity, but I was left wanting a little more.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite

While not bad enough to be nuked from orbit, Aliens: Fireteam Elite regrettably falls short of what I'd hoped for from the franchise, especially seven years on from Alien: Isolation, which remains the high watermark. A lack of atmosphere, tension, and interesting stuff to do beyond shooting things, makes for a somewhat disappointingly flat experience.

Form widget
60%
Audio
85%

Taking inspiration from the late James Horner, composer of the original Aliens soundtrack, Austin Wintory's score (Journey, Assassin's Creed Syndicate) goes big on the bassoon and delivers exactly the right kind of cinematic atmosphere. Sound effects are wonderfully authentic, too.

Visuals
70%

From the moment your character appears aboard the Endeavor, you'll feel right at home within the Aliens universe. As soon as you start talking to the game's NPCs, the cinematic presentation is scuffed by a lack of moving lips, but some interesting environments and fairly detailed character models almost make up for it.

Playability
70%

There's little wrong with the fundamental nuts and bolts of Aliens: Fireteam Elite, with robust third-person shooter mechanics and its fair share of thrilling moments. The issue is a lack of diversity in the objectives you're presented with and one-note gameplay – expect a palpable sense of repetition to kick in pretty quickly.

Delivery
50%

Four chapters, three missions apiece, and a Horde Mode to unlock once you've finished the campaign. A wealth of customisation options, weapons, attachments, and perks, as well as a progression system for both your character and chosen class keep things interesting to a point, but certain missions suffer from some insipid design choices.

Trophies
60%

A perfectly serviceable selection of tasks to complete, like killing 10,000 xenomorphs, finishing the game at 'Insane' difficulty, collecting all of the intel, levelling up, and completing runs with Challenge Cards activated. There's a little too much grind here to make this a fun list, but it'll keep you playing, if you're so inclined.

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