Aliens: Fireteam Elite review

By Tom West,
Update: Upon playing Aliens: Fireteam Elite some more over the last week I've decided to award the game an additional point in my review. I feel I judged the game too harshly before and that was my mistake, so I apologise for that. The gameplay and story elements offer a solid 7/10 experience and I'd recommend anyone to give it a go if they have even the slightest interest in the Aliens universe.

Original: If an authentic Aliens experience akin to Alien: Isolation is what you're looking for, this isn't the game for you. You’re just not going to get it when it comes down to fighting the hordes of Xenomorphs and dropping them with a couple of bullets. It’s not designed to be a horror title with tough-as-nails killing machines attempting to rip the heart out of your chest. What you will find, however, is an interesting story, stunning set pieces, and a pretty solid entry into the co-op survival genre that isn’t just another zombie blaster. Okay, let's get into this — elevator to hell going down...

aliens fireteam elite review

Aliens: Fireteam Elite throws us into the shoes of a rugged Colonial Marine, working off of the UAS Endeavor to eliminate the Xenomorph threat. We’ve been alerted to a distress call on the planet LV-895 in the year 2202 — 23 years after the events of the original Alien trilogy. Upon investigating the outer colonies to find the source of the distress call, we uncover that Weyland Yutani has been up to no good once again. Go figure. It’s rather difficult to discuss the game’s story elements without ruining anything, due to it being a great addition to the franchise. The campaign has been split into four mini-campaigns comprised of three missions each, but all lending to the overarching story. Each campaign slowly raises the tempo and introduces new enemy types, which actually makes the game stand out from the co-op survival crowd, and forces you to consider your loadout when heading on a mission. Everything outside of the missions can be handled on the UAS Endeavor: loading into missions, customising your class, discovering lore, and purchasing new equipment.

On your first run through the missions, you’ll need to speak to the NPCs aboard the ship to give the game a little more context and fill you in on all the information you need when learning about this new franchise addition. Although the dialogue is entertaining enough, and the lore is absolutely on-point, the whole experience when chatting to NPCs is pulverised to a squishy pulp of awkwardness due to the lack of lip-synching. It’s all rather… unnerving, to be honest. Although the character is sat there giving you a full rundown of the lore associated with a recent collectable you found, their mannequin-esque expression staring at you with zero facial animation is hideous. It really does ruin an otherwise entertaining piece of the game. Mix that with the fact that there isn’t any NPC collision to be found anywhere and you’ve got yourself a jarring time whenever you need to interact with them. Luckily, your need to interact with the NPCs is a limited-time experience (aside from the Quartermaster) because discussions run dry once you’ve finished the campaign for the first time and picked up each collectable item.

You launch into missions from the in-game menu, as well as customising everything to do with your character here. The game is built to be played in co-op, especially in the higher difficulty missions: Intense, Extreme, and Insane, with only the lower two difficulties — Casual and Standard, offering any sort of solo experience. When playing alone your Fireteam is filled with Alpha and Beta, two Synthetics that have been designed with brawn over brains… hence them only being useful on low difficulty missions that you can mostly handle yourself. No matter, they are helpful (ish) during combat situations and getting you up, even if there were times when I turned around to find Xenomorphs walking along with us like a couple of pets on a leisurely stroll.

aliens fireteam elite review

Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s missions are pulled straight from the co-op survival handbook — make your way to the objective area, defend the objective area, then move away from the objective area. What makes it stand out though, alongside an interesting story, are the fantastic set pieces and the obvious attention to detail that has gone into the level design. There is no doubt that the team wanted every part of the game’s missions to look like it had been ripped from the movies, blending the smooth bio-mechanical architecture of the Prometheans with smatterings of hard-angled human equipment. Your journey through each mission is accompanied by a Colonial Marine Technician communicating with you over the comms network, and for the most part, adds the kind of gruff ride-or-die attitude that we all fondly remember from Aliens — I’m looking at you, Vasquez. Each run offers slight variations to the dialogue, objectives, hazards, and special enemy spawns, not so much that it feels overly fresh but enough for it not to feel repetitive. I found that it was a great change of pace for the genre considering that co-op survival is all about repeating the same missions countless times in the hopes of getting a smoother run as you become familiar with the game’s levels.

To mix up your runs are Challenge Cards, which offer bonus rewards for completing missions with a handicap. I’ve played with a few now that have included making your screen look like a CCTV camera and adding extra recoil to your guns. Only one card can be applied to a mission and if more than one person chooses to apply one, the game will randomly select one of the cards to apply. Personally, I think the system is going to be great for endgame play and for those that take a serious interest in this title.

aliens fireteam elite review

Alongside the great level design is the fact that each campaign focuses on a different enemy type as your main combatant, from Xenomorphs to Synthetics, and this creates the need to consider your loadout when choosing a run. For instance, taking a flamethrower along with you on a Synthetic-based mission isn’t going to be as effective due to them blasting at you with an arsenal of cyber-weaponry. You also need to change up your playstyle. Xenomorph encounters need mobility to survive instead of the cover-based Synthetic scenarios that give Aliens: Fireteam Elite the feeling of Gears’ Horde mode. It’s a great opportunity to play around with various weapon types which include DMRs, snipers, flamethrowers, rocket launchers, handguns, and more, including, of course, iconic weaponry such as the Smart Gun and Pulse Rifle — the latter sounds just as amazing as you’d expect.

Weapon handling is fairly tight and offers third-person combat that could closely be compared to that of The Division. Depending on the situation you’re in, the use of cover may or may not be needed, which I found to be easy enough to use. That said, at some points, my character would latch onto a piece of cover and then repeatedly bounce back and forth like he was on a rubber band until I rolled away. It’s not game-breaking, of course, but for situations when cover is necessary, it can make life difficult. This is also where the un-authentic Aliens experience plays a major role, seeing as the Xenomorphs charge at you by the horde while you destroy them with a few bullets. These creatures are supposed to be apex predators, able to withstand an unreal amount of punishment and take out their target with deadly efficiency. What we see here are a bunch of mindless animals coming at you without the predatory finesse we see in the movies — I don't think this is a terrible thing, though, because the gameplay is enjoyable enough to forgive it. It's also not just another game that's relied on some variant of zombie attempting to munch on your brain, and that makes it a refreshing change of pace.

Each weapon can be customised with unlocked and purchased upgrades and cosmetics, which come in a variety of weapon attachments, decals, and colour options that you can grab by completing missions, finding hidden caches, or visiting the Quartermaster. Additionally, various consumables are available to use within the missions to help defend your position, such as auto-turrets and mines. Customisation is simple and there isn’t an extensive structure to it, but it’s enough to give your character the flair that you’d like.

aliens fireteam elite reviewaliens fireteam elite review

In my experience, class choice is one of the defining factors that ensure victor or failure, and having your team structured correctly is going to be the only way to complete the higher difficulty achievements. There are four available classes to choose from when you start out: Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, and Doc. You’ll also unlock the Recon class once you’ve finished all four campaigns. Each comes with two active abilities that help the whole team, from boosting reload speeds and weapon stability to aid stations and sentry turrets. The Demolisher can access heavy weapons and I loved playing around with the Smart Gun that auto-locks onto enemy targets and the Technician that can deploy a Sentry Turret to help defend your position. Each class feels balanced and there doesn’t look to be any ‘best’ option... at least, not on the lower end of the difficulty spectrum.

The achievement list has been out for Aliens: Fireteam Elite for some time now, and comes with your standard challenges that are present in pretty much every co-op survival game: complete x Missions on y difficulty, heal x amount of teammates, and so on. It’ll take you some time to get the completion, that much is certain, and it’ll also be affected by the quality of your teammates when you’re attempting to finish it on Insane difficulty. Other than time, though, there doesn’t look to be anything too difficult to pull off and should all come with the skill acquired from playing. I popped a fair few of them during my short time with the game, so finishing it all should be straightforward.

As of the time of writing my review, there are still a few bugs that need to be ironed out that I haven’t mentioned yet. One is a periodic white flash on the screen when your character is idle, and there are various frame drops when entering certain areas of the game. Again, this is nothing game-breaking, but it does need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Summary

Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Aliens: Fireteam Elite and aside from a handful of bugs, the game shows promise of a solid third-person co-op survival game. The rich lore and stunning level design put it on par with other successful Alien titles in terms of presentation (if not in terms of being faithful to the source material with its hordes of papier-mâché Xenomorphs), and although there isn’t anything revolutionary about the gameplay, the experience itself feels well crafted. I hope to see some of the issues resolved in the near future, but can happily say that this isn’t just another game to toss on the Aliens failure heap.
7 / 10
Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Ethics
Tom spent around 17 hours bug-hunting in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, unlocking 12 of the game's achievements along the way. A review copy of the game was provided by Cold Iron Studios and played on Xbox Series X.
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Tom has been playing video games since he was old enough to hold a controller, experimenting with systems like the Nintendo 64 and Playstation until he eventually fell in love with the Xbox 360. With a passion for the platform, he decided to make a career out of it, and now happily spends his days writing about that which he loves. If he’s not achievement hunting, you’ll likely find him somewhere in The Elder Scrolls Online.