Regular – or even passing – readers of my blog will know that I’m an absolutely huge fan of the Aliens universe. When Aliens: Fireteam Elite was announced, I read the new video game’s tie-in novel, Aliens: Infiltrator – and was pretty impressed with the backstory of the game (and the game builds upon the new lore really well), even though there were a few clunky elements.
The same can be said of the game itself, which arrived today. Having spent a few hours in the game’s first few missions, I’m pleased to say that any concern that we’d be seeing a repeat of the dire 2013 Xbox 360/PS3/PC title Aliens: Colonial Marines were completely unfounded.
A third-person, wave-based co-op shooter in the vein of games such as Left 4 Dead, Aliens: Fireteam Elite sees players in teams of three Marines that can be one of four specialist types – or accompanied by AI companions in the form of ‘Synthetics’ (that’s androids to those of you who don’t know), which is a neat, in-universe touch. There’s plenty of cosmetic customisation available for your character, your weapons and gear, with the separation of the specialist character types providing different options for differentiating characters from a visual standpoint. The four classes – Gunner, Demolisher, Technician and Doc – all offer slightly varied styles of play and feel sufficiently different in action that it’s worth exploring each one to find the class that suits you best.
Missions are split into bite-size chunks that take 20-30 minutes to complete, with three missions in each campaign. Once a mission is complete, it can be replayed but it also unlocks the next mission in the sequence. Campaign cards can be used to modify the action (in often interesting ways), which will increase the experience available for completing the mission.
There’s a number of different Alien (or Xenomorph) types, from the familiar such as Runners and Warriors, to the less so: Spitters and Bursters, for example. There’s twenty different types of enemy; not all of them are Xenomorphs, apparently – though I’ve yet to encounter anything other than the nasty aliens on my few hours with the game.
The action is fast-paced and exciting, with plenty to shoot at – the Xenomorphs themselves being ridiculously nimble, agile creatures that can come from the ceilings, walls and floors – and a decent amount of collectables to find, which can unlock rare items and cosmetics. The visuals are well done and evoke the atmosphere of the classic movies and, though they’re not drop dead gorgeous in terms of detail or smoothness, they get the job done admirably. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a game that’s not been made on a AWA-budget, but it didn’t need to be – and it does what it sets out to do really well. The atmosphere, thanks not just to the visuals but also Austin Wintory’s score, perfectly evokes the ambience of the films, in particular James Cameron’s 1986 classic, Aliens.
It’s let down a little by repetition and the budget constraints; as an example of the corners that have (necessarily) been cut, when talking to characters, they have a voiceover but their mouths don’t move at all – which is a little jarring, especially as the camera cuts to a dialogue screen that focuses on their model breathing, but otherwise mute-looking, model when you talk to them. Still, that doesn’t affect the gameplay – and the developers, Cold Iron Studios, have made sure that Fireteam Elite plays well; they’ve definitely focused their attention on the most important areas. That said, the Xbox One X version does struggle with its framerate on occasion, but the Series X version is beautifully smooth (I can’t comment on other formats, but I can only assume that there’s the same situation across PS4 and PS5 versions).
There’s been a few issues with connecting to online games (and even some hiccups with Deluxe Editions, that were digitally pre-ordered, only registering as Standard Editions, though this now seems to have been ironed out) on its first day too, which is perhaps to be expected; that’s also a good sign that the game already has a healthy-sized player base – especially as a year’s worth of free content is planned. The only microtransactions/DLC that will need to be paid for will be cosmetic in nature, with all extra content being made available gratis. It’s a smart move from publishers Focus Home Interactive; the last thing a mid-budget, fairly low profile game like this needs – especially when you consider that the ‘true’ spiritual sequel to Left 4 Dead (Back 4 Blood, which is made by the creators of Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios) launches in a few months time. Hopefully the great use of the Aliens license keeps the player base of Fireteam Elite engaged even in the face of the incoming competition, however.
Though unfair comparisons have been made to the – much more narrative focused, single player, survival horror game – Alien: Isolation, where that game was a perfect recreation of the first film’s tone and atmosphere, so too does Aliens: Fireteam Elite succeed in its goal of providing the same sort of gung-ho, squad-based action that the film sequel provided. With its much lower budget and more single-minded focus in terms of its gameplay, it certainly feels like a bit of an underdog – but it’s clear that the team behind the game have poured their hearts and souls into the title and their passion for the franchise is very clear indeed. Though a little rough around the edges, it’s a great experience for Aliens fans and Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a game that I’m definitely looking forward to spending a lot more time with.
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