I dare you to get through an Aliens: Fireteam Elite session without yelling "Game over, man. Game over!" The sometimes-punishing cycle of play means you'll get a lot of game over screens, and the temptation to celebrate each in the late Bill Paxton's surfer drawl is far too strong to resist.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite heavily references Aliens from '86 throughout: from the hoo-rah design of the Colonial Marine characters, to the arsenal of sci-fi weaponry, to the music that swells as swarms of xenomorphs skitter across the ceiling. You just feel like you're stepping into the boots of Paxton's Private Hudson before you face off against what seems like an insurmountable threat.
And I do have several moments that feel like "game over, man" during my Aliens: Fireteam Elite hands-on preview, as I fail several attempts at one of the later missions even on 'Standard' difficulty. Whether I was playing with GamesRadar's very own Sam Loveridge and Leon Hurley, or with the AI bots that can fill in your three-man squad, the xenomorphs dole out an ass-whooping. A different enemy type in the second campaign makes it even harder – and that's all without applying any of Aliens: Fireteam Elite's many Challenge Cards that add a new layer of chaos to gameplay.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is in much better shape than Aliens: Colonial Marines was when it launched in 2013, and will appeal to both Alien fans and achievement-hunters. You'll struggle through some of it, especially if you're alone, but will benefit greatly from having some friends by your side - not unlike how the Colonial Marines handle the xenos in Aliens. But beyond replaying the same missions over and over again with new modifiers, it's unclear if Aliens: Fireteam Elite will have legs beyond its initial launch on August 24 or if it will be as fleeting as one of the xenomorph drones dropping in to slash my face before running into an air vent.
An elite fireteam
Cold Iron Studios' love for the Alien franchise is woven throughout Aliens: Fireteam Elite. The preview build has six missions spread out evenly across two campaigns that both feel so very Alien: the Katanga space station orbiting an oil refinery, and a planet known only as LV895 that has Weyland-Yutani's corporate fingerprints all over it. While the identical hallways of the Katanga space station had me worried Aliens: Fireteam Elite would be too same-y, the massive, drippy caves of LV895 show off the diversity amongst campaigns. I can only hope that the other two campaigns are as different as the first two.
The weapons, while often a bit too quiet, hearken back to the toys of the heavily armed Colonial Marines in James Cameron's Aliens. There's the M56 Smartgun I always wanted Private Vasquez to let me borrow, the automated Sentry Gun that tears through bugs, and a shotgun that looks just like the one Corporal Hicks would wield. There's no real weightiness to the weapons, which is a bit disappointing, but the sound of the M56 Smartgun is unmistakable – even though you may have to turn up the speakers in order to hear it.
The character and gun customization is also a knowing nod to Aliens, as you can outfit your Colonial Marine in armor featuring hand-painted sayings like 'Seek/Destroy' or 'Hellfire.' I always loved that the Marines in Aliens had such personalized armor, and when I found out Cameron let them deck out their own gear, it made it even more special. The weapons have the same level of superficial customization, but with the added bonuses of adding attachments like scopes, magazine, and muzzles. It's unclear just how many attachments will be available in Aliens: Fireteam Elite at launch, but in my brief time with it I unlocked four different muzzles for my Pulse Rifle alone.
Bizarrely, Aliens: Fireteam Elite has several new characters you'll encounter at your home base that are fully voice acted, but they aren't fully animated. I reached out to see if this was a feature that was left out in the current build state, but haven't gotten an answer. With no cut scenes during my playthrough, it's a strange omission that leaves you wanting a bit more characterization - especially when compared to the colorful cast of the Aliens film.
An express elevator to hell
Midway through the last mission in the first campaign, after what seems like endless corridors, I worry aloud that Aliens: Fireteam Elite might feel a bit too samey. Turn a corner, shoot some xenomorphs in a tight corridor, get to the end of that corridor, shoot some xenomorphs in a larger space. Rinse, repeat.
The chest-high walls littered throughout the gamespace are of no use when dozens of xenomorphs can easily scramble up and over them, or drop down from the ceiling over your head. "Why are these here?" Leon Hurley asks as we fight off another swarm that feels identical to the 10 or so other swarms we've faced. The enemies are predominately made up of smaller xenomorphs that skitter towards you and swipe at your knees, along with several other special enemy types that include spitters, bursters, and the seven-foot-something drones. But these enemy types quickly feel rather routine thanks to a fairly uninspiring enemy AI system, and the three of us finish the mission without much fanfare.
That's why I'm more than a little surprised when I boot up Aliens: Fireteam Elite a few days later and try the second available campaign, Giants in the Earth. Gone are the dimly lit corridors and in their place is a dank cave with water steadily dripping down from the surface level. After fighting through several xenomorph swarms, I emerge in a beautiful open area that was clearly once some type of temple. A large stone head clearly referencing the extraterrestrial Engineers responsible for the creation of mankind sits at the center, staring at me impassively. Before I get a chance to snidely remark on the disembodied head, a xenomorph drone jumps out of a hole in the wall and crashes on top of me. I'm forced to hit a few awkward quick-time events to kick her off and she goes scurrying into a different hole.
Just when I think I've gotten a break, several Weyland-Yutani synthetics appear, and the chest-high walls suddenly make a lot of sense. The robotic enemies use cover just like human enemy types would, and take sniper shots at your head from across the map. At this point, Aliens Fireteam: Elite starts to feel a bit more cohesive, and less like a repetitive corridor shooter.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is meant to be played with friends, which makes its lack of crossplay and native voice chat rather baffling. Playing with Sam and Leon meant making a Discord channel in order for us to communicate – an extra step that's at odds with Aliens: Fireteam Elite's co-op focus. Console players can use their console's party chat options, but it's a helluva lot easier to just be able to chat in-game.
And while there is technically a ping system that's meant to alleviate the need for chatting, that term is very generously applied here – there's only one ping option and it requires you to bring up a selection wheel and choose the ping from it. This makes quick pinging items nearly impossible, and there's no baked-in distinguisher for your pings, so if you're pinging a random area or a weapons cache, your character will just gruffly say nondescript phrases like "look at this" or "get it done."
Plus, the absence of crossplay in Aliens: Fireteam Elite threatens to dramatically stunt its shelf life. I played most of the game with the two AI teammates, but it's so much better with friends, especially with the Challenge Card system. When playing with Team GR, all three of us picked a Challenge Card in the pre-game lobby – but only one of those cards was applied. While Sam and I picked cards that wouldn't make our game more difficult, we got Leon's choice: the 'You Must be Reading It Wrong' card, which made our Motion Trackers randomly malfunction. After grouping up, playing alone just never felt the same again – especially because I could only pick one Challenge Card that was automatically applied to my game.
Cold Iron Studios is relying heavily on Challenge Cards to increase Aliens: Fireteam Elite's replay value, but I'm not sure that's enough. For achievement hungry gamers, Challenge Cards may whet their appetite for a while, but the four campaigns may still grow stale, especially with an enemy AI that can be a bit wonky. During my playthrough, there were several moments where a smaller xenomorph got stuck on a piece of the environment, and I had to cut my play sesh with Leon and Sam short when the big-bad xenomorph glitched into an air vent and never came out, preventing us from triggering the end of the area. Whether these are just early build bugs or indicative of a bug problem separate from the xenomorph issue remains to be seen.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite can be a bit of fun, especially with friends, but I can't imagine that fun capturing the gaming zeitgeist. Challenge Cards and difficulty levels add replayability value, but a clear love for the Aliens franchise may not be enough to keep it on our radar for very long.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite drops August 24 on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC. It will cost $39.99.