Like the Colonial Marines of the 1986 Aliens film, nothing about Aliens: Fireteam Elite is delicate or quiet. It's not hiding in ventilation shafts trying to silently breathe while a xenomorph stomps by, but kicking down doors and letting loose a barrage of fire from an array of weapons that would make Private Hudson salivate.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is not a deftly handled tool that only belongs in the hands of a well-trained professional, but a big ol' hammer looking for some nails to beat in. Those nails are the xenos, and there's plenty of them to go around. Aliens: Fireteam Elite feels like the ideological and mechanical sequel to Alien: Isolation - the gaming version of Aliens to Alien.
Release date: August 24
Platform(s): PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Publisher: Cold Iron Studios
Developer: Cold Iron Studios
Aliens: Fireteam Elite drops you into tense and often chaotic firefights that pit your souped-up team of Colonial Marines against waves of varying xenomorphs and Weyland-Yutani synthetics. It's clearly meant to be played with friends - despite the lack of crossplay - and the gameplay mechanics that lend themselves to co-op play are simple yet effective. Aliens: Fireteam Elite won't blow your mind with a nuanced approach to gameplay or groundbreaking graphics, but it will keep you and a group of friends entertained for several solid hours.
Dripping in Alien lore
The first Aliens: Fireteam Elite mission is set on an oil refinery called the Katanga that's full of the industrial hallways and tight spaces you'd expect from an Aliens game. Thankfully, however, Aliens: Fireteam Elite doesn't just invoke the Aliens film in its level design, as the second mission takes you to the planet Katanga is orbiting - and straight onto what could be a set from the 2012 film Prometheus.
There, during a lovely reprieve from an hour of metal-lined hallways, you explore ruins left by the Engineers, an alien race credited with the creation of mankind. Those ruins are being used by Weyland-Yutani as a xenomorph breeding farm. Because of course, it is. The story at the core of Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a sign of Cold Iron Studios's dedication to its source material. Any fan of the Alien franchise will enjoy picking up the random hidden lore items or getting a bit of exposition from NPCs while aboard your ship.
That's why it's so odd that there are no cut scenes or even animated faces in Aliens: Fireteam Elite. There's little to no dialogue from the character you choose to play as - a nameless Colonial Marine you can customize in ways that nod to the Aliens' film squad. Your character emits the occasional grunt, warning, or heads up as they're healing - but nothing else. However, there's plenty of talking coming from Sergeant Herrera, who acts like this game's Cortana, directing you via comms from the safety of the ship. She's often joined by a few other heavenly voices, including a doctor you save early on and a synthetic named Esther. Herrera and the side characters propel the story as you play, acting as commentators fulfilling different archetypes.
When you're on the ship you can talk to other members of the Colonial Marines by choosing dialogue options from a simplistic menu. And while the voice acting here is surprisingly good, the Marines simply shift through some cycling animations as they chat, their faces frozen in an uncanny caricature of humanity. As I play, I can't help but wonder why Cold Iron Studios didn't animate these scenes - especially since Aliens: Fireteam Elite has no cutscenes that could suck up precious dev time. It's an odd choice that pesters me throughout, but certainly not a deal-breaker.
You know the drill
Aliens: Fireteam Elite feels like a solid arcade shooter from the late 2010s with some added perks. There's nothing here gameplay-wise that will wow you, but its core features have been tried and tested by its predecessors, and they work. While you can pick from one of five classes - Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, Doc, and Recon - some of them feel half-baked, especially the underwhelming Doc. There are RPG elements, but they seem equally half-baked. However, the classes will definitely help make co-op sessions more fun, especially if everyone is fighting over the heavy flamethrower that only the Demolisher can carry.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite feels like Left 4 Dead and Gears of War made a baby that then burst through someone's stomach. It sends waves upon waves of xenomorphs at you that scurry over chest-high walls at your lumbering Colonial Marine who is armed to the teeth. Some of the guns feel disappointingly light, while others (like the flamethrower) afford you all the power of an absolutely unhinged soldier facing something out of their nightmares. You can't help but scream with all the himbo power of the late Bill Paxton's Hudson when firing some of these guns and unlocking attachments, which comes from opening crates or buying them with in-game credits from the vendor, helps make the weaker ones feel better.
There are four campaigns in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, each split up into three missions. The basic mission structure is as such: head through several spaces clearing aliens, arrive at a bigger space that requires you to set up perimeter defenses before triggering a gigantic horde, defeat that horde and end the mission. Yes, this format can get a bit stale, but Cold Iron Studios is banking on the variety that comes with co-op and a bevy of Challenge Cards (which we'll get to in a moment) to keep you from getting too bored.
The first mission in Aliens: Fireteam Elite throws only a handful of xenomorph enemy types at me like swarming, skittering soldiers and acid-spitting spitters, but as the campaign progresses I run into a nice variety of baddies. There are xenomorph warriors that stand 7-feet-tall and charge you like a horrific bipedal bull, twitchy facehuggers that leap out of unfurled eggs, Weyland-Yutani synthetics wielding flamethrowers, and a semi-invisible enemy known as the Leon stalker. Aliens: Fireteam Elite does a great job of capturing the feel of Aliens, where a seemingly impossible amount of xenomorphs swarm and leap out at you at every turn. It can quickly get overwhelming, and playing with friends means there will be a lot of panicked laughter.
The only save points come at the end of each mission, which can run anywhere from 20-40 minutes depending on your difficulty level. Yes, that means you could get all the way to the end of a nearly 30-minute stretch of gameplay and have to restart it because you died, so mentally prepare yourself for this. I was only playing on casual and this happened to me more than once - the most painful of which was when I felled two xenomorph praetorians (the biggest you can get aside from the queen) just to get a single swipe from a lowly foot soldier and die right before the mission ended.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite again?
Despite my struggles and the fact that I only played with two AI teammates hilariously skinned like friendly Weyland-Yutani synths, I'm done with Aliens: Fireteam Elite in about five hours on a casual playthrough. Beating it on casual automatically unlocks the option to play through the missions on both 'extreme' and 'insanity' difficulties, which will definitely entice achievement chasers.
Then there are the Challenge Cards, which Cold Iron Studios is very clearly banking on in terms of replayability. There are over 40 different Challenge Cards that act as mutators, either making your play-throughs more difficult, more easy, or just more chaotic. I don't use any Challenge Cards during my play-through as I'm keenly aware of my review time limit, but myself, Sam Loveridge, and Leon Hurley used a few during an Aliens: Fireteam Elite hands-on preview. They're definitely fun, but serve the same purpose in terms of replayability as the difficulty levels, in that it will only entice achievement chasers or players who like to repeatedly up the ante. For those of us who crave new content or a longer campaign, it doesn't seem like Aliens: Fireteam Elite has any plans to deliver on that.
With the short campaign and focus on three-person multiplayer (sans crossplay), I can't help but wonder if Cold Iron Studios should implement a share-play option. At $40, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is not a full-priced game, but with the experience so heavily invested in the concept of getting friends together on the same consoles, it would be nice to offer a way into the fray for free - even if it's just for a mission or two.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is just okay as a solo shooter, but the inclusion of friends makes the gameplay sing. As far as the curse of Alien games goes, Aliens: Fireteam Elite seems to have safely avoided it - this is a fun, frantic third-person shooter set to a score that feels like James Horner himself wrote it. Xenomorphs will rain down from the ceiling, scammer over walls, and jump out of ventilation shafts almost ceaselessly, which makes for a really fun, fast playthrough. Whether or not Aliens: Fireteam Elite will keep players enticed for a second go-round has yet to be determined...
Reviewed on Xbox Series S with a code provided by the publisher.