Aliens: Fireteam has been a long time coming, both in the Aliens game universe sense and for Cold Iron Studios, the developer that's been working on the title since 2016. That's why the excitement during our preview event was palpable and spread equally amongst the members of the dev team and those of us watching the presentation. If you're a fan of the Alien universe, the whispers of a new video game will attract you like a facehugger to, well, a face. And with news that the co-op third-person shooter is dropping this summer after years of dead space, you probably want to know what you're in for.
The last major game set in this universe was Alien: Isolation, the critically acclaimed survival horror game from Creative Assembly in 2014, but Cold Iron Studios wants you to know that Aliens: Fireteam will be nothing like it. "We sat down with 20th Century Fox and looked at the franchise and looked at the major gaming things that existed," head of Cold Iron Studios Craig Zinkievich explains. "There's the Ridley Scott alien fantasy – Ripley against a single Xenomorph – Alien: Isolation did an amazing job with that." But Cold Iron doesn't want to do Ripley against one Xenomorph; the studio is instead looking to the sci-fi action of James Cameron's Aliens for inspiration, and it wants to give you all the toys and firepower of the Colonial Marines so that you can take on dozens of the bastards.
Other than an impressive arsenal of weapons and a legion of Xenomorphs trying to disembowel you, what can you expect when Aliens: Fireteam drops this summer on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and PC? I took away from my brief preview that Aliens: Fireteam is a game that may not visually wow, but seems to have a unique kind of gameplay approach that may lend itself well to streamers and achievement hunters.
There's no 'I' in Aliens - wait
Aliens: Fireteam will drop you and two other Colonial Marines onto the Katanga, a space station orbiting an oil refinery that was reported lost decades ago. It's been emitting a distress call and the fresh boots aboard the USS Endeavor are obliged to check it out. The game will consist of four replayable story-driven campaigns that tell a cohesive story about what's going on aboard the Katanga and what it means within the larger Alien universe. Expect four entirely different, yet iconic environments across the campaigns, including ancient alien ruins and corporate monoliths floating in the far reaches of space.
You can't handle the legions of Xenomporphs alone, however. While games like Aliens: Colonial Marines gave you the option of dropping in solo or with a four stack of Marines, Aliens: Fireteam relies heavily on teamwork to get through each campaign. You'll have the option of finding teammates online or playing with two AI squad members, with each member of your party choosing one of five unique Marine classes. These classes drastically differ when it comes to loadouts, skill sets, abilities, and more, and you'll want to make sure they compliment each other – or else you'll be Xenomorph lunch.
The five unique classes are Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, Doc, and Recon, and you'll be able to swap between them as you're readying up at the start of each mission. Tactical synergy is the name of the game here, as each class has a well-defined gameplay role. Technicians set up perimeters, and when those fall to the faster, more spry Xenomorphs, the Demolisher will come in and clear those bad boys out with a set of heavy weapons. The Gunner is your standard issue hardcore soldier, equipped with a powerful fragmentation grenade and an ability that lets the rest of the fireteam fire at twice the rate and reload twice as fast.
During the hands-off gameplay preview, a Technician (played by Cold Iron Studios' creative director Matt Highison) sets up a turret and tells the squad to protect it. Sure enough, swarms of Xenomorphs continuously barrage the thing until it breaks, which results in one of the teammates getting down. "I can make it! I can make it!" he shouts, crawling to the elevator that the squad just called. Enemies fill the elevator, downing another player just as the doors close and the mission "ends". The trio of developers, all of whom have played this game countless times, laugh in disbelief. They barely made it – imagine how hard it's gonna be for us.
Customize your Colonial Marine
James Cameron's Aliens was a far-cry from the original film, choosing instead to place the stone-faced, jaded Ripley amongst a ragtag battalion of Colonial Marines that wouldn't be out of place in a Gears of War sequel. There's Private Hudson, aka Bill Paxton brilliantly playing a himbo, Private Vasquez, who definitely shook up some feelings for us bisxual women, and Corporal Hicks, who is just trying to keep these kids in line. Aliens is full of hoo-rah moments and oozes that special brand of Marines masculinity – it feels like a lived-in, real-life group of soldiers up against insurmountable odds.
And while I'd be the first in line to play as Private Hudson in Aliens: Fireteam, Cold Iron Studios cleverly wants you to create your own Colonial Marine. Choose from an arsenal of dozens of classic weapons (there's over 30 weapons in this game, with 80 different attachments), decide how your character looks and sounds, and level them up as you see fit. "It's not about inhabiting a pre-created character in a licensed universe, we want to create our own character and become immersed," Zinkievich explains. That just means you'll be even more heartbroken when you reload at the wrong time and end up with a facehugger on your customized character.
Since most of the Cold Iron team comes from deep RPG backgrounds, expect your Marine's level-up options to be incredibly in-depth. You'll level up your kits and your weapons, getting access to tons more equipment, and further customizing your build with all of the weapon attachments available. In Aliens, the Marines come armed to the teeth with a wide-variety of weapons that would absolutely decimate a Xenomorph on paper, but prove less successful out in the field. As a result, they're forced to get creative, which is when Ripley steps in. After all, she's beaten one of these things in her underwear, god damnit.
From my brief look at Aliens: Fireteam in action, it certainly seems like you'll walk into every fight with an impressive kit, but you won't be able to rely on all your gadgets to survive. Even the Cold Iron Studios team lost two-thirds of its squad to a swarm of the nasty buggers, and they had a turret set up in a pretty nifty location. Considering there will be 20 different enemy types in this game, with 11 different Xenomorphs, it seems like you won't ever be fully prepared for what lies ahead.
Aliens: Fireteam again and again
Aliens: Fireteam might be launching in 2021 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X, but it isn't arriving with the next-gen graphical accouterments that you'd expect from such a release, such as ray-traced lighting and the like. In fact, there's no plan to include such enhancements at this time, according to Cold Iron's PR, as the team focuses on delivering the most fluid multiplayer experience that it can for launch. As a result, Aliens: Fireteam doesn't look better than any other sci-fi squad-based shooters you can play now, such as GTFO, nor does it necessarily look all that much prettier than 2014's Alien: Isolation.
For better or for worse, Cold Iron is investing its resources elsewhere. The studio is trying to create an experience with massive replay value, something that you and your friends can dip into night after night only to find an ever-present challenge. To achieve this, Cold Iron has built a Challenge Card system; over 40 different mission modifiers that can be earned as you play and applied to mission replays. Zinkievich calls them 'mutators' and they seem ripe for streaming: noir mode, tac cam mode, a challenge that requires you to get 100 headshots or complete a mission within a time limit. It's the kind of stuff you can already hear streamers screeching over. Some Challenge Cards add more enemies, or make it so that body shots do no damage whatsoever and you've gotta aim for weak points or headshots only. Basically, you can replay these missions over and over again, and have a different experience every time - many of which just scream "chaos."
And with five difficulty levels that will turn Xenomorph acid from a temporary annoyance into a bonafide killer, it's easy to see how achievement hunters and gamers who love seemingly insurmountable feats could get hooked on Aliens: Fireteam. This game is hard, so much so that one of the main reasons why Cold Iron went third-person instead of FPS was because you needed more sightlines. "On harder difficulties the Xenomorphos are crawling out of every nook and cranny," Highison explains. "You really need to be able to see a full peripheral vision of what's happening there."
Aliens: Fireteam wants you to survive the hive, and while it won't be easy and it may not necessarily look the best, it's poised to be the kind of game that could capture the current gaming zeitgeist. However, there's still a lot for Cold Iron Studios to reveal, including how much the game will cost, and if there's any post-game content to look forward to. Until then, it's safe to say that Aliens: Fireteam is a game to keep your eye on.
Play your own Aliens movie on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X this summer.