Aliens: Fireteam Elite on PS5
You’d think adapting one of cinema’s most iconic and fearsome monsters to video games would be an absolute cake walk, but in truth, Ridley Scott’s beloved beasties have mostly had a hard time morphing their DNA with the interactive medium… well, mostly. From the heady highs of Creative Assembly’s excellent Alien: Isolation to the dreary doldrums of 2013’s disappointing Aliens: Colonial Marines, finding a fun experience centered around everyone’s favorite parasitic extraterrestrial has been a bit of a crapshoot. Whether that hit-and-miss trend will continue after Aliens: Fireteam Elite is anyone’s guess, but what I can say is this: Cold Iron Studios’ debut is an effortlessly entertaining co-op shooter that leverages the sci-fi horror licence in plenty of smart and engaging ways. Phew!
Taking place 23 years after the original film trilogy, Aliens: Fireteam Elite throws you into the planet-hopping military boots of a newly recruited United States Colonial Marine who’s been sent to investigate a mysterious distress call from LV-895. While not the most creative way to frame the overall narrative, it’s a familiar enough setup that feels respectful to the source material while simultaneously getting players into the thick of the action sharpish.
Once you’ve finished creating your own character in an easy-to-use menu, you’ll be introduced to the UAS Endeavor which functions as a hub world for you and your teammates. From here, you can receive missions, glean new story information from the many members of the ship’s ramshackle crew and even purchase new equipment from the Armory. Before you take off on your first mission, however, you’ll need to choose a class for your character.
Specifically, there are four individual classes to choose from, with a fifth unlockable class available once you’ve beaten all four campaigns. Gunner, Demolisher, Technician and Doc are all available from the start and each offer their own special abilities, active team abilities, unique weapons and unlockable perks. Overall, I found the Doc’s healing Trauma Station to be an exceptionally useful boon to help remedy my teammates’ wounds during intensive firefights, while the Demolisher’s heavy Smartgun was super handy to clear out roomfuls of pesky xenos.
Elsewhere, the Technician’s rechargeable turrets were convenient when my team was in a bind and the Gunner’s Overclock ability, which increases your team’s fire rate and reload speed, was handy as well. In all, though, each class brings something new to the table, and there’ll likely be one or two that’ll really jive with your personal playstyle.
Interestingly, fans of Scott’s prequels – Prometheus and Alien: Covenant – will be in for a bit of treat as not only are specific characters, like Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, alluded to in the game’s backstory, but much of those aforementioned films’ iconography are lovingly recreated in the map architecture and level design, too. Before you know it, the futuristic hallways of the UAS Endeavor soon give way to winding xenomorph hives, mossy jungle-like caverns, crumbling engineer monuments and ancient extraterrestrial civilisations, which are all a joy to behold, especially if you’re a fan of the series like yours truly.
If you’ve played World War Z or the Left For Dead titles, you’ll feel instantly at home with how the game works. There are four distinct campaigns in total and each one is broken up into three levels. While each of these levels can be completed in only around 45 minutes, Aliens: Fireteam Elite has been designed to be replayed multiple times thanks to a handful of unlockable difficulty settings, an unlockable Horde mode and a fairly deep progression system (more on this later). Because of the online-centric nature of the title, though, multiplayer and offline single-player are intimately entwined, meaning every one of the levels must be played in a team of three whether you’re opting for online co-op or not.
Thankfully, if you’re playing solo, AI bots will always fill out your squad. Most importantly, these bots – on the whole – are actually pretty helpful, and are a totally viable option to help get you through the main campaigns on lower difficulty settings. The AI will consistently give you fire support, will resuscitate you when you’re downed and will occasionally even throw a grenade when the going gets tough.
That being said, I’d be lying if I said the AI bots were a perfect replacement for real-life teammates by your side. You see, not only does the AI never use their special class-specific abilities, but they also never use consumable support items to help assist you. In other words, the AI bots may be fine in a pinch, but playing with your friends will almost always be more effective.
But let’s get down to brass tacks: what’s the moment-to-moment gameplay like when you finally get your boots on the ground of LV-895 and the co-op action finally drops anchor? Well, the good news is the core gunplay is incredibly snappy and fluid which is absolutely critical in a third-person shooter like Aliens: Fireteam Elite. Moreover, enemies come thick and fast and the movement of the xenomorphs is dynamic and aggressive. While each individual enemy may be small fry, the sheer volume of your adversaries can quickly overwhelm a disorganised team, especially on the higher difficulty levels, much like in World War Z.
It’s worth noting, then, that there are five difficulty levels – Casual, Standard, Intense, Extreme and Insane – and the viciousness of the xenomorphs’ AI relies heavily on what difficulty you’ve opted for. The thing is, if you’re rocking AI bots, you’ll sometimes get stonewalled by some really nasty difficulty spikes that can completely decimate your team in a matter of seconds.
One minute you’ll be laying waste to a legion of xenos, and the next moment, a huge Warrior alien will be running amok using your teammates as human toothpicks. On one hand, it’s awesome to see a deadlier and nastier version of the xenomorph make an appearance – as opposed to the cannon fodder that the game regularly throws at you – but on the other hand, I do wish the difficulty spikes were a little less jarring and the elite enemies weren’t such massive bullet sponges.
Speaking of nasty aliens, there are a myriad of different types of xenos in Aliens: Fireteam Elite and each of them behave differently and boast some sort of special ability or unique attack. Acid-spewing Spitters, exploding Bursters, stalker-esque Prowlers, crafty Drones, scampering Facehuggers and huge lumbering Praetorians are just a taster of what’s waiting in the shadows to give unsuspecting marines a big ol’ hug.
Indeed, it’s terrific to see such a diverse enemy roster and I really appreciate that Cold Iron Studios took some creative liberties when it comes to the game’s menagerie of monstrosities. Even the Working Joes from Alien: Isolation make a cameo appearance; however, it’s H.R. Giger’s infamous critters at the heart of the experience that are still the most fun to go toe-to-toe with.
What will help keep players coming back for more, though, is a fully fleshed out levelling and progression system that allows you to customize your loadout and tailor weapons, perks and abilities to your own preferred playstyle. Not only do you gain XP for your specific character and individual guns, but you’ll also accrue XP for each designated class as well. Speaking of which, there’s even a unique grid that allows you to plug new class perks and class modifiers into your loadout, much like juggling items in Resident Evil 4’s attache case. In short, there’s a lot of depth here, but it doesn’t just end there.
Challenge cards are a pretty cool additive feature that give players an extra layer of welcome customization. These can be unlocked as you make progress through the game and each one offers your team a unique objective that rewards you with valuable loot. Completing a level without anyone getting downed or perhaps completing a level with your guns cursed with triple recoil are just a couple of examples of what to expect. Be mindful, though: failing a Challenge card will see you losing it from your inventory permanently.
Presentation-wise, the game looks visually arresting and plays incredibly smoothly, too. I didn’t run into any framerate issues whatsoever, which is impressive for an experience as intensive as Aliens: Fireteam Elite. The orchestral score is spot on as well, with atmospheric soundscapes swelling to the rhythm of the chaotic action on-screen. Further ratcheting up the tension and punctuating the second-to-second action, however, are the spine-chillingly authentic screams of the bloodthirsty aliens that often signpost when a more powerful elite enemy is on its way. The audio design is very creepy indeed, and the general menu designs are also easy to navigate and concise.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the minor quibbles I had with the title. While the enemy AI is mostly pretty nasty, there were odd occasions where adversaries would do silly things like suddenly spawning into existence or even clipping into parts of the level. Fortunately, these moments were few and far between and only happened very occasionally. Hopefully, Cold Iron Studios will resolve these inconsistencies with a potential future patch.
Another quibble I had was that the gameplay loop can sometimes get a little formulaic. The cadence of moving from Point A to Point B, hunkering down and then taking down waves upon waves of xenomorphs is textbook game design. I mean, who doesn’t like taking down throngs of iconic space monsters, eh? Truth is, while I admire the game’s purity as a wave-based shooter, it would’ve perhaps been nice to round out the package with an additional asymmetrical mode that gave you the opportunity to play as the alien, à la 2010’s Aliens Vs. Predator. A boy can dream, right?
All in all, however, these are very minor reservations for what is ultimately one of the best action-centric games based on the Aliens licence, well… ever. It’s consistently engaging, surprisingly deep and radically enhanced when you’ve got a couple of friends in tow. While a few minor AI and presentational bugs hold it back from being the perfect organism fans have been hoping for, Aliens: Fireteam Elite absolutely nails that one-last-stand thrill of roleplaying a badass marine with your back against the wall battling overwhelmingly insurmountable odds. Let’s rock? Aye-firmative.
Harsh difficulty spikes.
Some minor AI and presentational bugs.