In a way it’s impossible to talk about Aliens: Fireteam Elite
without talking about the seminal sci-fi classic Aliens (1986)
from director James Cameron. A film where we got our first definitive cinematic look at Colonial Marines and Colonial Marine action. And thanks to the action set pieces, art direction, dialogue, music, and sound design it’s been a source of inspiration for decades. Its influence being front and centre in a game like StarCraft
, with subtle references found in many first-person shooters and other sci-fi related videogames.
Fireteam Elite isn’t so much “a game based on a movie” as it is an in-universe homage filtered through the guise of a co-op survival shooter. Where the Xeno hordes come thick and fast, and the marines are all like “Game Over man… Game Over”. Sure, it’s a Left 4 Dead
-style game when it comes to the feel and overall “how it plays” co-op structure, right down to the campaign and in-mission stuff. But, in nailing the Aliens look and feel it has immediate appeal.
The sound of the Pulse Rifle and scanner that beeps whenever a threat is near, the space steam that emanates in seemingly every dimly lit room you find, the screams of the Xenomorphs as they fall to the firepower from a nearby turret, the musical cues, the blend of alien architecture (granted a lot of this is more like Prometheus
than Aliens) with that industrial space age Cameronian blue and orange.
In a way it’s impossible to talk about Aliens: Fireteam Elite without talking about the seminal sci-fi classic Aliens (1986) from director James Cameron.
And really it’s this side of Fireteam Elite, in addition to grouping up with friends, that drives the motivation to see it through and potentially try out a different class. One that doesn’t come equipped with a screen-filling flamethrower or OP smart gun with auto targeting. Which I only did for the briefest of moments, to see how seemingly useless the medic class was. And it is.
Prep for Dust Off, We’re Gonna Need Immediate Evac
Talking about the price of a game is something we don’t normally throw into a review, but it’s worth noting that Aliens: Fireteam Elite is not a full-priced $100 AUD game. It’s what you’d call a budget or mid-tier release. Now, it’s never a good thing to equate quality with a dollar value, there are brilliant games available right now that only do minimal damage to the ol’ digital wallet. Talking about the Aliens: Fireteam Elite launch RRP does add a bit of context though, in that it explains some of the bare-minimum approach found throughout.
Perhaps the potential scope and budget developer Cold Iron Studios
had to work with was limited from the get-go, so being nothing more than an Aliens-based take on Left 4 Dead was the entirety of the brief and goal. Ultimately though, even on that front it falls short. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is the sort of finite experience that could be described as “a way to pass the time for an afternoon or two”.
Digging even just the tiniest bit and you’ll discover an acid-eroded core that lacks any of the detail found in the admittedly very cool movie-like presentation. The Xeno attack patterns look exactly like attack patterns, right down to individual aliens being assigned targets. So, if your squad-mate is targeted and you just so happen to walk in front of them or try to intervene, the Xeno in question will run around you and completely ignore any and all shots you take.
When they decide to crawl on the ceiling, it looks cool until you see that the animation is always the same and the Xenos never react to what’s happening nearby. In other words, they won’t cut the power.
There's movement all over the place!
‘Static’ probably best describes the nature of both the missions and enemies you face, right down to the same big-bad threats appearing at the exact same time and place each and every run. There’s spitters, explodies, tanks, and variations of a theme. There’s a lack of meaningful environmental interaction, or variety for that matter. The setup has you go from one horde room to the next without any room to breathe, and that’s for every stage including the final mission.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is the sort of finite experience that could be described as “a way to pass the time for an afternoon or two”.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is lacking in both horror and tension too. The latter arrives during the hectic closing horde battles, but even then it’s a little forced when all the game is doing is throwing “even more aliens at you”. Variety is interesting in that after the first Xeno-heavy campaign chapter you finally get an answer to “Why is there a cover mechanic?”. The answer being, androids have gone bad and have been given guns so here’s the same deal but in the style of Gears of War.
Press a thing, fight some waves, and then keep fighting little waves and hordes as you make your way to the next button. It leaves little room for getting excited about the progression systems in play, which are decent and detailed enough. From new weapons and gadgets and perks and mods, through to cards that can modify rewards by adding challenges. From adding conditions through to limiting abilities or throwing in tougher enemies.
Granted the card stuff is interesting but a little half-baked, you can fully equip a card that asks you to complete the first chapter’s final mission without a squad member being downed. But you can equip that specific card during any chapter -- and will be told you failed in the post-mission breakdown. You’d think the game would know it wasn’t that specific mission.
There’s one card that offers a sizable reward buff but adds a chance for weapons to jam - which seems reasonable. Except our weapons jammed after every third or fourth shot with that card in play -- even fully automatic ones. Everyone in the squad. Consequently it made the whole stage a laughable head-scratching chore to play-through.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite certainly falls short in a number of areas, but the addition of AI companions is one that feels like a step or two (or three) behind even the most basic Left 4 Dead’s stand-ins. Here your AI buddies take on the form of a robot (cool) but without drop in or drop out co-op available (not cool). That whole thing of the AI being able to res you or fight alongside you even in Left 4 Dead’s hardest modes? Yeah, not possible here - as solo-play is basically limited to the easy difficulty on account of the useless circuitry by your side.
Press a thing, fight some waves, and then keep fighting little waves and hordes as you make your way to the next button.
Playing in a squad is the experience in terms of actual playability, and on that front it’s fun to be in the midst of a distinct 1986 cinematic Aliens vibe for a time. Sharing in the look and feel, pointing out the similarities, the inconsistencies, and questioning some of the questionable logic. In the end the impressive, but static, visuals and sound design do a lot to put you into the universe. But, at best Aliens: Fireteam Elite is what you play in the arcade before jumping into the cinema proper.