As its name suggests, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is inspired by James Cameron’s 1986 classic sci-fi film. Unlike 2014’s Alien: Isolation, which took a survival-horror approach, Aliens: Fireteam Elite favors nonstop action.
When it comes to video-game adaptations, the Alien franchise has a spotty history. While Aliens: Fireteam Elite is by no mean the worst offender of the bunch, it does commit a cardinal gaming sin: it’s extremely bland.
If you’ve played a third-person co-op shooter in the past decade, then you’ve already played this game. Aliens: Fireteam Elite does nothing to innovate in the genre, and has barely any original ideas of its own.
In spite of this, the game does offer some mindless fun, primarily thanks to the strength of the Alien IP. While you’ll be doing things you’ve done in countless other titles, shooting a charging Xenomorph with a smart gun never fails to elicit a smile. Read on for our full Aliens: Fireteam Elite review.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite review: Gameplay
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a third-person shooter that puts you and two squadmates in a desperate fight for survival against a horde of aggressive aliens. You'll also square off against a whole army of malfunctioning synthetics, and a few surprises I won’t spoil here.
There are initially four character classes to choose from: Gunner, Demolisher, Technician and Doc. You'll also unlock a fifth class once you complete the campaign. Each class has its own unique abilities, perks and weapons. It’s fun to experiment with each one, but as classes level up independently, the game encourages you to pick a favorite and stick with it.
You’ll be fighting hordes of enemies mostly comprising — you’ve guessed it — Aliens. The standard Xenomorphs go down easily but there are 11 separate types to dispatch. Some of the more advanced evolutions, such as the Warrior type, are seriously aggressive, and can overwhelm your squad if you’re not careful.
You'll also have to contend with synthetics, who wield more traditional weapons. The snappy cover system comes into play against these foes. Curiously, firefights against synthetics are frequently more enjoyable than mindlessly mowing down waves of Xenomorphs. The levels that throw both enemies into an arena together are the best, though. Sitting back and letting them duke it out before mopping up the survivors is great fun.
The game assumes you'll be playing online co-op, and is very up-front about that. While you can play alone — two AI-controlled companions round out your fireteam — developer Cold Iron Studio recommends playing with friends.
I echo this sentiment. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a largely unremarkable third-person person shooter, and playing the game solo just highlights this shortcoming. When playing with friends ,the sense of camaraderie can see you through the game’s repetitive encounters and rote mission objectives. With only a pair of AI bots on your side, the game quickly loses its appeal.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite offers four campaigns, each one containing three missions. Each mission takes around 30 minutes to complete. Upon finishing the game, you unlock a generic horde mode. That may not sound like a huge amount of content, but the game incentivizes replaying missions multiple times.
Leveling up each class takes longer than a single playthrough, and there are dozens of weapons, perks, attachments and cosmetic items to unlock. You can also earn Challenge Cards that slightly modify levels, forcing you to switch up your approach. Of course, whether you’ll want to repeat the same handful of levels just to unlock new gear and continue the cycle is another question.
It's worth pointing out that Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a tough game. There are three difficulty settings to choose from initially, with two more unlocked upon completing the game. But don’t be surprised if your team wipes frequently, even on the standard difficulty setting. To survive on the hardest difficulties, you’ll need a high-level squad, strong cooperation and someone playing as the medic class.
Frustratingly, even the easiest difficulty doesn’t offer mid-mission checkpoints. Instead,the game punishes you mercilessly for any mistakes. Spending 30 minutes crawling through a tough level, only to fall at the final hurdle and be sent back to the start, is demoralizing. The extreme difficulty spikes in some of the early levels don’t help, either.
The game itself recommends that you play on Hard difficulty from the start. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, I would not advise doing that.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite: Story and setting
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is set 23 years after the original Alien movies, and tells a standalone story. It works as a decent jumping-on point for anyone unfamiliar with the franchise, but diehard fans will get an extra kick out of the winking references.
The story follows a group of Colonial Marines on board the USS Endeavor. They respond to a distress call from an outer colony, and quickly find themselves overrun by Xenomorphs. The majority of the story comes via radio chatter during missions, which makes the proceedings difficult to follow.
Often, you’ll miss important information because you’re preoccupied with a wave of enemies descending on your location. Or a member of your squad will be barking instructions as a dramatic story beat unfolds. Even if you regularly pause to fully absorb each bit of information, the narrative is at best passable.
When you're not not on missions, you can walk around the Endeavor and speak to its crewmembers. Prepare for some lengthy lore dumps as characters spout minutes of backstory at you. While the additional context is a nice touch, speaking to the supporting cast is often like listening to someone recite a very dry wiki page.
The Alien universe setting is the game’s strongest aspect. The retro-futuristic interior of the Endeavor makes a striking first impression when you boot up the game. Plus, the campaign missions take you through a range of interesting locations, from sinister space station corridors to crumbling ruins with striking ancient monuments. Anyone with even a passing interest in the Alien franchise should appreciate how much Cold Iron Studios loves the series.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite: Visuals and sound
Aliens: Fireteam Elite isn’t the most graphically impressive game on the PS5 or Xbox Series X, but has some excellent visual design. The game does a solid job of recreating the look of the films.
However, it’s disappointing that some areas feel carefully crafted, while others look uninspired. You'll fight through plenty of indistinguishable corridors, but you'll also frequently come across locations where your whole team pauses to admire the view.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Aliens: Fireteam Elite is its stiff character animations. In particular, the way your Colonial Marine swaps weapons looks downright goofy. However, the Xenomorph movements are a pleasant surprise. The creatures scurry along the ground and run up walls to avoid your fire in a convincing way.
The sound design is a mixed bag. While the Xenomorphs shriek as you’d expect, and guns fire with plenty of aural oomph, the musical score is hit or miss. Sometimes it’s great, adding an unnerving edge to the atmosphere. Sometimes, it wildly misses the mark.
For example, one mid-game mission features oddly upbeat background music. As you might expect, fighting off waves of aggressive aliens with jaunty melodies in the background doesn’t mesh especially well.
Occasional disconnects that booted my co-op partner from the game made online play a frustrating experience. I also experienced a persistent bug that caused my screen to flicker. This required a hard reset to fix.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite: Verdict
Aliens: Fireteam Elite has its moments, but a repetitive structure and bland gameplay often drag it down. Fans of the franchise will likely find enough reasons to see the adventure through to its end, but those without any attachment to Alien may struggle.
If you can round up a pair of Alien-loving friends and don’t mind replaying a samey collection of missions, then Aliens: Fireteam Elite can be fun in bursts. If you’re embarking on this bug hunt solo, then I’d suggest reconsidering.