STAFF REVIEW of Aliens: Fireteam Elite (Xbox One)

Monday, August 30, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Aliens: Fireteam Elite Box art The Alien movies have a massive fan base, as it’s one of the more influential and important cinematic movies of our lifetime for its genre. An instant classic, Alien spawned multiple movie sequels, novels, games and more, so to say that fans are passionate about it is an understatement. We all know the history with movie licensed games though, so I’m always skeptical when a game releases that’s tied to a movie franchise. There are exceptions to the rule, but there are also textbook cases like Aliens: Colonial Marines that was a complete disaster, so I went into Aliens: Fireteam Elite with tepid expectations, as it’s built as a three player cooperative survival shooter, not tied on any specific movie.

Set 23 years after the original movie trilogy, Aliens: Fireteam Elite takes place aboard the UAS Endeavor, looking to explore and extract any survivors. If you’re an Aliens buff, you’ll be happy to know that there’s plenty of lore here that revolves around the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, or as most know it by as “The Company”, Xenomorphs, iconic weaponry like the Flamethrower and more. Given that this takes place well after the movies, mankind knows much more about the Xenomorphs, which is why you’ll have no problem shooting down hundreds of them without much effort, unlike in the movies when they were a new and unknown threat.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear that many of the levels were ripped right out of the movies, as it felt very much like a true Aliens experience traversing down tight corridors, never knowing what’s around the corner or ceilings. While there is an overarching narrative that takes place across 4 Chapters, each of which have 3 Acts, there’s not much to talk about unless you search around and find the hidden logs. This is exasperated by the fact there’s no real cutscenes you’d expect from a huge franchise like this, nor was any effort put into actually having NPC’s you talk to attempt any lip-syncing at all, so much of its narrative just falls flat.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is billed as a cooperative shooter, so you’ll choose from one of five unique classes: Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, Doc and Recon. It should be noted though that you don’t actually gain access to the Recon class until after you’ve completed the campaign unfortunately. Each class has its own leveling, abilities, perks and more, so make sure to try them out and see what suits your playstyle and team best. Thankfully you are able to double up on classes, so you don’t have to worry about playing a class you don’t want to if someone else is wanting the same one. Weapon types are tied to specific classes, with more than 30 available, along with plenty of mods and attachments for your weaponry to alter their effectiveness as you take out Xeno’s. I did find it odd that Aliens: Fireteam Elite only utilizes three player co-op, yet has five classes to choose from.

Each class has two abilities mapped to the Bumpers, unique for each. I mainly played the Doc, so one of my abilities was a deployable canister that healed anyone within its radius, and the other gave an accuracy buff for myself and teammates. You aren’t forced to play a certain class or composition, but it sure did help having a Demolisher friend in our group that was able to do massive explosions when we started to get overrun by Xeno’s or Facehuggers. The Technician has a deployable mini turret that can be great when you’re trying to hold your ground against an oncoming attack, and while I didn’t gravitate to every class, you’re sure to find one that speaks to your playstyle.

To further customize your character aside from weapon choice, there’s an interesting perk system that I really enjoyed once I took the time to understand it fully, as it’s not really explained well. You have a perk board that set in a grid-like system. The grey squares are where you can place any unlocked perks and mods but they have to physically fit in this grid, much like how you had to physically fit your loot in Diablo 3’s inventory. Some perks are large 2x2 squares, others are 1x3 or larger, so you’ll need to figure out which ones you want to use and then see if there’s a way to even do so with the other mods and perks. To make things even more complicated, certain mods, usually 1x2 in size, are small, but need to be attached to certain sides of the grid where your abilities rest on its outer edge. It’s a little complicated at first, but as you level up your class you’ll unlock more grid area for your perks, allowing you to fit in more or however you see fit.

There are multiple difficulties to choose, from Casual up to Extreme, though you need to complete the campaign to unlock the two hardest. Even on Casual, your first few chapters are going to be rough going until you can get your gear score up and learn how best to stave off against the never ending swarms of Xeno. While there are 12 levels in all for the campaign, they will all generally play out the exact same way. You rush from point A to B, once there you have to hold the line and stay alive for a few minutes, then go to the next point to do it all over again until the exit of the level is accessible. There’s really no variation of this gameplay loop at all save for the final level nor is there any massive cool boss fights or setpieces. While it’s enjoyable for a while, every level is literally the same setup, so there’s some mundaneness that comes with repeating the same level layout over and over again.

The best parts are when you’re having to interact with a button or something, waiting for a door to open or a download. This is where waves of unrelenting enemies conveniently start to rush at you, becoming more challenging as you go, eventually spawning Spitters, Warriors, Preatorians and other Xeno types. These swarms can be quite challenging and hectic, but you’ll also find caches of equipment at certain points alongside ammo crates and health packs. This equipment can be special ammo types, mines, turrets and more, and will be necessary to use at the best times if you want a chance at surviving on the harder difficulties.

While you’ll fight off generic Xeno fodder most of the time, the harder enemies are much more of a bullet sponge, forcing your team to focus fire and utilizing your abilities if you want to take them down quickly before you get overrun. Remember though, Xeno’s blood is acidic and will harm you if you step in it, so you’ve always got to be aware of your footing. Thankfully this fades away quickly, as does the corpses, though it would have been cool to see a mound of Xeno corpses piled up after a massive firefight.

Just like in the films, Xenomorphs can seemingly come out of nowhere; tunnels, cubby holes, vents and any other crawl place, so you’ll always need to be on your toes. You do have the iconic radar system, looking and sounding as if it was ripped right out of the movies themselves. You do though need to learn to always be on the move though, as even when you clear one of the mini horde sections where you’re just trying to survive, enemies will almost always be in pursuit of you. This means there are very few moments of actual rest, so if someone on your team needs to use the washroom or step away, you’re going to be in for a bad time.

There are some hidden lore documents within the levels to be found, but aside from that and one hidden cache per level, there’s no real reason to explore the levels sadly. This means you literally just want to run to your objective markers whenever they appear and focus on that instead of exploration, which is a shame given how good some of the levels are designed and appear. Another design choice that some might not agree with is that there’s no regenerating health of any kind unless you have a Doc on your team. You’ll need to look for health packs set at the main checkpoints, though there’s only ever one per player placed for you, so you’re going to have to communicate who needs it the most, though you are able to heal other players with yours if needed.

So you’ve beaten the campaign and wondering what else there is to do aside from grinding through it multiple times to level up your other classes? There’s also a card system that you can choose to play if you wish that adds modifiers to each level you use them on. This card system will add unique modifiers that will make gameplay near impossible but give massive bonuses to XP and credit rewards, or rare cards that give bonus money for completion for a certain amount of damage or headshots. I enjoyed the idea of these cards but it’s implemented incredibly poorly. For example, there’s one card that challenges you with trying to headshot 75 Synthetic enemies. This is fine and good, but if you play this card on a level where you don’t find any of these enemy types, you’ve just wasted the card for no reason. The same goes for if you crash out or quit the match, the card is gone from your inventory once it’s played. The bonus XP and credits make the challenge worthwhile if you have a good enough team to fulfil these side objectives, but they can add some extreme difficulty, like doing double damage, but also taking twice as much as well.

So if Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a three player cooperative survival shooter, you’d think that its online multiplayer component would be its biggest focus right? I assumed that too but was completely wrong. You are able to play solo or with two players if you wish, and bots will replace any missing human players. Sounds good, but they are near useless on the harder difficulties and they can’t really pull their own weight in any way for the most part once you start playing on Insane or higher.

The worst offence though comes from how the matchmaking actually works. First off, there’s no drop in/out, so you’ll need to gather your party before queuing up. Worse is that if a player crashes or drops out, they are replaced with a bot but unable to rejoin until you finish or quit as well. Don’t have friends to play with but still want to play with others? Good luck. When you matchmake to find other players, you’re queuing for a specific level, Chapter 2 Act 3 for example. A 60 second timer begins to count down and if it doesn’t find any other players looking to queue for that exact level within that time, bots get placed in your game. That means you need to hope that people are queuing for the exact level and difficulty you want to attempt within the same 60 second countdown or you’re going to be playing alone with bots. There’s no lobby system or viewer and I was only able to find other players via the Looking For Group built into the Xbox. Oh and to make things worse, there’s no crossplay, so you better hope your friends also bought the game on the same console family.

Aesthetically, Aliens: Fireteam Elite looks as if it absolutely belongs in any of the iconic films. Level design, weapons and Xeno’s all look legit and can impress when you have a few moments of breathing room to take in the visuals. Audio is decent at best, as the Xeno’s screams sound just like in the movies, as does the motion tracker, but the weapons sound quite weak overall. There’s a few sections where some awesome music kicks in when you’re fighting off a horde of Xeno’s, but this is far and few in between.

Even though it’s not a fully priced new release ($49.99 CAD), it’s still quite mediocre overall. Guns don’t feel all that impactful and levels are varied in design but play out exactly the same way no matter which you choose. Having a class and a dedicated Horde mode locked behind campaign completion seems like an odd decision to me, and while that will only take a handful of hours since each level lasts roughly a half hour, you’ll most likely have your fill by the time campaign is complete.

If it wasn’t for the franchise backdrop, Aliens: Fireteam Elite would be just a basic horde shooter that becomes tiresome and repetitive unless you really want to grind to max out each of the characters and weapons. For a game that focuses on multiplayer, a mountain full of more effort could have went into quality of life improvements to make it a seamless shooter to gather friends online and shoot some Xeno’s. Game over man, GAME OVER.

**Aliens: Fireteam Elite was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.3 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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