The Smartgun in the unfortunately named Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a godless killing machine, shredding Xenomorphs with aplomb as the familiar squeal – burned into my brain from the hive battle in the movie – cuts through the sounds of the gunfight.
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The noise is oddly comforting. Hearing it in one of Fireteam Elite’s many many overwhelming gunfights usually means that your problems are being resolved by the huge gun, which slaughters the grunt-level aliens in seconds and automatically targets for you, meaning you can put down entire waves without breaking a sweat.
It’s a lot of fun – and every round I played with the man-portable WMD strapped to my waist, I had the highest accuracy and the highest kill count. But the ease at which you can carve through the ranks of the Xenomorph menace left me a little sad.
This is because, while I like Aliens: Fireteam Elite, it feels like a bad Aliens game.
I’ll explain. This isn’t an issue with the aesthetic. I’m enough of an Aliens fan that I had a Xenomorph costume for a little bit, in addition to a resin Pulse Rifle and a set of Colonial Marines armour – though not the real stuff made by armourer Terry English that is still available from the man himself, mind. Somewhere around here, I even have a copy of the Colonial Marines technical manual. As a result, I’m a bit of a stitch counter when it comes to Aliens aesthetic and I’m largely happy with what I’ve seen here.
Sure, the marine weaponry and gear is slightly wrong – different model numbers explain why the lobster plate on the Marine helmet doesn’t look right, and the pulse rifle doesn’t have exactly 95 rounds in it, but it still has the right feeling: these grunts look like they’ve fallen out of science fiction Vietnam and every gun sounds exactly as it did in the 1986 classic. The computers and terminals you interact with have that ’80s computer-age feel, and when you start to explore the cave complexes later into the game, there’s even some Prometheus-looking statues that act the part, too.
No, the problem with this as an Aliens game is that the Xenomorphs themselves feel neutered. At a glimpse, they look right: the game is in third person but even with this the Xenomorphs themselves still manage to blindside you, dropping on you from the roof, skittering unseen up from below and sometimes just straight up waiting to ambush you on a corner. Despite this, they never feel truly threatening: a single Xenomorph is enough to kill the entire crew in Alien and even in the action-packed sequel Aliens that lends so much to this game, the Xenomorphs are a surging black tide that can’t be stopped, only temporarily warded off.
Aliens lack that feeling of dread in Fireteam Elite: one grunt isn’t enough to kill you and instead it’s death by a thousand cuts, as you take chip damage constantly. The more traditional “I’m going to kill everyone on the ship and there’s nothing you can do it about it” Alien does exist as the Xenomorph Warrior – alongside acid spitting Xenomorphs, exploding Xenomorphs, Irradiated Xenomorphs and many more – but you can just focus fire on it and it’ll usually go down before it pins you to the ground and… whacks you a few times, nonlethally.
In Fireteam Elite, get a party of three together, give one of you that Smart Gun and a few sentry turrets, and you’ll be absolutely fine until you run out of ammo. Often, whenever you have a big fight, the game will ensure that you’re topped off before you go in and then drops a giant crate of ammunition and gadgetry next to every big fight.
This is one of Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s biggest missteps: the scarcity of supplies is what creates drama both in films like Aliens and games like Left 4 Dead or even the forthcoming Back 4 Blood. I never felt the pinch of low ammo, even playing primarily as the Demolisher, armed with powerful weapons and warned that ammo conservation was key.
I would say I very rarely conserved ammo, and the only time I switched away from my Smartgun was to headshot the android soldiers and other enemies that showed up later in the game. The Smartgun might be terrifying but it aims automatically, so if you want precision you’re looking at the wrong gun.
However, the power fantasy of being one of the state-of-the-badass-art Marines getting shit done as Xenomorphs fall out of every nearby opening is a good one. Despite the fact I think it’s not very true to the spirit of any Aliens movie, it is fun to roll around the place blasting bugs – and other enemies – with flourish.
Sadly, the game only works with three players. You can play with AI – and brilliantly they are actually androids, which explains their disappointing status as teammates – but they’re not up to the task, and it’s not as much fun. If you don’t have people to play this with, I’d encourage you to deduct a star from the end score. It’s just not a fun solo experience, and it’s a shame to deprive your friends of your panicked yelps as you charge ahead without them and get jumped by whatever Xeno is waiting for you out there.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite does have a real flair for locations, though: while the first campaign is set in the sort of derelict industrial location you would expect in the film franchise – I’ve said the word Aliens so much it’s lost all meaning to me – and mid-2000s FPS games, the rest of the campaigns go to more interesting places, bringing in giant Prometheus-esque skulls, lush green locations and, well, more places for you to get ambushed from. The game seems to take inspiration from the rest of the franchise so far: the Working Joes that were so terrifying in Alien Isolation pop up here, initially lurking in charging stations, but then charging you with tools in hand. It’s a cool tie-in, and their not-quite-human look is still terrifying but, again, you have a Smartgun.
Not just a Smartgun, either. There are a selection of fantastic weapons that genuinely alter the way you play. A huge flamethrower lets you hold the frontline, frying anything that gets close, but a sniper rifle or rocket launcher will give you two different ways of taking people down at range, too.
I did particularly enjoy the progression system. You get a huge box to slot your perks into, but at a low level it’s is full of unlockable areas. As you level up, this box will get more and more empty, allowing you more spots to jam perks into. This could be something as simple as more efficient healing or a damage boost, but the sheer variety means you can key yourself towards a more specific playstyle. It’s good encouragement to stick with a specific class, although if my unsubtle bias hasn’t been revealed, I’d like to clearly state that I’m very much into the Demolisher and while the Gunner, Doc, and Technician have plenty to offer, none of them have access to the heavy weapons, so the Demolisher is king.
Ultimately, despite a slightly clumsy grasp on what makes co-op shooter games work, and what makes the Alien franchise work, this is still a bloody good time, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a bad Aliens game but a whole bunch of fun. You’ll probably not find anything revolutionary here, but if you want to bellow “Let’s Rock” at friends as a tsunami of Xenomorphs comes at you from all angles, you’ll enjoy every second – providing you’re not playing alone, with only the game’s woeful bots for company.
- Fun multiplayer shooting
- Decent progression options
- Completely nails the aesthetic of Aliens
- Completely misses the point of what Aliens is about
- You’re always so well geared, fights don’t feel challenging