Is there any sci-fi movie franchise more iconic than the Alien series? Probably not. Is there any sci-fi game franchise more divisive than the Alien games? Possibly. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is the latest attempt at capturing the magic of the movies in an interactive form, and we think it’s a solid take.
Even though Alien: Isolation was well-received and possibly the best take on the original Ridley Scott film so far, my personal favorite is the more action-oriented sequel Aliens, directed by a young James Cameron. Fireteam Elite takes that movie as a source of inspiration with its squad-based, and anyone who’s seen the movie knows that this is a great choice. Sure, we’ve had a lot of fun with Aliens-based games in the past – especially the arcade games – but while the action was fun they never quite captured the tense encounters of Aliens.
As such, it’s quite a different beast than Alien: Isolation – which was more akin to the first film in delivering a sense of atmosphere and dread. Here, it’s all about gunning down hordes of xenomorphs as they charge at you through corridors and through vents. But although that may sound mindless in nature, there’s a story as well. Echoing the core plot of Aliens and pretty much every sequel since then, you’re aboard the USS Endeavor and need to react to a distress call from a remote colony. Here, Weyland Yutani’s business practices have (once again) led to a massive outbreak of monsters, and instead of just blowing the whole place up you’re sent in to salvage what’s left and rescue what and who you can.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite features no less than three campaigns to play through, although each one only features three missions. There’s a nice bit of diversity in the objectives you’re given and they do a decent job of guiding you through the story as well, but to call this a “narrative-driven” game would be a bit of a stretch. This was designed to be Aliens in a Left 4 Dead formula, and that’s perfectly fine.
Considering its inspirations, it’s not surprising that Fireteam Elite features classes to choose from, and although they’re nicely balanced right from the start you can also specialize further in particular areas through an upgrade system and special abilities. New weapons and weapon modifications further increase your ability to be versatile in combat, and you can easily spend a few days just experimenting with different classes and loadouts. Ultimately, we ended up sticking with something that was akin to the movies (both visually and in terms of sound), but that was mostly personal preference.
If you’ve seen the entire movie franchise, you’ll see a familiar range of enemies here, from the cannon fodder that tries to swarm you to large boss fights at the end of a mission. These missions also lovingly channel the feel of the movies with their locations, which feature an infested space station and creepy tunnels filled with alien eggs. This is a game made by and for fans of the franchise, that much is clear.
And yet, it lacks that other element that made the second film so wonderful – the sense of danger and dread, and the feeling that any one of your teammates could be picked off at any given time. Fireteam Elite is like the action sequences in Aliens, but without the fear and dread that holds them together. What’s left is a solid and extremely fun squad-based shooter that’s certain to satisfy Aliens fans, but as a narrative experience it doesn’t quite nail the feel of Aliens. We’re happy to settle for Left 4 Dead in an Aliens environment though, and there are plenty of mechanics that will keep us coming back.