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PLATFORMS: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC
RELEASE DATE: August 24, 2021
DEVELOPER: Cold Iron Studios
PUBLISHER: Cold Iron Studios
ESRB: M for Mature
Disclaimer - A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. The game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Gaming Instincts is an Amazon affiliate and does receive financial benefits if you choose to purchase this product on this page.
I'll never forget sitting on the couch with my dad as a child and watching horror films in the evening. One of those horror films involved creepy-looking creatures that like to emerge from spaceship vents as the vessel floats in the middle of outer space. They were fully black in color, had long weird looking heads and scary-looking teeth with slime dripping down their mouths. Next thing you know, they would start stalking their prey, stare at them for a few seconds, and suddenly pounce, leaving nothing but blood splatter and the distinct sound of screams.
While I was not disgusted at the gory sight of a human being dismembered by a frightening monstrosity, instead I was shocked and wondered who will be the next victim.
Fast forward a few years later and I learned that the film I enjoyed watching with my dad was called Alien or Aliens or Aliens 3. As the years went by and the Alien films became the cultural phenomena that they are, it was only a matter of time before developers and publishers would create games based on the Alien universe. I am here to talk about and review the latest and maybe even one of my favorite games of this year - Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
The Setup and Timeline
Aliens: Fireteam Elite acts as a sequel to the original Aliens trilogy. The story takes place in the year 2202, which is 23 years after the original films. The player takes control of a colonial marine on a spaceship that goes by the name of USS Endeavor. The spaceship is specifically tasked with answering distress calls from outer colonies. If you are an Alien fan then you know what to expect from the storyline. Talking more about it would start spoiling the game's missions and twists, but in all honesty, the plot is serviceable and gets the job done for what it needs to do. If you've seen the original trilogy and the more recent Prometheus from 2021 then you'll feel right at home.
Killing Xenomorphs is Fun and Here's Why
If you've played any horde-based survival games in the last few years, then Aliens: Fireteam Elite is basically the same thing, but arguably much better than most recent games released in this genre for quite a few different reasons. It's addicting when it comes to your account progression, leveling is fun, combat and abilities are well executed and if you have friends, it's even better.
The game features five different kits that you can play as, kits being Aliens: Fireteam Elite's official classification for, what's otherwise known as, classes. Four of these kits are unlocked from the moment you boot up the game and the fifth kit is rewarded once you beat the campaign. Players may choose from a Gunner, Demolisher, Technician and Doc right from the start and unlock the Recon as the fifth kit.
The Gunner is your typical single target damage dealing class that mostly focuses on taking down elite enemies such as the Xenomorph Warriors, Crushers, Spitters and many others. These creatures tend to have special abilities as opposed to regular Xenomorphs known as the runners. For example, the Warrior is a tall Xenomorph who's armored and takes more of a beating than a regular Xenomorph. Meanwhile, the Spitters stand back and spit acid blood across the room causing a lot of damage from a distance, they also pack more health but are not armored.
Each kit is able to equip two primary weapons of different sorts. Gunners can use anything from rifles and DRMs all the way to shotguns and SMGs in their other slot. What makes the kits truly unique are their two abilities. The Gunner has an Overclock ability that boosts the entire party's weapon damage and attack speed for a certain period of time and is best used during clutch moments or heavy attack waves on higher difficulties. The Demolisher, on the other hand, is able to fire small rocket missiles that can clear a bunch of Xenomorphs at once or deal a ton of damage to a single target such as an elite Xenomorph. The Demolisher's other ability is called Blastwave, and as the name implies, the player can create a Blastwave from where they are standing to knock down and crowd control a group of Xenomorphs. This can buy them time to get away or stun an elite Xenomorph and deal damage.
The game has a unique and different build system that consists of perks. And no, not the perks that you come to expect from titles such as Call of Duty, but rather perks you can slot into available squares for each kit. As you level up, you unlock more squares that allow you to fit more perks. If your Demolisher's kit is level VIII then you have maximum perk slots or in this specific case"squares" that give you more space to play around with your Demolisher's build. For example, I like my abilities to have a bigger effect radius than normal, so I've decided to stack maximum radius increase across my squares as opposed to say something like increased duration of my abilities. Meanwhile, a Gunner will find much more usefulness in extending the duration of his Overclock abilities so the damage buff can last longer than normal for him and his party.
Players can also alter their abilities a bit with the modifier perks as opposed to the core perks, for example, I can make my demolisher's missiles put Xenomorphs on fire with the napalm modifier. This system is quite different from anything I've seen before in other horde survival-type games. In most of those games, you rely on different types of weapons with just flat damage increases as you level up. Meanwhile, in Aliens: Fireteam Elite not only do you get flat damage increases, but you also have the power to modify some of your abilities. Alongside this, you can build to your team's advantage with the unique perk system the game has to offer.
Grab a Few Marines and Have a Blast
I've done quite a few sessions with my fellow marines and we had an absolute blast. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is addicting to play, though there is something about this game that is hard to describe. The combat is fun, all the kits feel good to play and it never feels imbalanced in terms of difficulty or kit functionality. I thought having only three players, as opposed to four, would be a bad idea, however, after spending over 25 hours with this game, I realized that if it allowed more than three players then it would be way too easy.
The game has five different difficulties including Casual, Standard, Intense, Extreme and Insane. As the names imply, you can imagine what each difficulty has to offer. I've played a healthy mix of Standard and Intense difficulties. At first Standard felt hard, however, as you play and get used to the kits and understand how leveling and abilities work, the standard mode becomes quite easy, even on solo. Intense, in my opinion, is a well-balanced difficulty, but not recommended to play on solo, simply because the bot AI is quite dumb. They like to walk in front of your line of fire and take friendly fire hits. Yes, friendly fire is a thing in Aliens: Fireteam Elite on higher difficulties.
I've also beaten half of the game already on Extreme difficulty and had a blast with two other individuals. This is where the game truly shines: playing with your best buds, talking tactics, making the right moves, and, ultimately, using the right abilities at the perfect time with correct positioning and strategical thinking. Beating a mission in this game feels rewarding, you can also apply challenge cards that either buff your team or debuff your team. The buff cards are mostly used to get through higher levels of difficulties because they give you no reward at the end, meanwhile, the negative effects card usually gives the entire party around 2 times the experience and credits points if you successfully complete the mission.
The game also has dailies and weeklies that reward players with items, credits and cosmetic credits. There are plenty of weapons to collect from in-game missions, caches that you find, and credits that you can use with an in-game vendor. Players will also be rewarded with weapon attachments from completing missions. Vendors allow you to purchase weapons, colors, hats, and outfits for your character for in-game credits. You may also purchase consumables such as fire-sentries, or cryo-grids that slow down enemies to help you on your mission for another type of in-game currency as well. None of these are purchasable for real money, everything is earned in-game. A fantastic sight indeed.
Visuals, Audio and Bugs
If you watched the movies, then you'll feel all snuggly and cozy. Cold Iron Studios did a great job at capturing the art and atmosphere of the Alien films. You will hear the iconic battle rifle sounds and the creepy screeching noises of the Xenomorphs lurking around every corner. However, the game's visuals and audio are not perfect. There are occasional weird stutters every time I would enter a room and the game would freeze for a second or two. While it's not game breaking, it was still quite annoying considering that it would happen frequently. There was also a really strange audio bug during missions that got worse and worse as time went on. The audio was clipping and eventually, it got to the point where it clipped so bad that I had to restart the game to fix it.
However, these are minor issues that are not that big of a deal, the biggest issue I ran into was the matchmaking on the Xbox Series X and the fact that the game is missing full cross-platform support. It would never find people to play with and just put you in with bots even after time ran out. When I did invite friends or individuals to play with, from various Discord servers, it would disconnect them or me when we tried to start a mission or even just connect to the lobby. The only way to fix this major issue was to fully quit the game and re-launch it from the Xbox Series X home screen.
In my opinion, a broken matchmaking system for a completely co-op based game released in the year 2021 on a next-gen console is completely unacceptable. Developers need to do a much better job at making sure this stuff doesn't happen at launch. Relying on patches post-launch is never a good thing. This is most critical time of a game's life and it needs to be as smooth as possible. Missing full cross-platform play support for co-op games is also not acceptable in today's times. I am hoping that this will be added in a future season, it will help the game stay alive and allow it to have a larger player base.
Overall, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a solid and surprising entry in the Alien franchise. The game's addicting nature, fun combat and gameplay really help it out. The game doesn't try to be the best in the visual or audio department, but it does have polished game systems that are well thought out and fun to play with. Additionally, It sets a fantastic foundation for future content and seasons. While it's unfortunate that the matchmaking was broken at launch for Xbox users and the game is lacking full cross-platform support, I still had a great time even when I played solo.
Also, for a $39.99 product, the game is more polished and well done than most unfinished games that cost $59.99, so big kudos to Cold Iron Studios on that end. At the end of the day, I recommend that you do purchase Aliens: Fireteam Elite, it's a fun game with or without friends (better with friends). There is a ton of potential here and the game has a decent amount of content at launch with five kits to level up, plenty of difficulties to conquer and weapons/cosmetics to collect. Aliens Fireteam Elite gets an 8 out of 10 from Gaming Instincts.