The acid-spitting Xenomorph has haunted the dreams of hardcore science fiction lovers since his iconic first appearance in Ridley Scotts extraterrestrial. Despite the success of the creeping creature on screen, the video game customizations were less consistent. For example, the Colonial Marines’ weary shooting mechanics and flawed environments made for a lackluster experience, while Isolation mimicked the gripping discomfort of the best films in the franchise. Aliens: Fireteam Elite tries to establish itself in the middle ground and often fails because of it. The environments – dimly lit corridors and abandoned caves – sell the atmosphere, but uninspired AI and repetitive mission design ultimately do more damage than your average chestburster.
From the jump, you’ll create an avatar, choose your favorite class, put together an alien-killing kit, and head out with two players (or bots if you’re playing alone) to defeat some Xenomorph threats. The inconspicuous storyline of Fireteam Elite takes place in four consecutive campaigns. The evil conglomerate Weyland-Yutani is unsurprisingly back to its shameful antics and sacrifices innocent lives for unethical extraterrestrial research. Your task force will be sent to the outer colonies to deal with the fallout. Unfortunately there are no exciting twists or turns. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ve encountered the “Illegal Experiment Wrong” trope more times than you want to remember.
In every firefight, numerous Xenomorphs or renegade plastics fill the screen and climb on top of each other – from annoying facehuggers and tool-wielding “Working Joes” to 2-foot-tall, two-legged Praetorians and heavy infantry androids. Staff Sergeant Herrera, the aggressive voice in your ear, monitors your progress in each campaign, but her instructions and the general level design of each mission never change. Sure, you could traverse the formidable remains of Prometheus‘old humanoid civilization (a nice change from the boring storage bays and metal hulls of the first mission). However, your commands will persist to advance to a point of interest, activate a console or place a scanner, and hide in the midst of incoming swarms as you navigate linear maps. Rinse and repeat. Putting in fortifications like watchtowers and mines helps mitigate the repetition, but Fireteam Elite has no intention of surprising its players or experimenting with its signature shoot-from-cover mechanic.
Your Marine’s personality is disappointingly non-existent and character customization is a cosmetic tag-on. Fortunately, classes add an important strategic component to action. Each class is equipped with two skills and weapon specializations that can change the flow of combat. In addition, you can switch to different roles as you prepare for the mission. The Doc’s “Trauma Station” heals the entire squad in a small radius and works like a charm in narrow corridors, while the Demolisher’s range of heavy weapons, such as the “intelligent weapon” and the flamethrower, hand out severe punishments and are helpful, when the going gets tough. I enjoyed leveling up my favorite classes to unlock rare perks like extended skill durations, which came in handy when choosing more difficult difficulties.
Managing skills and securing different perspectives while simultaneously observing the backs of teammates created moments of tension. It’s a shame these moments are rare. While enemies come from many different directions, every shootout plays out the same way. This is an indication of Fireteam Elite’s bigger problem: monotony.
After you reach a checkpoint, you can return to your base of operations – an empty hangar, save for a few forgetful lore NPCs – to purchase new weapons, attachments, perks, consumables (like elemental projectiles), and other equipment. You can also buy challenge cards that make missions harder to amass a greater fortune. Towards the end of the campaign, I cherished these challenge cards and used the money to buy better mods and perks to meet the higher “combat rating” requirements of the final attack. On the flip side, this also meant spending time sanding previously worn sections. And with no variances in gameplay, this was getting old quickly. There is no avoiding this grinding; You will have to backtrack more than once to complete the entire campaign as experience points and money don’t grow on trees.
Weekly objectives called “Tactical Opportunities” provide additional currency for completing various tasks such as commanding a specific class or eliminating enemies with certain types of weapons. Even so, it’s not worth repeating the copy-through missions. In addition, once the campaign is over, the Horde mode will finally be unlocked, which – you guessed it! – uses the locales and objectives that you have already passed through multiple times.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite will occasionally fire at all cylinders, especially during combat. Xenomorphic and synthetic limbs will tear you apart when you hit them with high-energy bullets. The carnage produces acidic pools of blood that will do additional damage if you’re not careful. Even the dissonant score by Austin Wintory and the many nostalgic sound effects – especially the whirring pulse rifle and the dull footsteps of approaching drones – let you into them extraterrestrial Universe. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough interesting or fun content to search through and the grind becomes a chore. Developer Cold Iron Studios has promised a year of post-launch content, but unless significant changes are made to the loop, it’s better to avoid this messy infestation.