Alien: Isolation, released in 2014, is a timeless game. It gives fans of Ridley Scott's masterpiece a chance to face off against one of cinema's most terrifying creations. The game completely encapsulated the fear and claustrophobia that made the film so enthralling. It also renewed confidence in the franchise after the horrific (for the wrong reasons) Aliens: Colonial Marines. So, when they announced Aliens Fireteam Elite, I was hopeful that we'd get another great experience that fans of Aliens deserve.
And we did. The game faithfully recreates the look, feel and, most importantly, sound of the marines and their weaponry. Each level is expertly crafted with wonderful attention to detail. There are many loving nods to James Cameron's sequel. It'll keep fans smiling as they take down hordes of Xenomorphs.
Is This Another Bug Hunt?
Set 23 years after the trilogy left off, your squad is on a rescue mission to a space station above the planet LV-895. It's not long until things go sideways, and you'll wish you had just nuked everything from orbit. The campaign has 12 missions. You'll blast your way through a space station, a deserted refinery, a Promethean ship, and, finally, LV-895. Each level comes straight from the movies - even the bad ones - and they look fantastic. And, though run-of-the-mill, Aliens Fireteam Elite does a far better job at weaving a cohesive story than the films.
Gameplay-wise there isn't much variety. The choice of weaponry, challenge cards, and enemies keep things fresh. Ultimately, you'll be running from one section to the next, gunning down Xenomorphs until you reach an objective. Once here, you'll typically have to hold off against hordes of Xeno's until you either hack a terminal or open a door. Aliens Fireteam Elite won't be winning any awards for its story. But the random placement of enemies and the often hilarious interactions with mission command will keep you coming back for more.
You play every game mode as a squad of three. This can be a mix of human players or AI-controlled synthetics. Oddly enough, I found playing with AI much more reliable than actual people. Obviously playing with friends is the best way, but it surprised me that playing with AI was better than playing with random people. Even on higher difficulties, where the game advises against AI, I found they held their own better than many humans I was matchmade with. And not once did I fall victim to their friendly fire!
Each level is also littered with convenient waist-high cover, much like Gears of War. But whereas Gears of War required you to hunker down and wait for the perfect time to return fire, Aliens Fireteam is very different. Xenomorphs don't take cover or wait. They charge at speed, in numbers, and will overwhelm a position in moments. So, except for a couple of levels where the enemy changes from Xeno's, you won't be playing the game as the suggested cover-shooter.
I Keep This For Close Encounters
That's not to say that combat doesn't work. It's the cover system that doesn't. The gunplay and character movement are fast, responsive, and accurate. There's a fantastic selection of weapons to unlock and upgrade. It goes beyond the iconic M14A, Smartgun, or sawed-off shotgun. There's variety, and you have the ability to attach various components to increase stats and add bonuses. My personal favourite is explosive rounds on a shotgun. You can also add new colours and decals to each weapon for that extra personal touch.
And the wide variety of weapons will come in handy as you face off against various Xenomorphs. Spitters, Warriors, Prowlers, and Drones will all stand in your way with varied attack patterns. There are a few other enemy types, as well as even stronger Xeno's in later levels, but I won't spoil anything here.
The marines also come in various flavours. Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, Doc, Recon, and Phalanx (added in a post-launch update, with more classes promised in the future). It brings something fresh to the fight. Experimenting, levelling up, and unlocking new skills is immensely satisfying. Each one has strengths and can bring something to a firefight. The Demolisher with their rockets is great for crowd control. Gunner perks increase firepower and fire rate for the team. Recon highlight where pesky Xenos are hiding. Docs can heal the team and save precious medikits. Phalanxes are excellent at leading the charge as well as holding positions with their shields. But my personal favourite is the Technician with their powerful sentry turret.
Each class can level up and get new perks to enhance their combat skill. These perks and modifiers stack Tetris-style. They can also link, to create interesting combinations for either yourself, your kit, or your team. For instance, my Technician build turns my sentry turret into a flame turret, with a 15% increase to burn damage. I have perks that increase the fire rate of my turret and myself - or even a teammate - if we are within 10 metres of the turret. I also have this linked to a perk that gains the turret a faster repair bonus on top of the fire rate while I'm next to it. The perk system is a game all to itself and adds much more tactical depth. Combined with the aforementioned attachments, these can make for some deadly builds. They'll keep you experimenting and diving back into the campaign and hordes modes again and again.
Finally, there are Challenge Cards that add an extra layer of replayability. Some increase enemy health. Others require you to complete a mission within a certain time limit, or without letting anyone in the squad go down. While others will randomly remove a weapon from your arsenal for a mission. These cards help keep the 12 missions fresh and extend the longevity of the game.
I've encountered a few bugs that weren't Xeno's during my time with Aliens Fireteam. Mostly audio not syncing or gun noises looping for entire sections of a mission even when I wasn't firing. But these bugs have been addressed by a passionate development team that listens to player feedback and acts quickly.
Game Over Man, Game Over
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is exactly what fans of Aliens have been waiting for. It's stuffed with guns, gadgets, and acid blood. Constant cooperative firefights against some of sci-fi's most iconic monsters are always fun. Each mission takes no more than 20 minutes to complete so has a great drop-in, drop-out feel. Newly introduced Extreme and Insane difficulty settings present an endgame challenge that even the most battle-hardened Marine will struggle with. The great level of customisation and the depth of the perk system help set this title apart from a typical shooter. You'll be shouting out lines from the film as you become the ultimate badass.