Many licensed video games, try as they might, prove underwhelming in one of two ways: They're either too far off from the property being adapted to satisfy fans or they're too so-so as games themselves to attract interest beyond the core audience. My hands-on preview of the game prior to reviewing it pointed towards the latter – I did not have a good time. While I can't speak for the most hardcore fans of Alien, Aliens, and the rest of the franchise, Aliens: Fireteam Elite now seems to be one of the rare licensed games that's found itself comfortably at the intersection of content, quality, and faithfulness.
To be clear, Aliens: Fireteam Elite skews significantly more towards Aliens as opposed to Alien. That means you should expect firefights and chaos, not stealth and horror. Cold Iron Studios CEO and founder Craig Zinkievich said as much in an interview about the game, but even if he hadn't, that affinity would've been clear through one or two mission playthroughs. The game tasks players to band together with either two bots or two human companions, choose a loadout, and delve into missions to shred aliens as fast as your weapons will allow.
Xenomorphs are fast and frequent with some new variants designed by the developers to give the game its own flavor while staying true enough to expectations to avoid offense. Acid-spitting Xenomorphs, Prowlers that lurk around corners to pin down players, and modified Synth enemies make sense within the game's story and environments and elicit appropriately diverse responses from players based on the threat that faces them. Diehard Aliens fans may be able to find inconsistencies or contradictions with these enemy designs and established lore if they look hard enough, but on the surface, it's easy to connect these enemy variants to more traditional gameplay roles they serve so that you'll know how to deal with them even if you're not privy to every Xenomorph mutation in existence.
Fireteam Elite uses a class-based "Loadout" system to govern what each player uses, a system that was frustrating at first but eventually became much more agreeable. Players start with the Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, and Doc classes which come equipped with unique abilities and weapon types they're locked into. Some classes certainly feel more powerful than others, but it won't take long to find out their weaknesses whether you're playing solo or with teammates.
Investing time in a Loadout or class only to find yourself wanting a taste of something new is a frustrating situation in any game, but Fireteam Elite smartly remedies that annoyance by making weapons, weapon attachments, and select perks sharable across classes. This means that if you purchase a close-quarters weapon for your Technician build, the same gun can be used by your Gunner since the two share the same restriction on the class of their secondary weapon. One attachment can be placed on as many compatible weapons as you own without removing it from other options, so even though you'll undoubtedly have one Loadout at a higher level than the other three, the versatility of loot means you're never really starting from the square one if you change classes.
It's vital to get these Loadouts configured properly if you're playing with others, but it's even more vital to do so if you're playing by yourself. Fireteam Elite is no pushover when it comes to solo play, and you may very well find yourself leveling multiple classes to get you through different situations. Close-quarters weapons will serve you well against Xenomorphs that blindly rush teams, for example, but you'll find yourself sorely outmatched if you're trying to fight Synths that snipe you while hiding behind cover.
For those who prefer to play solo, this may prove frustrating. Your two bot buddies will try their hardest to keep themselves afloat and will soak up some attention, but the game explicitly says AI companions aren't recommended for anything above the standard difficulty. Bots are locked to the Gunner loadout, too, which means they've got rifles, a close-quarters weapon, and grenade. Being able to customize their loadouts or direct their movements would've been nice touches, but those features aren't present. The game supports online matchmaking so that you don't always have to have premade groups joining you, so hopefully, those on the live servers won't find themselves saddled with bots too often.
If there's one Fireteam Elite feature you shouldn't sleep on, it's the Challenge Cards. By choosing a card during the readying phase of a mission, you can apply unique modifiers that offer players increased rewards like more experience, weapon attachments, or in-game money should they successfully complete the mission. Things like switching out the Runner Xenomorphs with Bursters that explode in pools of acid turned out to be much more challenging experiences than expected, but they were never uneventful. Take the normal rewards you earn from missions and throw a Challenge Card on top of that and the process of grinding past missions for rewards gets transformed into a totally unique experience each time.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite certainly wasn't without its goofy or janky moments though. Enemies sometimes stand stationary or in groups without attacking, AI teammates duck and roll at lightning speeds to avoid acid pools, and armored Xenomorphs you'd usually be wary of often barrel past teams in search of an air duct to disappear inside. Things happen so quickly in the game that you usually don't have long to focus on these wonkier moments, so they don't take away from the experience much.
The more time I spent with Fireteam Elite, the better it got. Small references to the source material like the way radars blip as enemies draw near are the details fans will look for when scouring for references to their favorite moments. The boisterous, booming lines from NPCs sound distracting and cheesy at first, but even those started to feel like love letters to the dramatic dialogues of the Alien movies the more I heard them.
Aside from being a faithful take on the Aliens experience, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is simply a good game. Is it a shot-for-shot adaptation of its source material? Certainly not, but I definitely felt like I was in at least some version of an Aliens world through and through. Its loot and combat only improve with time without asking players to mindlessly grind just to keep progressing. The obvious push towards co-op, as opposed to single-player, may be a bummer to some, but even those who venture into Xenomorph swarms on their own will have plenty to look forward to in Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5