Game Corner [Bite-Size]: Aliens: Fireteam Elite (Xbox Series X)

Released: 24 August 2021
Developer: Cold Iron Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

A Brief Background:
Over the years, the Alien franchise (Various, 1979 to present) has had a long and complex history with videogame adaptations that range from primitive pixelated messes to real-time strategies, crossover titles, survival/horror experiences, and first-person shooters. This latter genre has been one of the most revisited, especially after James Cameron was tasked with following up on Ridley Scott’s financially successful and highly influential Alien (ibid, 1976) with an incredibly profitable and well-regarded 1986 sequel that proved to be perfectly transferrable into the FPS genre. Although Alien: Isolation (Creative Assembly, 2014) proved to be a hit with gamers and critics alike, SEGA were disappointed by the sales and eventually lost the license after Disney acquired 20th Century Fox and the development of a new Alien game fell into the laps of Cold Iron Studios. Built from the ground up and specifically designed to focus on co-operative, online play, the developers drew from the vast array of Alien lore to craft the story and aesthetic of Aliens: Fireteam Elite. However, the game has been met by mixed to average reviews; while the action-heavy focus and chaotic shooting was praised, the lack of mission variety and AI was criticised. Still, Aliens: Fireteam Elite was the best-selling retail game in the UK in its week of release and it was soon followed by a bunch of downloadable content (DLC) that included new missions, weapons, and enemies from Alien: Covenant (Scott, 2017).

First Impressions:
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a third-person, squad-based shooter in which you can customise and equip an avatar from one of seven character classes (Gunner (my choice), Demolisher, Technician, Doc, Phalanx, Lancer, and Recon) and then take on four story-based campaigns alongside two other online players or two A.I.-controlled ‘bots if you don’t feel like playing online. Sadly, and strangely, couch co-op is not an option and you cannot pause the game if you need to take a piss or stop for a second; compounding matters is the fact that, if you stand idle for too long, enemies seem to spawn in to push you onwards, all of which can make for some tense gameplay that borders on frustration. If you’ve ever played a third-person shooter before than the game’s default controls won’t be anything new to you: you fire your current weapon with the Right Trigger, aim down your sights with the Left Trigger, reload and interact with consoles and such with X, snap to cover with A, perform a dodge roll with B, press in the right stick for a melee attack, swap to you side arm or secondary weapon with Y. You can also use the directional pad to heal yourself if you have a first aid kit on hand, access your consumables menu, and communicate with or revive downed teammates. Each weapon and character class comes with a “Kit” and “Role” ability, which you can activate with the Left or Right Bumper, respectively; as you play and unlock “Perks” and other modifiers, you’ll be able to temporarily improve your damage output, accuracy, increase your rate of fire, swap weapons out for more powerful variants (like incendiary shots), drop turrets, unleash a missile barrage, and so forth.

Customise and equip your avatar and then get cracking on the latest bug hunt.

At the start of the game, you’re tasked with customising your avatar; these options are initially quite limited, though you can choose our gender, and you’ll unlock additional headgear and paint and such for your avatar and their weapons. You can only carry two weapons at a time, alongside your side arm, but these are instantly recognisable from the source material; you’ve got the Smart Gun, and the Pulse Rifle, and a familiar looking shotgun, amongst other similarly styled weapons. As you play, you’ll gain access to additional weapons, each with a bevvy of different perks and abilities, and acquire or purchase decals and add-ons for each’ these will increase your ammo capacity, damage output, and so forth but are few and far between without some serious grinding. Each mission can be played on one of three difficulties (with the two hardest modes being initially locked) and you’ll earn more experience points (XP), rewards, and credits for playing on higher difficulties. The sheer number of menus and onscreen text can be extremely daunting; navigating the menus is also a chore since you must use the aiming reticule like it’s a Nintendo Wii game, which can be disorientating. You can earn, buy, and equip special “Challenge Cards” before each mission to give additional perks and buffs (such as increasing XP gain and access to special weapons or turrets) and the game will offer daily “Tactical Opportunities” to award you additional bonuses for completing certain timed criteria. Gameplay wise, your generally tasked with patching into computer consoles, cutting through doors, downloading data, acquiring cranks and intel files, and rescuing or protecting key personnel all while fending off seemingly endless waves of Xenomorphs. You have the classic Aliens motion tracker on hand to alert you to the presence of enemies, who scramble out of vents and often just blink into existence right in your path. Some will also pounce on you, forcing you to complete a quick-time event (QTE) if no one’s on hand to save your ass.

Hold off against endless Xenomorph attacks or complete simple puzzles to progress.

It’s pretty easy to burn through your ammo, and to see your health whittled down to nothing from surprise attacks; Xenomorphs come in a number of varieties, from exploding aliens to acid spitters, to the larger drones who act as bosses and mini bosses. If that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll also have to contend with synthetic enemies who use cover tactics and weaponry similar to yours, forcing you to find ways to shoot around their armoured variants and take cover from their grenades, though the androids and the aliens will attack each other, which can be useful. Graphically and aesthetically, Aliens: Fireteam Elite very much evokes the atmosphere and presentation of Aliens; everything from the Marine’s hokey dialogue, the dark and dingey interiors and corridors, and the presence of recognisable weapons and technology are all pulled straight out of James Cameron’s movie but the game doesn’t stop there. You’ll eventually take a trip down to LV-895, a barren alien world where large, stone-like spaceships and environments are being plundered by Weyland-Yutani; these sections recall the Engineer architecture of Ridley Scott’s Alien films, as is a staple for most Alien videogames, and the game generally looks and sounds pretty good. That is, of course, if you ignore the cutscenes, dialogue, and character models; these are noticeably poor quality and remind me more of an Xbox 360-era videogame, but actually worse as there’s no lip synching and the amount of pop up, A.I.. tomfoolery, and graphical glitches (even when playing offline) make gameplay an awkward and unstable experience. The game tries to offer dialogue trees at certain points as characters drone on and on in a desperate attempt to give some context, but you can skip all of this as it basically means nothing; if you have an objective beyond shooting everything in sight, the game usually tells you, but it’s not always clear where you have to actually go to activate certain consoles so you can end up stuck in a never-ending shootout if you’re not paying attention.

My Progression:
To begin with, I started on the “Standard” difficulty and played online as it seemed as though there was no other option available to me. after struggling a bit with the controls and navigating the many dark, dishevelled corridors and areas, all of which look the same so it’s easy to get turned around, I managed to limp my way through the first couple of missions and even pull my weight in fending off Xenomorph attacks thanks to clever deployment of turrets and making use to the ammo refill stations. Scattered around the environment, you’ll also find other temporary power-ups that turn your shots into incendiary or electroshock rounds, all of which is great to thinning out the alien hordes, and you’ll occasionally find special hidden crates containing new weapons and gear. Eventually, though, the difficulty really starts to ramp up; larger and far more aggressive Xenomorphs soon become the norm, with jumping red variants and massive drones charging across the environment and sporting  hefty life bar. In these situations, you’re often trapped in a room or forced to activate a take-off sequence using various consoles while swarms of aliens spew in from all over and it can be pretty difficult fending them all off, especially when the game sometimes decides not to open doors for you to progress once all enemies are clear, thus forcing you to abandon the mission.

Numerous firefights, repetitive objectives, and graphical glitches make for a lacklustre experience.

After worrying about letting down my clearly superior human partners, I switched to private matchmaking and played with a couple of ‘bots. Unfortunately, you can’t seem to change their character classes; they simply mirror your current loadout, which is a bit annoying as it probably would’ve been helpful to have a Demolisher and Doc on hand). After tearing my hair out trying to overcome the endless gaggle of Aliens and drones set on keeping me from taking off, I lowered the difficulty to “Casual” and managed to clear the first campaign, ending up on LV-895 and hissing with frustration at the inclusion of more tactically capable android enemies. Thankfully, you can fight through the Engineer ruins and make it to a bridge where, after a short countdown, you’ll get some much-needed air support. This won’t help you as you press deeper into the temple, though, where the “Working Joes” come to “life” and attack en masse, flamethrower-wielding Synth Incinerators dog you at every turn, and you’re forced to not just download data from androids but also to recover a number of Synth Cores from destroyed androids. Annoyingly, you can only carry one of these at a time, forcing you to run back and forth in a near constant firefight, and this is about where my patience with the game ran out. Presumably, you stand a better chance at success if you take the time to grind up your levels, acquire/buy and equip better Perks, gear, and weapons, and play alongside human players who can offer more immediate assistance but the game seems to be tailormade for repetition. A lack of in-mission checkpoints means you only every get one shot to clear each mission, making it incredibly frustrating when you fail to crawl your way to a teammate for revival, and the sheer number of janky, overly aggressive enemies can make what is occasionally a fun-filled, if near mindless, shooter an unfair chore to sit through.

I clearly wasn’t paying attention to the marketing for Aliens: Fireteam Elite; either that or I saw that it was a team-based, online shooter and simply assumed that it would have a solo campaign as well. Thus, I was very disappointed when I loaded it up and found that it was geared towards online play only, and it took me some time to find an offline option so I wouldn’t be lumbered with strangers to look foolish alongside. Similarly, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of menus, text, options, and blinking notifications; it seems like every single little thing you can do or use has a little text box assigned to it and I found this very unintuitive and daunting. I just wanted to gear up and get into the action, but it felt as though I was forced to stop and consider every single thing, only to find I wasn’t at the right level to even use or get half the stuff on offer. Once you actually get into the game, the action is fast and frantic; you’re generally not asked to do much more than press, hold, or tap X to activate consoles and complete objectives, meaning the bulk of the game’s focus is on the firefights. Explosive barrels and the different character classes can make these fun and offer some variety, but you’re constantly forced to hold out against swarms of aliens, which gets a bit old quite fast and it seems like you’re never given a chance to catch your breath as there’s always another drone waiting to slash at you to get you moving. This frustration, alongside the sheer number of graphical glitches and janky A.I., to say nothing of the repetitive nature of the game, all add up to a budget title more akin to a pay-to-win mobile title and a Triple-A release, but maybe you had a different experience? Maybe you played online with friends using a variety of loadouts and had more fun? Maybe you didn’t and you prefer a different Alien game? Whatever the case, I’d love to hear about it so leave your thoughts below or on my social media.

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