Aliens (1986) is an extraordinary science fiction movie about motherhood and revenge. Ellen Ripley has already been through hell and back in the original, single-handedly taking down the first known Xenomorph with sharp wits and loose equipment; in the sequel she’s visibly over the cyclical Alien format. She’s done the dance and is mentally checked out while she does it again. All the while she’s simultaneously dealing with a mountain of people who don’t believe in the cosmic horrors she faced before falling into hypersleep. It’s one of my favorite movies because it uses extreme action and the concept of aliens to grapple with an uncomfortably familiar future of space colonization. Not to mention the dangers that come with unregulated hypercapitalism. Aliens: Fireteam Elite, however, does not possess that pointed cultural grit or visually striking destruction at all. From the few hours I played of the preview, it’s shaping up to be an awkward, unnecessary addition to the Alien universe that doesn’t understand what made the source material an eerie, compelling classic.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is instead a cooperative third person shooter for up to three people that has you play colonial marines taking out swarms of Xenomorphs on large spacecraft. There are four different classes: Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, and Doc (all of which are loosely based on supporting characters from the original movie). Developer Cold Iron Studios hooked me in with the concept of a creative, class-oriented Left 4 Dead-like co-op game with challenge cards, but the dialogue and combat are both stale to the point of off-putting.
In fiction, this takes place years after the events of Aliens, in a world where Xenomorphs run rampant and have started mutating into many different forms. Your first mission is to find one Dr. Hoenikker and escort him off a starship — aided over the air by a Corporal back at base. The ambience of taking your first steps on the ship is incredible. It has the right amount of eerie ship creaks and ominous noises to give it a horror flair. At least initially. The person guiding you sounds genuinely worried, too, and the acid-washed spacecraft interior doesn’t calm any nerves.
That tense aura quickly dissipates after the first interaction with a pack of actual aliens… Which absent-mindedly run into your bullets before dropping like flies. In Aliens: Fireteam Elite, the ultimate lifeform is reduced to lemmings that you stand still and shoot at like a tacky movie theatre arcade game. It’s massively disappointing because not a single alien is intimidating.
There are different types of creatures, sure, but they aren’t even introduced in ways that strike fear into the player. They just sprint at you like the rest — like garden variety zombies. Not a single character even mentions their differences in a substantial way until a decent chunk into the game. I would’ve liked to see some sort of cutscene, or even just heard a dialogue exchange over comms where characters discussed the more dangerous foes and introduced their abilities. But even then, they’re still only slightly stronger than the base Xenomorphs, which don’t feel rewarding to kill at any point in the game. Aliens: Fireteam Elite misses the mark by failing to evoke either a sense of helplessness or achievement integral to the Alien franchise. There is no outsmarting. There is none of the crafty, resource-focused problem solving you would expect. There’s just holding down the right trigger for a longer amount of time depending on how much health the enemy has.
As I inched closer to Dr. Hoenikker over buckets of acid blood, the character guiding my squad started making off-color jokes about their possible death, completely squandering the last remnants of tone Aliens: Fireteam Elite was clutching onto.
“How many pieces do you think he’s in? (chuckles) I got a pool running with some buddies back on the ship.” I let out a sigh from deep inside my soul, why am I even on this mission? Nobody in-game even seems to care about this dude. Yet I have to go through waves of these boring enemies to try to save him.
Trying to play the game with coworkers was also a mess. It took many weird PC tricks to even get into a working lobby with them. Once we couldn’t speak to the commander to get the first mission; another time my coworker’s character’s head kept infinitely changing and locking us out of loading. A decent number of times, everyone’s game would simply crash the second we started. Going through annoying obstacles to have a dull co-op experience is a horrible waste of time — especially when there are more options for that kind of game than ever, with more on the way than we’ve seen in a grip. I only hope these issues specifically get fixed by launch.
I wanted to like Aliens: Fireteam Elite so badly. Expanded fiction of a movie I hold dear to me combined with a co-op genre I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into should be the perfect formula, but this is immensely unsatisfying. In its current state, I cannot recommend this to fans of Aliens or fans of video games.