Cooperative shooters are in the middle of a renaissance.
E3 2021 proved the genre was making a major comeback, revealing that cooperative shooters like Back 4 Blood, Redfall, Evil Dead: The Game, Contraband, Rainbow Six Extraction, and The Anacrusis were all on the way. And fighting off hordes of enemies with friends in Outriders is every bit as fun as facing off against other players in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.
As the genre gets more crowded, however, it’s harder to stand out. There always has to be a unique aesthetic, story, or gameplay gimmick to hook players. Aliens: Fireteam Elite should have that hook. It’s based on one of the most popular horror sci-fi series of all time. But a preview build left us a bit underwhelmed by a derivative structure and lack of moment-to-moment intensity.
It’s not a disaster like the infamous Aliens: Colonial Marines, but unless the full game is hiding some far more exciting missions or enemies, Aliens: Fireteam Elite probably won’t make much of a splash — even if that splash is a bit of highly corrosive Xenomorph blood.
Alien vs. Aliens
Video games based on the Alien franchise either prioritize the minimalistic but intense horror of the first movie or the over-the-top action spectacle of the second. Alien: Isolation embraces what makes the first movie so good, giving players limited resources to survive frightening encounters with the overwhelming Xenomorph.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is inspired by the more action-oriented Aliens. The result is a loud and bombastic cooperative shooter and sci-fi power fantasy that feels a bit shallow by comparison.
Though fans of the series will briefly get a kick out of it, the experience quickly starts to feel uninventive. After just a few missions, I was already bored with what Aliens: Fireteam Elite had to offer from a gameplay perspective.
It’s disappointing because the game is incredibly faithful to the franchise’s retro-futuristic setting and H.R. Giger-inspired visuals. It sometimes felt like Cold Iron Studios ripped the space stations and orbital refineries I explored during the demo straight out of the movies, and the new Xenomorph designs look like they’d fit in the next film, but pitch-perfect visuals can’t make up for a lack of compelling gameplay.
Three’s a Company
Aliens: Fireteam Elite includes everything you’d expect from a cooperative shooter and not much more. There are assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, flamethrowers, and rocket launchers. Even though you can only play in a group of three, there are four classes in this preview build: Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, and Doc.
Each comes with unique skills, with Doc being especially handy thanks to their special healing skill. These abilities can help change the course of a fight as hordes of Xenomorphs overwhelm you and your buddies. Sadly, the weapons aren’t that satisfying, and Xenomorph encounters were never very tense.
There isn’t much weight behind firing your gun or much of an impact when you hit a Xenomorph. While mowing down hordes of Xenomorphs is exhilarating at first, the lack of any visceral feeling means you might as well be shooting zombies. The game tries to make up for its fairly mindless AI with enemy placement.
Xenomorphs will flank you from every direction, so it’s always wise for a team to stay together back to back to back so they can cover all angles. If Aliens: Fireteam Elite could carry the intensity the films are known for into its firefights, it would have been thrilling. Unfortunately, missions are bogged down by boring objectives that boil down to “go here and press this button” and “wait while killing lots of Xenomorphs.”
It’s possible that playing on a higher difficulty would make the experience more thrilling and also possible that later missions will offer a greater variety of objectives. Outside of its faithful aesthetics, though, Aliens: Fireteam Elite didn’t leave a memorable first impression.
It will probably be a perfectly fine game for friends that are gigantic Aliens fans and love third-person shooters like Gears of War. But that’s an awfully specific audience in a way that resembles Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, a game that’s found an audience of hardcore D&D fans willing to overlook some deep flaws to enjoy an experience that’s (essentially) free via Xbox Game Pass. Aliens: Fireteam Elite doesn’t have the luxury of easy access, so it will likely get lost in the sauce. It needs some awesome endgame weapons, enemies, or mission types to freshen up the experience.
This feels like one of the least exciting things you can do with the world of Alien. Players can get a more satisfying take on the military power fantasy from Call of Duty or Mass Effect, and we clearly won’t lack cooperative shooters by the end of this year.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite will be released on August 24, 2021.