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August 2022

Aliens: Fireteam Elite

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Cold Iron Studios
Release Date: Aug. 24, 2021

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PS5 Review - 'Aliens: Fireteam Elite'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 23, 2021 @ 7:00 a.m. PDT

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a new cooperative third-person survival shooter set within the Alien universe.

Buy Aliens: Fireteam Elite

In the context of video games, the Alien franchise seems a bit like a curse. It's \a great license that's rarely used to its full potential, with Alien: Isolation being a lonely exception to the rule. The announcement of Aliens: Fireteam Elite didn't exactly inspire confidence, but after a week with the game, I'm surprised with its solid execution of a basic gameplay premise and some redeeming customization features that often prevented it from being too repetitive.

If we were to remove the Alien-inspired license and likeness from Aliens: Fireteam Elite, what we'd be left with is the usual PvE shenanigans. There are a lot of comparisons to Left4Dead, but Fireteam Elite is much closer to World War Z in the way that it works. It's a third-person co-op shooter for up to three players in which players face hordes of aliens in four distinct campaigns and a bonus horde mode for combat challenges.

Diminish enemy Xenomorphs on your way through a level, which is interspersed with larger firefights against waves of enemies as you fortify your position with turrets and mines. Fireteam Elite's draw is more about its license than its gameplay, and it leans heavily into it. The four campaigns, which contain three missions each, tell a continuous story in the Alien universe by pulling inspiration from several sources, including Alien: Isolation.

The story explains why you have to suddenly fight Xenomorphs, and while it's a predictable tale of cheesy intercom chatter, it fits the universe and enables the campaign to show off some impressive locales, such as the hub world and a Colonial Marines ship. Walking around between missions introduces some characters who can provide exposition.

Each campaign is set in an environment that looks suitably different from the last and introduces new enemy types to keep the otherwise repetitive gameplay loop from getting stale. It starts with the claustrophobic corridors of a spaceship in the first campaign and moves on to open areas among ancient ruins to introduce cover shooter mechanics. As you delve into the later campaigns, the game introduces a few more surprising locations and enemy types that slowly complete the roster of things that you'd ideally want to see killed with fire. The game explains why you are facing a multitude of Xenomorphs, many of which are far removed from the source material, but it is slightly at odds with the license and idea of being stalked by an omnipotent alien creature, so that may be a point of contention for some fans.

There is a difference between the regular and special enemy types. There are the usual archetypes: acid-spitting enemies, exploding enemies, prowlers hiding in corners, and tougher tanks that are hard to put down because they eat damage for breakfast. Enemies can crawl on the walls, and some foes attack and then flee into the ventilation system so they can randomly emerge elsewhere. It makes for dynamic firefights that can offer a few surprises, but the foes can look similar in a crowd of monsters with few distinguishing visual features as you shoot a bunch of aliens, stop and fortify, kill a few more, and move on.

The locales are impressive to look at, but exploration of the maps is not encouraged. Ammunition boxes and health are positioned at convenient spots for bigger confrontations, so there is no need to seek it out elsewhere. There are some pieces of intel and one randomly hidden cache per level with optional goodies to earn, but those are often found easily on your way through the stage, limiting its replay potential since the missions are the same for each run. On harder difficulties, Fireteam Elite can be punishingly difficult, so exploration often means exposure to more enemies, and you're better off waltzing through and not stopping to smell the roses.

At the same time, the game's difficulty may be one of its more redeeming factors. Fireteam Elite is a "co-op survival shooter," and on the game's two hardest difficulty levels, available ammunition dwindles drastically; friendly fire, short reanimation windows, and instant-kill attacks turn encounters into proper battles for survival. The other difficulty levels can pose some difficulties depending on your team composition, especially if you can't matchmake and have to play with bots.

Fireteam Elite is at its best when you and your friends are engulfed in hostile alien creatures, hanging on by a thread as your ammunition dwindles and health packs are nowhere in sight. With mission lengths that can last up to 30 minutes, beating any of them on a higher difficulty level feels like a proper achievement and are some of the game's high points. The deep loadout customizations enable a variety of team compositions and options to further tailor each class.

The game features five distinct classes: the high damage-dealing Demolisher, the Doc for healing support, the balanced Gunner, the Recon class that highlights nearby enemies and provides ammo in the field, and the Technician with turrets and electric traps. Each is equipped with special skills that help your team in battle, so you want to use them whenever possible. A sixth class is coming with the first free content update in September, so that provides a few options to set up a three-person squad for each mission, depending on your play style and how you equip each class.

In essence, you can level up in three ways: an overall level, a class level, and weapon level. The latter improves and adds perks to your weapon, enticing you to stick with one to maximize its effect, but the class leveling is where most of the meat lies. Fireteam Elite has a perk grid for each class that only allows space for a handful of perks. As your class levels up, more perks get unlocked and more space in the grid becomes available. Using these perks, you can enhance a variety of abilities, such as the cooldown of class abilities, enabling the Doc class to use the healing skill more often or enhance the reload speed and damage of certain weapon types. It's an engaging system that provides ample opportunity for gameplay adjustments, especially if you play in a team of friends and can fine-tune each class to build the perfect team.

If that weren't enough, there are additional challenge cards to adjust the experience further. Usually, the cards feature challenges in exchange for better rewards, like tripled recoil on your weapons for a boost in XP or the chance for health packs to fail. Some of them make missions easier but don't offer further rewards, like doubling your health, which could be helpful for beating a particularly difficult level.

Each perk and equipped weapon affects a player's combat rating, essentially signaling how powerful the current loadout is. Each stage and difficulty also have a recommended combat rating level, so players know whether a mission is suited to your current loadout. Each weapon has three modification slots for its barrel, magazine and sight, providing additional boons and combat rating increases. I mostly played with the Demolisher class and used either a rocket launcher or flamethrower for satisfying crowd control gameplay, but I was constantly tweaking and swapping out perks. Most boons have noticeable effects on gameplay, often offering percentage increases in the double digits. It's a fun system that looks deep enough to accommodate long-term play, especially since you're constantly engaged in unlocking new mods or weapons.

If anything, the title drops the ball slightly in the visuals department. The character creator is basic at best, and cosmetics usually felt limited and non-expressive. They do a decent job but pale in comparison to the number of options concerning gameplay, which is ultimately what counts here.

Fireteam Elite ran quite well on the PS5 during our review window, but there are some caveats to this assessment. We played internally with several provided review copies but were unable to test proper matchmaking, which is often the nature of early access reviews. The game will not feature crossplay, but it will support cross-generation play between the PS4 and PS5 consoles or the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S consoles, so that could be a huge caveat. Multiplayer shooters are already very dependent on player count, and segmenting the player base this way can hurt the title's longevity and potential, especially on home consoles. For that fact alone, unless you have two other friends on the same platform, it's difficult to recommend the title without knowing how matchmaking will do after once game launches in a few days. What I can say with confidence is that you don't want to play alone with bots, since they are not much fun and usually get in the way. Like other games of its kind, Fireteam Elite thrives when you have a dedicated group of friends playing and suffering alongside you, and unless you can do that reliably, it won't be much fun.

We ran into some server-related issues, both when playing together from different regions (NA/EU) and when playing within the same region, causing occasional lag and stuttering when in a party. There were instances when I could not be invited to another party, and although the issue resolved on its own, it did reappear sporadically. Most of the time, the experience was decent, and the game ran beautifully, with rare stutters on what felt like a locked 60fps.

As previously mentioned, the visuals are true to the source material and showcase some impressive locations, while the visual enemy variety and some ugly character models are somewhat disappointing. Overall, it looks great and does a good job of capturing the essence of the franchise.

Its sound design is similar in execution: great but with a few blemishes. The soundtrack creates a suspenseful atmosphere, and the spatial awareness in-game enables the player to always know where a threat is coming from. On the other hand, some weapon sounds can lack oomph and feel like peashooters rather than lethal weapons to mow down hundreds of Xenomorphs.

The positives outnumber the missteps, which feels like a good summary of the overall game. It's not necessarily innovative and treads a familiar path, but within its repetitive nature lies a competent and often fun PvE shooter experience with strong potential. Its player base and future content updates will ultimately decide how long the title will last.

The game doesn't make much use of the next-gen hardware. On the PS5, loading times are naturally sped up, but there is no haptic feedback or trigger implementation. It's not sorely missed, but given how well spatial sound was implemented, the haptics could have elevated the experience and spatial awareness for players, especially since crossplay is not a factor. On top of that, playing with a controller isn't the best experience, since the game can feel clunky to control when you're swarmed with enemies. A 180-degree turn button would have been much appreciated to make it easier to stay on top of the action.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is tricky to judge. The gameplay loop is repetitive and retreads a lot of the tropes found in similar co-op shooter experiences. Its presentation is good but inconsistent. What it does well is capturing the visuals and sound of the movies and distilling them into a well-established formula. There's a good variety of combat classes and engaging ways to customize and improve builds, so players are incentivized to continue playing and get better as the difficulty ratchets up to add a thrilling survival component. I am concerned about the title's online matchmaking, which we were unable to test. Since the title does not support crossplay, the game's longevity and player base will depend on early adopters and future content releases to prove that this online shooter is here to stay.

Score: 7.0/10

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