A short, sharp and fairly shallow take on the famed franchise nevertheless delivers on the full Aliens power fantasy.
While undoubtedly a triumph, Alien: Isolation never felt like a true Alien experience to me. Yes. Amanda Ripley is a badass and wholly worthy to carry her similarly badassed mother's name, but creeping around to avoid a single - and singularly terrifying - Alien, I never felt like a real Ripley. Tip-toeing from room to room, cramming myself into lockers to hyperventilate quietly until the monstrosity retreats again just makes me feel cowardly. It makes me feel too much like me.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite? With its gloriously gooey entrails, chunky gunplay, and plentiful frenzied fights, Aliens: Fireteam Elite does let me live out my power fantasies as Ripley - even if we technically have nothing to do with Ripley this time around.
Between us, I didn't expect that going in. The trailers and screenshots looked cool, if a touch generic, sure, but... well, we've been burnt by the Alien franchise before, right? And while Aliens: Fireteam Elite might lack longevity - I can't see many of us sticking around for long after the four-six-ish hours of the main campaign are done, no matter how many different Challenge Cards we apply to spice things up a bit - there's no denying that those four hours are bloody good fun. Literally.
Going in, however, I did wonder if it was going to be Alien Isolation all over again. You'll enter the refinery to see the faint flicker of the emergency lighting, a long maroon streak of something bloody on the floor, and catch the corner-of-the-eye clatter of a vent cover falling from the ceiling. Nothing happens until everything happens - it's a fabulous bait and switch - and then things unfold precisely as I'd hoped; piles and piles of dead Xenos.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite dares to pick up the story 23 years after the trilogy left off. I'm not going to give away too much about what happens here, I promise, although if I told you it kicks off with a rescue mission, you can no doubt guess what happens next. Your adventure will take you through a deserted refinery and the cavernous LV-895 and more, and while, in theory, there's just enough diversity in the backdrops to keep boredom at bay, don't expect much fluctuation from those green/black/blue palettes we know all too well from the franchise.
You should expect even less variety from the individual missions inside each chapter, too, I'm afraid. While the weapons at your disposal and the enemies you fight will vary a bit, the campaign essentially sees you running from one corridor to the next, with oh-so-convenient waist-high cover and ammo crates sprinkled strategically along the way.
It likely comes as no surprise that a game with "fireteam" in the title has cooperative play baked right in from the outset. You'll scurry obediently from room to room, fight to fight, taking on a host of unspeakable alien monstrosities with a couple of pals or AI companions at your side. The AI squaddies are meat shields at best, and downright obstructive at worst. They'll never adequately compensate for real-life comrades, especially in later levels when they're downed so frequently that they make my sub-par efforts look impressive.
It's not like a usual cover-based shooter, either, because whereas usually you can hunker down behind your wall and stick your head up to pop off a few shots until the room is clear, in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, the Xenos don't care much for the rules of the game and will get at you in any way that they can, be that by galloping across the floor, running at you from the walls, or slithering across the ceiling. This means that even when you feel safe - and trust me, that won't be often - you won't be, because no matter how fortified your holding position is, some little gremlin will get through your defences sooner or later.
For the most part, fighting feels good here. There's a great selection of weapons you can unlock - some are class-based, some are not - and on standard difficulty, my Gunner's shotgun was so stunningly effective even at long-range, it was my weapon of choice for an entire campaign run. Only in the later levels did we begin to run out of ammo, but we soon learned that a handy first aid kit and ammo crate would be waiting for us every two or three fights or so.
You'll be taking on various Xenomorphs - Spitters, Warriors, Prowlers, Drones; they all behave pretty much as you'd expect them to with names like that - as well as spooky Weyland-Yutani synthetics that launch at you with alarming determination. Individually, few of your foes are challenging, but the true power of the Xenos lie in their ability to swarm and overwhelm you. Stay in one place for too long and you'll regret it. I certainly did.
Luckily, the marines have more than just firepower up their collective sleeve. Each class - more on that in a sec - not only rocks its own weapons but special abilities, too, and there's a (surprisingly stingy) selection of consumables dotted around the place in crates, such as incendiary ammo, and tech toys like turrets and drones. Though usually located close to ammo stations, it's always worth a good scout around a room for a crate before moving on, particularly as each level's hidden cache holds special spoils, too.
As for the classes? It's to Aliens: Fireteam Elite's credit that every single one of the five up for grabs - Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, Doc, and Recon - brings something fresh to the fight, and experimenting with them all was wonderfully satisfying, as there's not a duff one in the set. Yes, the Demolisher is probably the best bet for beginners - I cannot overstate just how good those rockets are at crowd control - but you can't underestimate the Technician's incredibly powerful sentry turret, either.
But wait - there's more! There's also a Perks system in which you must stack, Tetris style, a modest number of unlockable perks and modifiers to fit into your grid, and guns can be upgraded by clipping on a variety of attachments - muzzles, magazines, and scopes - which boost your rank, known here as your combat rating. Fans of the franchise will be delighted to know that you can even add and customise the placement of your own hand-painted decals to your weapons, too, just like those real-fake Marines. It's a shame you can only equip one at a time, though.
The guns themselves? Having played through twice and sampled every class - I admit I naturally gravitated to the Technician and Gunner - I rarely found a weapon I enjoyed as much as those provided in the vanilla loadout. Perhaps more surprisingly still, I rarely found a better weapon in each run, either. Weird.
Finally, there are Challenge Cards. Adding an extra layer of complexity - one requires you to complete a late-game mission without a downed squaddie, for instance, while another spawns more Xenos than usual - I suspect they're there, along with the unlockable Horde mode, to help prolong longevity and spice things up. But with just 12 missions - all of which recycle the same stand-here-shoot-this gameplay - I worry few other than the most ardent Alien fans will remain once you've completed the main campaign.
There are four chapters to survive, each one is neatly clipped into three separate missions, and each of those will take you around twenty minutes if you're with a pal, and maybe half an hour if you're playing solo. Between missions, you'll stop off at some strangely empty hub, which - beyond a requisitions store that cycles through new weapons, perks, attachments, and consumables, as well as cosmetics like armour items and paint for your guns - there's not really much to it given it's just three rooms and this is not even remotely an open-world game. Unless additional areas open up in future updates, I really don't understand it's purpose.
It wasn't entirely smooth sailing, either. We encountered a number of irritating audio glitches - one of which kept looping the sound of my teammate's heavy gun, even when he wasn't firing the thing - and sometimes the music seemed hilariously mismatched to the action on screen. Yeah, I get that's a weird complaint, but perhaps you'll understand it too when you get there.
Overall, though? Aliens: Fireteam Elite is exactly what it says on the tin. Stuffed with guns, gadgets, and plentiful alien goo, it's a frenetic cooperative firefight against some of sci-fi's most iconic monsters in an all-new tale that takes us beyond the original trilogy. No, it's not the most sophisticated shooter, and no, its truncated runtime is unlikely to occupy you for more than a couple of nights, but it's an unashamedly good romp that'll hopefully satisfy your Ripley power fantasies, too.