The Alien franchise has not had the best luck, with some games being stratospherically amazing experiences, while others being abysmally bad. The Alien series is easily one of my favorite movie franchises, and by a wide margin. There is so much lore and worldbuilding to explore that even the missteps in the cinematic universe are still highly entertaining. As my Big Chap loomed large over my desk, I loaded up Aliens: Fireteam Elite — a game that seemed to crawl out of the vents to everyone’s surprise, with a release right around the corner. I was not prepared for just how absolutely phenomenal this game truly is. As Master Sgt. Apone wisely said, “Alright sweethearts, you heard the man and you know the drill! Assholes and elbows!” — let’s get in there, people!
“A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! And every formation a parade! I love the corps!” — Master Sgt. Apone
Aliens: Fireteam Elite doesn’t feature a tutorial. You’ve got a gun, aliens are a problem, and you end one problem with the other. Simple! Instead, it drops you onto the deck of your mothership, sitting just outside your UD-4 Utility dropship, ready to deploy. (Those dropships are better known as a “Cheyenne”, and yes I’m a dork for this franchise, so you better “strap yourselves in boys, you’re in for some chop”, and a whole lot more nerd-knowledge) From here you’ll pick one of the four initially-available classes — Gunner, Technician, Demolisher, and Doc. Once you complete the campaign you’ll unlock a fifth class – Recon.
The four classes each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and since this is a 3-player cooperative game, you’ll want to try to balance your choice against the needs of the team for the mission ahead. Gunners carry the M41A2 Pulse Rifle (you can almost hear it in your head, can’t you?) and are generally your damage dealer. They have an overclock skill that greatly increases the fire rate and reload speed for both you and your allies. They also carry a high-explosive grenade that they can toss out every 30 seconds. Their special skill is “Stay on target” which allows them to deal additional damage, stacking up to 10 times with bonus damage if they can, you guessed it, stay on target. These are your Corporal Hicks types.
The Demolisher gets to sling the most badass weapon in the game — the room-clearing L56A3 Smartgun. This beast is so big that it requires a combat support harness, head-mounted sight, an articulation arm, and an equally badass Marine to use it — somebody like Private Vasquez. The L56A3 fires 10mm x 28 caseless projectiles, which totally tracks when you see how effectively it completely obliterates alien threats. In addition, the Demolisher has a three-round burst micro-rocket launcher on their shoulder which stuns foes, knocking them off their feet for a moment. They also carry an explosive which unleashes a blast wave, also with a knockback effect — great for when the aliens get a little bit bigger. Their perk is called “Clear the Room”, and when any perk is activated gives you one stack, increasing damage stacking with every additional hit by 2.5% and ending after 15 seconds.
The Technician is my class of choice, bringing tech to the firefight. They don’t carry a rifle, instead slinging a .50 cal pistol on their hip to make room for their Sentry Gun. These guns are the same ones from the deleted scene in Aliens where PFC Hudson deploys a pair of box-fed UA 571-C Automated Sentry Guns to guard a hallway, obliterating a metric ton of incoming xenos before finally exhausting their ammunition — only this little guy never runs out, and can be picked up and redeployed. They may not pump out 1,100 rounds per minute like their movie counterparts, but they are automated. In addition the Technician has three charged coils that can be thrown on the floor as a trap, or stuck directly into a foe, electrifying and slowing it and everyone around it. Their perk is called “Cross-Platform Synergy” and encourages your team to stick close to your Sentry Gun. Doing so allows them to take 10% less damage, and the turret regains 5% of its health back every second.
The Doc is your field medic, as the name suggests, keeping you alive against an overwhelming enemy. While it’d be easy to just bring more firepower to the fight with the other classes, on higher difficulty levels you may wish you had somebody to patch you up. They carry a M41A2 Pulse Rifle, just like the soldier, but their focus is around keeping everyone alive. They can drop a re-deployable beacon called a Trauma Station that will heal the team anytime they stand in the circle around it. It has limited charges, so you’ll have to choose wisely. For each nearby ally that they heal, they’ll receive a boost of 15% (and yes it stacks) towards their recharge speed on that Trauma Station, encouraging the medic to take care of the whole team. They also carry Combat Stims which increase the accuracy and stability of your weapons by 50%, bump stamina regeneration by 30%, and pushes movement speed by 15% — ideal for when the team faces a veritable waterfall of wall-crawlers. Corporal Dietrich may not have lasted long on her visit to Hadley’s Hope, but hey…at least she made sure Newt was physically ok, right?
Once you complete the four campaign missions, which we’ll talk about in a moment, you’ll also unlock the Recon class. This class focuses on range, as the name suggests, but that’s far from their only trick. They have a shotgun that they “like to keep handy… for close encounters”, and can deploy a tool that is very useful in the campaign — pups. In Prometheus, scientist Sean Fifeld deployed half a dozen Weyland Industries Spectagraphs, also known as “Pups”, to map out the pyramid on LV-223. While knowing the terrain didn’t help Fifeld and Millburn from making colossally stupid decision inside the giant head room (Why would you touch ANY of the things in this room?!) they are useful for detecting hidden alien threats around corridors in Fireteam Elite, offering up a 20% reduction to damage as well. In addition, the Recon class brings a support drone that can replenish ammunition — something in critically short supply on higher difficulties, providing increased accuracy and stability (20%) and a little bit of health for each kill. Their perk is called “Focus” and stacks up to three times for each headshot kill on an enemy marked by the Pups, while granting additional 10% to accuracy and stability.
There are multiple expansion packs coming our way post-launch, and I’d just like to point out that there is a whole lot of room in the space underneath these five classes for new ones. I for one can’t wait.
One of my favorite things in this game is the extensive bits of lore everywhere. Popping open the little “i” icon for the M41A2 Smart Rifle reveals a ton of in-universe backstory about the caseless rifle, including its origins and some of the lore and scuttlebutt from the Marines that use it, and in this case, some more information on how it was redesigned and why. If you are a lore junkie like me, there’s a whole lot here.
“I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit…it’s the only way to be sure.” – Ellen Ripley
If there’s one element that Aliens: Fireteam Elite absolutely nails from top to bottom it’s the look and sound of this franchise. Every weapon sound is movie-perfect, as are the setpieces. The sense of scale is massive, and every level is as creepy as it is awe-inspiring. Iconic scenes from the movies are brought to life in breathtaking detail. Knowing that the expansion packs will bring fresh scenes makes me absolutely giddy with anticipation.
“What are we supposed to do man, use harsh language?” — Private Frost
Each of the classes have nearly two dozen additional skills to mix and match with over two dozen modifiers that unlock as you level up. These all feed into a grid system that is unique, and frankly a welcome surprise. Each modifier or skill has a size and shape that you have to fit into your grid, with some being class-specific, and others being universal. Tying each to one of your three class skills is a Tetris-like challenge to maximize their usefulness. Each level you earn with a class unlocks additional slots, until you eventually have the entire board to play with. Some mods have to be directly linked with their requisite skills, while others can be freeform into any available space. It’s a cool system that thematically fits perfectly with the semi retro-futuristic look of the Aliens universe.
Beyond these customizations, completely forget about every weapon I just told you about for the classes, because you can change them. While each class is restricted to specific classes of weapons, there’s nothing stopping you from swapping your Smartgun for an M94 Impact Grenade Launcher, or snap up a Type 99 Incinerator. Similarly, the Technician can drop the .50 cal pistol for an Kramer Short Barrel riot gun, or an M10 Auto Pistol. Mixing and matching will give you a numeric “combat rating” value, though nothing replaces a little field test to see if you’ll end up successful or just end up dead.
Your primary and secondary weapons also have three mod slots for things like muzzle, magazine, and optic choices, as well as three cosmetic slots for dressing up your new toys. Each mod will affect your weapons handling, accuracy, damage falloff distances, and more, so it’s not just slapping a scope on things because you want to see a little further.
Speaking of cosmetics, there are a number of colors to paint your guns, various logos and slogans that you can resize and adjust for a perfect fit, and seven emote slots to fill. Wanna add flames or “Adios” to your smartgun? Yeah, you do. Amazingly, there are zero microtransactions in the game, so you’ll have to grind ’em out the old fashioned way, which frankly makes me happy because anything I’ve gotten, I’ve earned.
“We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.” — Newt
There are two sets of consumables available in Aliens: Fireteam Elite — Challenge Cards, and equipment. Starting with the former, you’ll periodically earn Challenge Cards that can provide you with extra boons or challenges, granting additional XP, money, or more for your efforts. These are consumed, regardless of your success or failure, so choose wisely. Almost all of these cards are quotes from the movies, including Carter Burke’s weak-assed apology of “I made a bad call” (technically it’s “It was a bad call” as Burke would never take responsibility like that) and the voice-crackingly awesome ad-libbed “GAME OVER, MAN!” from the amazing Bill Paxton as PFC Hicks. These cards can be shockingly difficult. The “I made a bad call” card disables your primary weapon, secondary weapons, kit abilities, and consumables…but you have your sidearm! If you can survive that, you’ll get 4X the experience and a bonus, but that’s gonna be one hell of a fight. Another card simply entitled “Explosions!” changes all Xenomorph runners into Xenomorph Bursters (the ones that explode into a massive pool of acid) in exchange for 1.5X the experience and credits. These can dramatically change the mission, and every member can select their own, so mixing and matching can make a cakewalk into a nightmare. Enjoy!
The second type of consumable, equipment, can be equipped and brought with you during any mission. Each Marine has two slots, and you can fill those however you see fit. If you want to pack incendiary rounds, or perhaps an extra Sentry Gun, then you are welcome to do so. You’ll find these consumables on mission, and they can be carried back to base for a future use, or you can buy them from the Requisition Officer in exchange for credits you’ve earned. These introduce a risk/reward element as they are consumed whether you fail or not.
“Look, I’m telling ya, there’s somethin’ movin’ and it ain’t us! Tracker’s off scale, man. They’re all around us, man. Jesus!” — Private Hudson
Beyond the campaign, which on normal difficulty took us about 11 hours to complete the first time, there is a Horde mode. Horde, like the name suggests, puts you in a confined space with little chance of survival, asking you to hold out for as long as you can. Between each of the 10 rounds you’ll have the chance to refill your ammo and set up any additional defenses for just 20 seconds before the next wave hits. Holding out for 10 rounds offers up the chance to either return to base with what rewards you’ve managed to nab, or hold out for another 10 rounds at the chance for greater goodies. We tried multiple times and never made it past round 19, so it’s likely we’ll have to raise that combat rating a bit. Still, from what I can tell thus far, there’s only one Horde mode map currently available — here’s hoping that number expands, or we get good enough to reach the others. Either way, they are currently inaccessible.
In addition to Horde mode, there are Tactical Opportunities you can use to work for rewards. These come with a rarity rating that usually corresponds to their difficulty level. These rotate frequently, with things like killing 300 synths or landing a certain number of headshots rotating every day, while class-specific things like completing three missions as Tactician cycling every 3 days. This encourages people to branch out from their favorite classes to try something new.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how fantastic and eerie the soundtrack of this game is. With stings straight out of the movies, the soundtrack tucks itself into the background nicely, coming alive when the room starts to crawl. It raises the hairs on the back of your neck, setting the stage for the fight ahead. When you step into the really bizarre areas of the game, the tone of the music will also shift with it, matching the creepy atmosphere. Music can really sell you on a scene, and the music in Fireteam Elite does that perfectly.
Truthfully, my only complaint with Aliens: Fireteam Elite is that I want more of it. The four campaign missions are magnificent, but with the four setpieces having three segments each, plus the Horde mode, you’ll be treading familiar ground soon enough. Still, swapping out character classes and throwing in higher difficulties (where damage is higher, and friendly fire starts to be a thing) can keep things fresh. Wanting more of something isn’t a bad thing.
If you’ve not noticed, I’m absolutely in love with this game — a sentiment shared by the rest of my Fireteam. This is one “express elevator to hell” that we all can’t wait to board over and over again.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite
We’ve waited far too long for an Aliens game this good, but it’s finally here. With an exciting campaign, five exciting classes, a dazzling array of weapons, and a staggering array of monsters to use them on, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a perfect organism.