It’s safe to say that the now-iconic xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s Alien can be attributed for many a terrifying nightmare over the past 42 years (yeah, the original movie is that old). As beloved as the Alien franchise is, the gaming front has been somewhat sporadic when it comes to great Alien games. 2014’s Alien: Isolation managed to capture the stalking-horror element of the series, but the whole marines-blasting-bugs thing has alluded the franchise, until now. Aliens: Fireteam Elite isn’t a corridor-creeping extraterrestrial affair, but rather an in-your-face, alien-shooting bonanza, and it manages to deliver some serious nostalgia while offering something unique to the horde-shooter genre.
The game is essentially a 3-player co-op experience, not unlike that of Left 4 Dead or the more recent and incredibly underappreciated World War Z game, but of course, you can play it with AI companion bots (who are surprisingly competent), so if you’re more of single-player game, you can still enjoy everything Alien: Fireteam Elite has to offer.
After creating a character and picking a class (which is more of a loadout adjustment with a special ability), you have to tackle 4 main missions in 4 different locations, however, each mission is broken into 3 parts, which each take about an hour to complete, so there’s a lot on offer here in terms of content, which is great. The environments of the missions also differ greatly, going from abandoned ships to ancient ruins, which will make a few die-hard Alien fans perk up thanks to some great little nods to the films and overarching lore. Objectives in these levels usually involve opening hatches, deactivating airlocks, rescuing a scientist, and so on; and these do add some nice direction to the game, rather than just random arenas and a feeling of pointlessness to the whole thing.
As for enemy variety, barring a few AI robots, you do only really end up shooting the same things: those handsome, slippery, black xenomorphs, but it’s OK, as they’re just so terrifying that shooting them that it never gets old. Their high-pitched elephant shrieks (yeah, that’s what that sound actually is) each time they pop into bubbles of acid blood is incredibly satisfying, and there are a few variations, such as spitting enemies and larger tougher ones, but thankfully shooting them is also fantastic, which is down to the feel and sound design of the weapons.
The guns and weapon ‘feel’ is a real highlight here, with the classic pulse rifle from the films looking, sounding, and ripping through enemies just like in the movies. A handy shotgun packs a serious punch and the pros and cons of these weapons are excellently balanced, causing you to switch between them almost every minute depending on the situation, which is welcome, rather than sticking with one overpowered weapon. There are a few ‘defend object A’ sections, where you’ll wait for an elevator, or for jammed doors to open — things of that nature — while a horde of xenomorph swarm your position. These situations often allow you a bit of time to prepare, and give you some tools to help you out, such as an auto-targetting turret or electric mines. Setting up your own little ‘stronghold’, restocking ammo, planting traps, and aligning your turret in anticipation for the onslaught is always thrilling and one of the best parts of Alien: Fireteam Elite.
What also makes most of the moment-to-moment gameplay great is the nature of the environments and enemies themselves. Anyone who’s seen an Alien film knows those pesky buggers can climb and crawl out of anywhere, and they do in Fireteam Elite. Vents will burst open, enemies will come from the ceiling, and they sometimes even scurry and leap into vents and holes to avoid gunfire, only to pop out behind you a few seconds later. This definitely isn’t like mowing down zombies in other horde games as your enemies don’t run at you in single-file — they crawl, jump, fan out, hide, and scramble their way to you in rather clever ways. It puts your aiming and manoeuvrability to the test, that’s for sure.
There’s a lot that’s good with Fireteam Elite, but that said, there are a few hiccups. The checkpoint system is rather brutal in the fact that if you die, you’ll have to start the section all over again, so saving your downed friends is critical. There are also some janky animations when the xenomorphs transition from pipes to walls and back to the floor, and scurrying over each other can look a bit clumsy; thankfully, the silky smooth frame rate, great environmental effects — steam shooting from pipes, red emergency lights flooding the screen, and more — all look superb.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite does what it sets out to do, giving you (and some friends) a sweaty-palmed shooter set in the Aliens universe, full of that 70s and 80s film era machoness. Its confident design choices, diverse environments, and addictive shooting mechanics make it one of the best games to indulge in within the genre, if you’re ready for some more nightmare fuel, of course.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is available on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.