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Posted on Sep 19th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Aliens Fireteam Elite, coop

Over the years, I've mentioned the co-op adventure/survival/shooter as one of my favorite modern game genres.  I'm not naturally very competitive, but I do have a strong enjoyment and desire for playing with friends and building comradery.  I must not be alone, because there has been no shortage of new experiences for playing through a co-op game with two or three friends over the last several years.

We've had our highs: the Borderlands, Left 4 Deads, Halos, Gears, Vermintides, Evolve, The Divisions.
We've had our disappointments: Earthfall, Dead Alliance, Raid: World War II, Hell Warders, Aliens: Colonial Marines.
And we've had our surprised delights: Risk of Rain 2, Unreal Tournament III, World War Z, Zombie Army 4: Dead War, Remnant: From the Ashes, Strange Brigade.

When a new Aliens game was announced fitting this mold, the obvious and immediate hope was that it would at least wash out the bad taste of the previous multiplayer game of the same ilk (the aforementioned Colonial Marines), even as the budget price and smaller scale kept expectations in check.  The last major game in the franchise, Aliens: Isolation, was one of my favorite single-player games.  So is Elite Fireteam a stand-up fight, or another bug hunt?  (Sorry, had to.)

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a third-person action/survival co-op game for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, and Microsoft Windows.  It was developed by Cold Iron Studios, whose previous game output included City of Heroes, Star Trek Online, and Neverwinter.  I picked up the PS5 and PS4 versions and have seen them side by side; both look pretty nice in my opinion, with the biggest difference being the expected 60fps on PS5 compared to the PS4's 30fps. 

Fireteam Elite places its story between the second and third movie in the franchise, specifically 23 years after Aliens.  The titular xenomorphs are now a known threat and the colonial marines are much more prepared and equipped than their first encounter, although I do have to wonder why at this point in the future said marines couldn't find some good acid-resistant boots.  The game sees one to three players through a twelve mission campaign divided into four chapters, and a horde mode that unlocks after completing the last mission on any difficulty.  To be fair, the amount of content meets the budget price; each mission lasts around 20 to 35 minutes, and at launch there is only one horde map, with more promised in the future.

The meat of the experience is found in both the difficulty and the gradual unlocks.  This game is no cakewalk, even on the easiest "Casual" difficulty; a single xenomorph can take a chunk out of a marine, the notorious acid blood saps health quickly when walked through (though it does mercifully evaporate), there are projectile spitters, and without getting into spoilers there are various other threats that don't hold back.  Being experienced co-op gamers and Aliens fans, my friends and I immediately started on the "Standard" difficulty... and promptly failed the first mission.  It became clear due to each mission's combat rating suggestion that some leveling up was expected before even the "Standard" difficulty.

The way the combat rating works is based on an overall player level (that maxes out at twenty), a ranking from one to eight for each class loadout (Gunner, Demolisher, Technician, and Doc, with Recon unlocked after clearing the campaign and Phalanx as a free update), the level of each equipped weapon (one to four stars), and finally the attachments for each firearm.  Phew.  It isn't quite as complicated as it sounds, although there is no shortage of stuff to grind including perks and modifiers that unlock for each class (some specific to the class, some universal), consumables that can be stockpiled, more weapons and attachments to buy with in-game currency, and of course a ton of cosmetics.   

It can be a bit to process at first, especially since there isn't really an in-game tutorial.  It isn't even immediately obvious how to start new missions, or how "challenge cards" work (they can be bought and earned, and generally give unique restrictions to the next mission and add bonuses only upon completion), or how to add the all-important perks and modifiers to a character.  None of this is tough to figure out really, but given how many layers the game tosses in at the start it is easy to miss some important, even crucial, information that can make-or-break survival.

Once that initial break-in period is passed, the game settles into its own brand of co-op survival.  The game build is probably closest to World War Z in how it feels for leveling, gameplay, mission structure, and progress.  On the "Casual" and even "Standard" difficulty there is still challenge, but a coordinated team used to these types of games will likely acclimate quickly.  Once the difficulty is set higher than that, friendly fire is brutal and the heavy enemies become as dangerous as any in the genre.  The now-familiar setting is extremely well utilized, and I'll simply say that while it is definitely an Aliens game, it utilizes other movies in the series to interesting effect.  In a surprising twist, I was assuming the Gears of War-style cover system was needlessly added considering that aside from acid-spitter special xenomorphs, the rest were melee attackers.  Then the game began adding new enemy types and encounters, and by the mid-point everything 'clicked' from a design standpoint.  There are a few twists-and-turns in the missions and reveals, but the game does largely stick to its roots and stays true to intent.  My only serious gripe was the finale, which does not end on quite the high I was hoping and forgoes an obvious end-encounter, but I suppose that's what DLC missions are for.  Tongue

There have been several video games based upon the Aliens franchise, and I would personally say some of them have nailed the art design and atmosphere as well as Fireteam, but I'm not sure any have surpassed it.  The clunky future-as-imagined-from-the-1970s-and-80s technology, entire levels that feel like H.R. Giger art, the pitch-perfect sound design (including the famous roar of the pulse rifle and smart guns), and the constant hissing and rumbling in the background all make for an extremely cinematic experience.  Since the gameplay loop is built around replaying the same missions over and over to unlock superior upgrades for harder difficulties, it is a good thing that the game is this well-represented in the graphics and sound department.

As for gameplay, I definitely think it is a lot of fun, with some caveats.  Fireteam is a decent single-player game on "casual," even "standard," but any higher difficulty and the once-decent bots the game gives to fill in players two and three become about worthless.  They do not have classes to loadout, they cannot activate objectives, they cannot be commanded by the player, and they simply do not dish out enough damage, not to mention they walk directly in front of the player and take friendly fire damage.  There is no way to look up servers to invite or join, so unless you know some friends to set up matches, simply finding games with human players is a chore.  Some classes seem far less refined and useful than they should be (looking at you, Phalanx and Doc) as are some weapons (sniper rifles and DMRs seem outclassed by the all-mighty pulse rifle).  On the technical end, I've seen a few audio bugs, the daily and weekly challenges have glitched at times, I've had one hard-crash, one instance where the mission advancement didn't trigger, and some online lag issues.  Over the three weeks since launch, I've sunk a lot of time into Fireteam, and I'd say the amount of technical problems are on par with other co-op shooters I've played, especially this early in.

Overall, I really, really like Aliens: Fireteam Elite.  It can be grindy and frustrating, and there is no denying the core loop doesn't have the variety of some much larger games.  But as a co-op Aliens action-survival game, it nails the experience with intense firefights, great use of the license, and a hook that keeps me checking the dailies and weeklies even if I have to play solo at times.  The initial budget price softens the blow of the amount of content, and developer Cold Iron Studios has already patched the game a few times, added new stuff for free, and promises more to come.  I'd say if you have some interested friends, grabbing a few copies would be far from a "bad call."


(All pics grabbed from the official site, https://www.aliensfireteamelite.com/en/)

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