Aliens: Fireteam Elite review: State of the bada** art

Cold Iron Studios
Cold Iron Studios /

Title: Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Developer: Cold Iron Studios
Publisher: Cold Iron Studios
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed on), Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release date: August 24, 2021

Aliens, the explosive, action-packed sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror Alien, was one of my favorite films growing up. The 1986 film, directed by James Cameron, introduced us to the Colonial Marines, an interstellar military squad armed with tactical smart missiles, phased plasma pulse rifles, RPGs, nukes, knives, sharp sticks… the works. They really were the “ultimate badasses,” as Hudson so eloquently put it.

I’ve waited 35 years for a video game to capture the badass-ery that is the Colonial Marines. After multiple failed attempts, I had begun to lose hope. Then Cold Iron Studios, a relatively small studio founded in 2015, announced Aliens: Fireteam Elite

A cooperative, third-person shooter, Aliens: Fireteam Elite puts you in the boots of a hardened Colonial Marine. Set 23 years after the original Alien movie trilogy, Xenomorphs are no longer a secret, nor are the shady activities of the nefarious Weyland-Yutani. Your squad of Colonial Marines are well-equipped to handle everything thrown at you.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Cold Iron Studios /

And this is really the crux of Aliens: Fireteam Elite. It’s an action-centric, survival shooter with a primary focus on what is essentially wave-based combat.

The action is spread across four campaign segments, each comprised of three missions each (about 20-30 minutes in length each on standard difficulty). While the locations vary, the tasks and general mission structure is the same for each.

You move through narrow corridors from room to room, eventually reaching a large area that you’ll have to defend for a specific period from waves of oncoming enemies. While the premise is the same for every mission, the enemies thrown at you do somewhat vary at times, breaking the repetition.

For the most part, you’ll be defending against swarms of aggressive Xenomorphs. The bulk of the enemy waves are mindless Xenomorph Runners. They are aggressive and can quickly overwhelm your squad, but they do go down fairly easily. And while their mannerisms are reflective of their behavior in the movies, you can sometimes tell they are on a specific path to get to you. It’s easy to predict where they’ll spawn from and the route they’ll take to get to you.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Cold Iron Studios /

As you progress through the campaign, you’ll come across stronger types of aliens, and even encounter synthetics. This provides a break in the repetition as it requires more strategy in terms of the equipment you bring and your actual positioning in combat. When facing synthetics, the game becomes more of a cover-based shooter than a simple horde mode. But for as much as this breaks up the repetition, there’s just something rewarding about standing your ground and mowing down waves of Xenomorphs with a Smartgun or Pulse Rifle.

And honestly, that’s how I feel about this game. It’s not the most inventive combat mechanics. It’s not the most polished gameplay experience. Aliens: Fireteam Elite almost certainly won’t be winning any Game of the Year Awards. But, as a fan of the Alien franchise, I loved it.

It’s just straight-up fun — especially if you’ve dreamed for as long as I have about standing in the boots of a Colonial Marine. Cold Iron Studios absolutely nailed the intense actions sequences of Aliens.

Despite being a cooperative shooter, you can play it by yourself. In those instances, you are accompanied by two synthetic bots who, quite honestly, aren’t very helpful or smart. They’ve got a good aim, but that’s about it. Their logic, especially when it comes to reviving and using health kits, definitely needs some tweaking.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Cold Iron Studios /

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is most enjoyable when playing with two others, especially if those two others are also fans of the franchise. I can’t tell you how many times we quote the movies during our playthrough.

“Marines, we are leaving!”

As far as story, it’s your typical Aliens movie plot; you’re a Colonial Marine aboard the USS Endeavor responding to a distress call from an outer colony. When you arrive, you discover something much more that basically comes down to Weyland-Yutani doing their usual sketchy stuff. It’s really just there to provide some context for the missions, a backdrop to explain the different kinds of enemies and various areas you’ll be exploring.

As a budget-priced title, there were obviously some concessions made, and that’s most apparent in the campaign. There are no cinematics and the story is told mostly through conversations you have with your crew aboard the ship in between missions (and their mouths don’t even move as they talk). As an Aliens nerd, I did find the story fascinating — even the parts where it starts to dive into Prometheus-type lore — but the way in which it’s told leaves a lot to be desired. Additional lore is told through discovered intel that you find throughout the campaign but, again, unless you’re a fan of this universe, it’s easy to skip over.

As I mentioned, there are a dozen replayable missions. Each mission takes you through a distinct setting and introduces new enemies, keeping things fresh across the campaign. Cold Iron Studios absolutely nailed the environments. From the cold, tight corridors of the colony outposts and ships to the dark, damp organic Xenomorph hive, the maps truly feel authentic to the movie locales and aesthetics.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Cold Iron Studios /

Upon starting the game, you create your own soldier. There are four classes available to play as during the campaign: Gunner, Demolisher, Technician and Doc. A fifth class, Recon, is unlocked when you complete the campaign. And a sixth class, Phalanx, is coming in September.

Each class as its own unique abilities and a specific set of weapons they can equip. There are also perks and modifiers that you can equip to enhance your damage or abilities. As you level up each individual class, you can unlock more space to equip perks for that specific class.

Additionally, every weapon also has its own individual level that you rank up the more you use it. As you level up a weapon, you’ll unlock specific perks for that gun.

Equipping weapon attachments and mods, leveling up guns, and unlocking perks and modifiers all count towards increasing your combat rating. Each class has its own individual combat rating, and every mission has its own recommended combat rating.

I was actually pleasantly surprised at how in-depth the class system was, but it does have some drawbacks. Notably, the combat rating, which I’m not entirely convinced makes a huge difference as the game is definitely hard even when you’re past the recommended level. While the game encourages you to play as different classes through Tactical Opportunities (daily and weekly challenges), you’re better off sticking to one class for the campaign. Otherwise you might find yourself underpowered if you’re trying to play a fresh class during one of the final missions.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite
Cold Iron Studios /

As I wrap this up, I want to touch on the difficulty. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a difficult game, even on Standard difficulty. It’s made harder when playing with bots instead of other humans, but even me and my friends wiped a couple of times during the final waves. And with on checkpoint system, you have to replay the entire mission all over from the beginning, which is incredibly frustrating (but at least you get partial XP).

There are a total of five difficulty levels, with the hardest two (Extreme and Insane) unlocking after you complete the campaign. You won’t hit max level in a single playthrough and that’s by design. The missions are meant to be replayable on harder difficulties as you continue to level up your classes. For additional challenges, you can activate Challenge Cards that offer unique modifiers to the mission, usually with some reward incentive for the extra difficulty. There’s also a Horde mode if you don’t feel like running through the same missions over and over again.

For as fun as Aliens: Fireteam Elite is during its initial playthrough, it can get repetitive as you grind those same missions to level up the other classes. The Tactical Opportunities and Challenge Cards only offer so much variety, especially since all the missions have basically the same structure. I hope, if this game does well enough, it receives post-launch content in the form of new levels or modes to keep things feeling fresh. Otherwise, I could see players getting burnt out shortly after they complete the main campaign.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite isn’t perfect. There are a few minor AI issues, lackluster presentation, and some repetitive gameplay loops. But it’s the closest thing we’ve had to faithfully recreating the blockbuster movie experience. As a fan of the movie franchise, I was able to look past its shortfalls and enjoy it for what it delivers — an action-packed experience.

Cold Iron Studios, LLC. . Aliens: Fireteam Elite. 7.5. For 35 years, <em>Aliens</em> fans have experienced letdown after letdown with video game adaptations. <em>Aliens: Fireteam Elite</em> finally delivers an authentic experience true to the films that accurately captures that ultimate bada** feeling of suiting up as a Colonial Marine and mowing down swarms of Xenomorph.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.