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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Aliens: Fireteam Elite – The Final Preview

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As I take my first trepidatious steps into the Katanga refinery, hair-raising hisses courtesy of its xenomorph residents echo throughout the steel corridors. A frightening greeting, for sure, but close encounters of the chest-bursting kind come with the job when you’re a Marine in Aliens: Fireteam Elite. This three-player co-op third-person shooter from developer Cold Iron Studios sets its sights on being the de facto galactic bug-hunting simulator that Aliens fans have wanted for nearly four decades. And after playing a near-final build full of superb firefights with wonderfully grotesque alien breeds, I’m optimistic that the silver screen’s seminal interspecies war is finally getting the glorious game adaptation it rightly deserves.

Set 23 years after James Cameron’s 1986 film, Aliens: Fireteam Elite follows a battalion of Colonial Marines investigating a distress call from the planetary colony LV-895. It seems everyone’s favorite parasitic species is running amok again, and I was one of the poor sods sent in on extermination duty. Plot details beyond this rough outline were noticeably sparse, lacking even lore dumps via notes or computer terminals. I could only play through the opening chapter’s first couple missions, though, so it’s likely that most of the story was hidden away until the full release. Given that everything iconic about the film was here in stunning detail, from Vietnam War-like decoration of Marine armor down to the pulse rifle’s iconic electric chug, I’m hopeful the story will receive the same meticulously loving treatment.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite – July 2021 Screenshots

What Aliens: Fireteam Elite unquestionably captures the essence of from its namesake is tense, close-quarters shootouts with swarms of xenomorph. These acid-fueled uglies will flood into rooms like a tidal wave of gnashing teeth and tail-whips until there’s no breathing room left, meaning you’ll need a steady trigger finger and crafty strategies to gain any ground. Of course, mowing them down with a pulse rifle or smartgun is a reliable first line of defense, and witnessing their exoskeletons rip-apart into gooey chunks is a guilty pleasure of mine — but careless brute force will only get you so far. Everybody within a fireteam must synergize their special class abilities when things get hairy. Coupling the technician’s stun grenades with a rocket barrage from the demolisher’s shoulder cannon, for example, became the immensely satisfying one-two xeno-toppling punch between a teammate and me. One that got plenty of use as wall-to-wall infestations were common inside the Katanga’s darkest depths.

These acid-fueled uglies will flood into rooms like a tidal wave of gnashing teeth and tail-whips until there’s no breathing room left.

My only concern with Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s combat is how finicky and mobility-limiting the cover system can be. Doorways often require needlessly frame-perfect camera alignments for you to hug them while others don’t, not to mention sticking yourself to a piece of cover is a bad call when the overwhelming majority of enemies sprint towards you to get within melee range. Sure, there’s the spitter xenomorphs that hock corrosive loogies from a distance, but I’ve yet to get hit by one. Though with several yet-to-be-seen xenomorph types and synthetic androids still to come, it’s a safe bet that more of them will make hiding behind cover a viable tactic.

Aliens: Fireteam – New Xenomorph Types

That’s a wager I’m confident in winning, too, because every breed of xenomorph thus far has distinct roles during missions. Take the ever so opportunistic drones that opt for quick hit-and-runs on anyone foolish enough to stroll off on their own. Once you’re in firing range, they’ve usually already darted back into the ventilation system — saving its skin while taking a hefty chunk of the victim’s health with them. Or prowlers, fearsome tackle artists that are particularly fond of pinning Marines to the ground at the least convenient times. Whenever I didn’t bother checking behind a corner, this crimson-shaded menace was eager to punish my negligence.

Take the ever so opportunistic drones that opt for quick hit-and-runs on anyone foolish enough to stroll off on their own.

Even runners, which are all-purpose cannon fodder xenomorphs, are slippery when their numbers seem endless — complementing the more challenging breeds marvelously when you hyperfocus on one over the other. That overarching theme sets Aliens: Fireteam Elite apart from other games based on the series. Each breed’s quirk plays off its kin well, making the hive itself (and your worst nightmares) come alive.

By the time my team and I made it through the whole of Katanga, Aliens: Fireteam Elite mostly won me over. Mostly. The marine’s weaponry and class toolkits harmonize with the xenomorph’s adaptive nature excellently, which got me plenty excited, despite the cover system being less than helpful and the sparse story beats leaving too much to the imagination. Either way, though, I’m stoked to play more when it comes out next month.


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