Fireteam Elite is a Left 4 Dead-inspired co-op shooter set in the Alien universe. You and up to three friends, or bots if you're playing solo, can team up and battle xenomorphs, malfunctioning androids, and other Alien-themed bad guys across four campaigns. The game will launch on August 24, but ahead of that I got to hunt some bugs in a preview build.
I'm on a rescue mission aboard a derelict space refinery called the Katanga. You know the thing the Nostromo is hauling at the beginning of Alien? It's one of those—a hulking, cathedral-like structure orbiting a planet, with a dinky towing ship attached to it. Fireteam immediately nails the aesthetic of the movies, although the constant chatter of my commander over the radio is doing its best to ruin the spooky ambience. She never shuts up.
I'm here to rescue a scientist, Dr. Tim Hoenikker. This is a character from Aliens: Infiltrator, a prequel novel released in April that provides some backstory for the game. Hoenikker was a researcher for Weyland-Yutani, so I immediately know this isn't going to be a simple rescue mission. This time the Company is experimenting with a mysterious, deadly pathogen, which you might know as the infamous 'black goo' from Prometheus.
The first chunk of the mission involves some fun, and unexpected, scene-setting. Even though I know the refinery is infested with xenomorphs, because this is a game about shooting aliens, the designers spend some time building up to the reveal. My squad and I move through the dark, industrial, steam-spewing corridors of the Katanga, lighting the way ahead with our flashlights. A vent cover falls from the ceiling and I freeze, expecting a xeno to crawl out.
I access a chunky, retro-futuristic computer glowing in the gloom. It makes those brilliant whirring and beeping noises from the bridge of the Nostromo, which gives me a little buzz. Yes, it's pathetic. I just really love Alien. The computer reveals a map of the refinery, although it's really just a story detail to add colour to the mission: the actual game is completely linear.
As I move through the structure, I hear flutters of orchestral music riffing on Jerry Goldsmith's Alien score. It's nice, but it'd be more atmospheric if my commander wasn't still constantly wittering in my ear. The game tries to replicate the tough guy military dialogue that was so beloved in Aliens, but it doesn't sound convincing at all because the writing and acting aren't great. The marines' banter in the film was great and endlessly quotable; here, I'd rather just shoot aliens in silence.
The calm doesn't last. Another vent cover pops off, but this time it isn't just a fake-out to make me jump. Xenomorphs pour out of the darkness, and the vibe of the game changes instantly. Now we're in Left 4 Dead territory, with swarms of the bastards charging at me. It's a pretty satisfying shooter. The famous pulse rifle looks and sounds the part, and has a nice feeling of power behind it. Xenos explode with acid blood as I rip through them. I switch to a pump action shotgun (Hicks would be proud) and it packs a real punch.
I like how the xenos can appear from pretty much anywhere, slithering across the ceiling or crawling over the walls. In the darkness of the refinery, knowing one could come from any direction creates a nice feeling of tension. Most of the xenos I fight are fast-moving, easily killed grunts. However, similar to L4D, stronger 'hero' aliens occasionally show up. These include a nimble little jerk that can spit blobs of skin-melting acid from afar—but I expect there'll be bigger, scarier, and more powerful aliens to contend with in later missions.
Fireteam is a pretty straightforward shooter. I move between tight, narrow corridors and big, open arenas. Sometimes I'm warned by the commander that, once I trigger something to advance the level, a large swarm will come at me. This gives me some time to prepare, including healing up, restocking ammo from crates, and dropping gadgets like auto-turrets to help me survive the onslaught. These are some of the most fun sections I played.
As a Gunner, an assault class, I have a couple of special abilities too, which work on a cooldown timer. One is a grenade, which is self explanatory. The other is a mode called Overclock which grants double fire rate, faster reload, and stronger armour to both myself and my squadmates. It's all pretty dumb and videogamey, but in the context of a co-op shooter it works well enough.
The mission ends with me waiting for a painfully slow-moving elevator to arrive and take me to where Hoenikker is holed up. As it edges slowly down to my level, a 180-second timer pops up and the biggest wave of aliens yet is unleashed. This is pure survival: popping turrets, finding breaks to heal, and churning through crate-loads of ammo as the timer slowly ticks down to zero. It's a frantic end to the mission, and the sheer chaos is hugely entertaining.
Developer Cold Iron says the game will be stuffed with references to the Alien movies and other media, and I get a taste of this in the refinery. I spot a couple of Seegson-branded Working Joe androids, which is a nice connection to Alien: Isolation. It's clear the development team has love for the films and their various videogame and comic spin-offs, which is encouraging.
Honestly, Aliens: Fireteam Elite (it used to just be called Fireteam, not sure why they added the Elite) is more fun than I expected. As a co-op shooter it doesn't do anything particularly innovative, but the Alien themed levels, snappy combat, and large swarms of xenos might be enough for me to look past its lack of imagination and just enjoy blowing up some aliens.
After Isolation, which reminded us of just how terrifying Giger's creature can be, mowing down hundreds of them again as a marine feels like a bit of a step back for Alien games in general. We've had Aliens shooters before, and even more games heavily inspired by Aliens, so Fireteam feels like a bit of a throwback. But hey, it does the Aliens thing well—and better than Colonial Marines, which isn't saying much, granted. I doubt we'll get an Alien game as subversive and interesting as Isolation again. Fireteam is more straightforward, but they seem to have at least made a decent shooter out of it.