Alien is one of those iconic brands that hasn't had all that many great videogames. Granted, the most recent, Alien: Isolation was a truly remarkable horror experience, but shortly before that we had Aliens: Colonial Marines and Aliens vs. Predator. It's been rough. But, Cold Iron Studios is looking to shake off that stigma, as seven years after Isolation debuted, we're getting Aliens: Fireteam Elite, a cooperative third-person shooter that sees players take up the position of a Colonial Marine sent on missions into Xenomorph infested territories. I've spent a little while playing the game to get an idea as to what will be coming, and I have some varied thoughts.
First of all, it's hard to tell what the narrative is for this game, as my experience with the preview build asked me to create a character and then it pretty much just threw me into gameplay. There wasn't even a tutorial. I felt like a newborn foal, thrown into the world and expected to walk in minutes, else death is all but certain. Granted, the gameplay is pretty straightforward and easy to grasp, but a few heads-up here and there would've been welcome.
But anyway, the gameplay. In a few short words, I can probably paint a decent picture to what this game is: it's essentially a horde mode, except instead of hunkering down you have to venture across a level to complete a bunch of objectives. In fact, building on the mention of horde modes, the game plays quite alike Gears of War, as the third-person shooter gameplay feels remarkably similar to The Coalition's series. Moving is a little heavy, but the gunplay is responsive, and the actual game design basically sees you pushing through waves of Xenomorphs, hundreds in size, to make it to the conclusion of a mission.
This style of game design offers quite a one-dimensional experience from what I've seen. There doesn't seem to be much depth past walking down tight corridors, slaughtering different variants of carnivorous Xeno along the way, and while it was admittedly engaging, the longevity concerns me. This isn't helped by the style of combat that Aliens: Fireteam Elite uses, which screams cooperative play. So, despite the fact that the option to play solo does exist, you really won't get a great representation of what is delivered without a pair of trusted marines by your side.
On the other hand, there does seem to be quite a range of customisable options. The character creation system is pretty broad; there are multiple classes that feature unique weapons and abilities (be it the supportive Doc, or the explosively-centric Demolisher), plenty of weapons from the Alien universe to unlock, upgrade and wield, and you can even use Challenge Cards to change up the difficulty of a mission (I'll touch on this a little further in a moment). Stack this up with the fact that there are different kinds of Xenomorph, including acid Spitters and towering Warriors, that won't hesitate to kill you in the most brutal of manners, and you do get a lot of different ways to explore the title, even if the core game design is mostly centred around travelling to a waypoint, fending of hordes of the deadly creatures along the way.
This is precisely why the Challenge Cards seem to be quite important, as aside from a difficulty option, the only way to really switch up the gameplay is to select one of these cards that can either make your life harder (perhaps by limiting you to only a sidearm as a weapon), or easier (by making your grenades hit harder, for example). Either way, it again highlights the fact that this game is quite one-dimensional, and if you are looking for an Alien videogame that has some narrative depth or attempts to set itself apart from the typical formula we saw most recently in Colonial Marines - this won't be it. It's seems to be solely a shooter survival game where you religiously fire a gun for twenty minutes until you either make it to the end of level or die trying - not that that is inherently a bad thing, it just isn't exactly ingenious either.
You can count on well made gameplay (I only ran into a few very minor bugs in the preview build) that will engage you for a while. Heck, it'll even challenge you rather significantly if you up the difficulty and whack a card on. But, after even only three hours I felt like I'd already seen and done everything, felt like I'd got the gist of the game entirely, and for that reason, I'm not quite convinced by Aliens: Fireteam Elite just yet.