The Switch finally has another Alien game on the Switch. We were blessed with Alien: Isolation back in 2019, which offered a terrifying experience as you outmaneuvered and outsmarted a near-unstoppable creature. It stands as one of the highpoints of the videogame versions of the series, if not the best. Truth be told, it’s quite a hard act to follow – which is probably why the developers, Cold Iron Studios, decided to make a game that was as far from that style as possible.
In fact, the shift in style almost mirrors that of the first Alien film to its sequel, Aliens; gone is the lone unstoppable creature, replaced with creatures that are far easier to dispose of but in larger numbers. It worked in the cinema, but will it work just as well for Aliens: Fireteam Elite?
Many thanks to Cold Iron Studios for the review code.
STOP YOUR GRINNIN’ AND DROP YOUR LINEN
Aliens: Fireteam Elite takes place in the year 2202, and follows a team of Colonial Marines on a mission to investigate a distress signal from the Katanga station. After investigating, they find the facility overrun by Xenomorphs and rescue one the Weyland-Yutani scientists – Dr Hoenikker.
Hoenikker informs the squad of the discovery they found of the nearby planet of LV-895 (catchy), a mutagen that they refer to as the Pathogen. Obviously, the Marines decide not to run away with their lives and instead opt to dive straight into the jaws of hell to find out what’s going on.
The game’s story is told through cutscenes with the characters in the Colonial ship (which also acts as mid-mssion hub), and in-game dialogue over the radio. It’s a rather decent narrative that fits well within the Alien universe, but it’s not one that really surprises you with anything particularly different to the usual corporate meddling with bioweapons.
The main issue with the story is unfortunately one that affects the game’s overall presentation, and that’s the complete lack of lip syncing. Characters speak without moving their mouths, and it’s rather jarring, making the game feel rather low budget despite everything else looking and sounding absolutely gorgeous. This is alleviated somewhat by only really affecting conversations with characters onboard the ship, since the in-game chatter is solely over the radio and thus unaffected, but it’s still very noticeable regardless.
ASSHOLES AND ELBOWS
At the risk of sounding derivative, the gameplay of Aliens: Fireteam Elite can be best summed up as Left 4 Dead but with Xenomorphs instead of Zombies. The perspective may be different as this game is played from a third rather than first person perspective, but it still has that very similar vibe as you plough your way through seemingly endless swarms of creatures as you and your team fight to survive.
Each campaign, of which there are four, consists of three separate missions to play through and are comprised of environments that will be familiar to fans of the series. What surprised me the most about the campaigns is how much visual variety is on offer to set each one apart, and how the developers weren’t afraid to utilise elements from outside the main Quadrilogy to help mix things up. Not only do we have locations and plot elements that link to the likes of Alien Covenant and Prometheus, but the game also includes enemy variants that link to the extended universe; there’s Worker Joes from Alien Isolation, Praetorian Guards from Aliens vs Predator, and even some redesigns of the unique Xenomorphs from Aliens Colonial Marines. Yeah, I bet you didn’t think you’d ever see the likes of the Spitter again, did you? Well, you know what – it all works perfectly, and nothing feels out of place. New types are also spread out just enough so that when you start feeling that the enemy types are getting a little stale, you’ll suddenly get bumrushed by some Pathogen-warped abominations that just so happen to bare a passing resemblance to the Newborn (yes, that thing).
As with Left 4 Dead, the general gameplay loop is that you progress through the levels ticking off the various objectives that your commanding officer tells you to do. Go here, cut open this door, activate this, find that, and so on. They’re mostly just waypoints for you to follow as you constantly fend off dribs and drabs of attacks. Every so often you’ll come to a halt and have to defend a location as a massive swarm of Xenos approach, and this is where things get interesting: before activating certain objectives, you’re given a warning about the incoming threat and have to set up your defences accordingly. Obtainable items such as mines and turrets can be placed to help fortify your position, but you really need to be careful of where you want to be defending from. Being out in the open is a bad idea, but sometimes an unavoidable one, meaning that occasionally you just have to do the best you can.
As you’re defending, you’ll be engulfed in a tidal wave of Xenomorphs as they crawl across the walls and ceiling to get to you, and those special enemy types will occasionally appear too to make things even more difficult. It’s these enemies that you need to focus on, as killing all of those are what causes the mayhem to end, but thankfully your job is made easier by having them glow a different colour on your radar. These set-pieces are rather exhilarating and make up the best parts of the game.
Unfortunately though, that’s about the bulk of what the gameplay has to offer. Objectives all tend to rather samey for the most part, so the game really is just killing a constant stream of enemies. That’s not necessarily a problem as the game does have some other elements to help mix things up: namely the different class types and the unlock system.
There are a range of classes to choose from, with the likes of the demolisher who focuses on heavy weaponry who can wield the iconic Smartgun, or the highly useful technician who keeps his shotgun nearby for close encounters and can also set up a portable turret to help defend against incoming waves. Each starts out pretty weakly, but both classes and their weapons will level up to make them become stronger. Levelling up will also increase the space you have to equip perks that can either further strengthen your character or their abilities.
These perks, and also other weapons, can either be bought in the armory, obtained from completing missions, or by finding in special hidden caches throughout the levels. They’re a nice addition and each class feels unique enough to encourage you to start over with someone new. Given that you can buy some stuff for other character classes, it never really feels like you’re starting from scratch.
The other thing that helps spice up the gameplay are the obtainable challenge cards that you can activate before a mission. These cards can be used up to grant you XP and monetary boosts, or just make things a tad easier. The beauty of these is that some of the effects can be pretty enjoyable and help make the level feel a tad different to usual. One may challenge you to beat the level within a set time, add a filter that affects your vision, or makes teammates fall over if you bump into them. You can tell that the developers had a lot of fun making these, and they’re a nice optional way to get stronger faster.
After the eight hours or so that it takes to beat the campaign, you’ll be greeted to a variety of welcome unlocks to help encourage you to keep on playing. There’s the obligatory extra difficulty modes, of course, for those who want an even harder experience, a quick play mode that allows you to join any random match, a hardcore mode, and a horde mode.
The horde mode is exactly what you think it is: defend a location against wave upon wave of enemies. There’s a few different variants on offer, with my favourite focusing on repairing turrets to help defend your position; but, in reality, they all boil down to that same loop. As someone that never clicked with horde mode in games, I found it to be a pale substitute for the main levels (where you do more than your fair share of defending against waves of enemies anyway), but it’s still a welcome addition regardless.
Hardcore mode is where things really get interesting though, and it even earns its own place on the main menu. It’s effectively a roguelite mode where you create your own character and start the game from scratch; however, one death and it’s all over. With 50 difficulty modes that bump up the challenge every time you succeed, it’s something for those who want a real challenge. It gels pretty well with the game due to the slightly random enemy encounters and weapon unlocks, and helps add some extra strategy and terror to the game as you try to make it through alive. Unlocked weapons will become available in the armory for future playthroughs too, giving you some element of micro-progression between runs. It’s a really neat mode that will probably end up being my primary way to play going forward, as I don’t see myself grinding out every character to max in the main game.
GAME OVER, MAN
Of course, this wouldn’t be a review of a cloud game without addressing how it plays, and I’m pleased to report that it works surprisingly well. Much like Resident Evil 2, I encountered zero issues during my time with the game. Not only does that include my time playing solo with the reasonably competent AI before the servers went live, but also online with two marines from other platforms too. I had honestly expected the game to struggle whilst juggling the cloud streaming in addition to playing online with players on other platforms, but it ended up playing no differently at all. This is based on my wired connection, so results may vary depending on how your internet holds up. It is worth reiterating though that Nintendo offers refunds on cloud games provided that you’ve played for less than two hours in as many weeks, so it’s probably worth taking a punt if you’re on the fence about it.
Where I did have some issues was with the matchmaking. Connecting with other players proved to be a mixed bag and often depended on luck more than anything. Given that quickplay is only unlocked after beating the campaign, it can make searching for players on a specific map an occasional chore. Sometimes I connected to other players quickly, and other times it felt like an age. You can invite friends from both the Switch and other platforms, which helps a lot, but if you’re relying solely on strangers then it could prove to be a problem as the community starts to get smaller.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite may take heavy inspirations from the Left 4 Dead series, but it also results in a game that works perfectly within the Alien universe. Whether you’re playing in solo or co-op, there’s a lot of fun to be had and there’s a lot of replayability too for those who click with the formula. What surprised me the most though was how well the cloud version ran, even during crossplay multiplayer, allowing for a rather seamless shooting experience. Whilst you still won’t be able to escape the fact that one day the game will be gone forever on a whim, it’s still a lot of fun in the meantime.