Aliens: Fireteam Elite Forgets Aliens Was More Than an Action Movie

Aliens: Fireteam Elite reminds us that Aliens was more than a great '80s action film.

Aliens Fireteam Elite
Cold Iron Studios Photo: Cold Iron Studios

Aliens: Fireteam Elite hopes to not only bring a little life to one of the most notable gaming dry spells in quite some time but ultimately do justice to 1986’s Aliens in the same way that Alien Isolation so brilliantly paid tribute to 1979’s Alien.

On the surface, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is in a tremendous position to do just that. With its Left 4 Dead-style cooperative gameplay that casts you and your companions as space marines tasked with exterminating a horde of Xenomorphs, Aliens: Fireteam Elite seems to capture what many people remember most (or perhaps most fondly) about the Aliens movie.

Yet, as you play Aliens: Fireteam Elite, you’ll likely start to realize that Aliens‘ action may be the aspect of the movie that many people mention first when discussing it but was actually just one of the components of that film that made it work as well as it did. It’s when you start to look at the other reasons why Aliens is a bonafide classic that you start to see why Fireteam Elite not only misses the mark but sometimes makes the least out of what could have been a tremendous opportunity.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s Action Can Be a Lot of Fun

Before I say anything too negative about Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s action-focused approach, let me make it very clear that the problem in this game is not necessarily how “fun” that action can be. Actually, Aliens Fireteam Elite can be a lot of fun in the right circumstances.

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You’re going to be tired of hearing this when it comes to these Left 4 Dead-style games, but the “right circumstances” in this instance absolutely means playing with friends. Some games just work well as elaborate hangout spaces for you and your friends to do something in while chatting on Discord, and Fireteam can certainly fill that void if you’re looking for a new game to do so. 

To be fair, though, Fireteam’s base action is fairly enjoyable even if you’re playing with random people. The Left 4 Dead comparisons are obvious, but Fireteam actually shares quite a bit of DNA with Gears of War (with a little Outriders thrown in). It’s a third-person, cover-based shooter with character classes and RPG elements. When those pieces come together, Aliens: Fireteam Elite proves to be about as entertaining as many of the better Gears of War games. It’s inherently satisfying to use powerful weapons to mow down waves of enemies who explode in a parade of viscera. At its best, Fireteam taps into that simple pleasure. 

It’s when you dive into the details that Fireteam’s action starts to fall apart…

Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s Plot and Characters Ignore One of the Best Parts About Aliens

As we mentioned in our look at how Aliens changed gaming forever, so many elements of Aliens have become cliches over the years. As is the case with many tropes, years of diminishing returns make it easy to forget that Aliens’ plot wasn’t just about another group of foul-mouthed, blue-collar Space Marines tearing through hostile creatures and occasionally getting in over their heads. The movie took some time to assign those characters identities and get you emotionally invested in the plot.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite tries to insert some character building and plot into the action, but like many other aspects of the game’s audio and visuals, so many of Fireteam’s plot and character elements are practically pulled straight from the movie without little consideration for whether they work within this specific context. This proves to be an especially big problem in the case of the game’s timeline. Fireteam is supposed to take place 23 years after the original Aliens trilogy, but everything from the weapons and the combat strategies to the characters themselves really haven’t changed much since Aliens.

So much of Fireteam is clearly built to remind you of the Alien movies and the good time you had with them. However, this is one of those elements of the game that is more likely to remind you of the ways the movies simply did it better. 

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Aliens: Fireteam Elite Forgets That Aliens Was Scary and Unpredictable

It’s always bothered me a little bit that Alien is typically remembered as the “horror” movie and Aliens is remembered as the “action” movie. It’s true that both of those movies emphasized those elements more than the other, but Aliens was actually a genuinely effective horror movie that featured some of the franchise’s best scares. 

Aliens: Fireteam Elite simply struggles to replicate that film’s incredible balance of horror and action. Most of the horror in Fireteam comes in the form of jump scares, but the game telegraphs so many of its scares through a series of audio and visual cues that it repeats so often that you begin to use these scares to mentally prepare yourself for the next enemy wave. It’s all meant to get you to the action faster, and the action itself often leaves you feeling fully capable of taking on whatever may come. 

What about the Xenomorphs, though? Isn’t it intimidating to face off against some of the most capable and deadly enemies in movie history? Well, about that…

Aliens: Fireteam Elite’s Xenomorphs Follow the “Conservation of Ninjutsu” Trope 

The Conservation of Ninjutsu trope (also known as the “Law of Diminishing Ninjas” or “The Inverse Ninja Theory”) states that one ninja in fiction can be deadly but that larger groups of ninjas are more likely to be cannon fodder for the hero. For the most part, the Aliens movie avoided that trope by constantly reminding us that even a single Xenomorph is a threat and a group of Xenomorphs is arguably justification for destroying the planet from orbit. 

This is not the case with Aliens: Fireteam Elite. The first group of Xenomorphs you encounter fall so easily that it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever be intimidated by them again. The game tries to mix things up by introducing special Xenomorph variants and other enemies that present different kinds of threats, but most enemies’ incredibly aggressive brute force A.I. means that they often still rely on swarming you and overwhelming you but are often unprepared to effectively do so. 

Aliens: Fireteam Elite seems to be under the impression that the Space Marines in Aliens were bonafide universe-beating badasses when they were actually a group of capable, well-armed soldiers who quickly learned that the years they spent believing they were the dominant hunter species were based on a tragic lack of information. 

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Aliens: Fireteam Elite Tries to Do Too Much Without Getting the Fundamentals Right

Aliens was a masterful blend of sci-fi, action, and horror that is rightfully remembered as one of the best sequels ever and one of the best movies in those respective categories. It was an incredible achievement, but let’s not forget that action, sci-fi, and horror are three flavors that can blend together smoothly when prepared by the right hand.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite also tries to combine those genres, but it complicates the formula by trying to incorporate live service elements, streamer-focused gameplay considerations, and simplified progression systems that, much like we recently saw with Back 4 Blood, ultimately dilute the core components that this game should be focusing on.

It’s not hard to look at Aliens: Fireteam Elite and see the great game that it could have been and almost was, but that really makes it that much more of a shame that this cooperative shooter wasn’t able to make the most out of a tremendous opportunity as well source material that has successfully created a template for a collection of classic games that sadly doesn’t include this one that shares its name.