Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen.
Every so often, I'll get swept away by a solid 7/10 game. You know the sort, I'm sure - put together with a focus on one core mechanic that it does well with all other corners cut off or sanded down. The kind of game that, with the best will in the world, is unlikely to end up on many 'Game of the Year' lists and yet gets under your skin and makes you think about it even while you're playing other things. Even when those 'other things' are really 'better things.' Aliens: Fireteam Elite is one of those games - and for the moment, I'm finding a lot of fun in the non-stop xenomorph blast-o-rama that it offers up.
Let's face it: Games based on the Aliens franchise have, historically... always kinda sucked. While the movies were all varying levels of good (with the possible exception of Alien: Resurrection), the videogame spin-offs have been varying levels of bad - with only a couple of notable exceptions. The Sega Megadrive version of Alien 3 springs to mind, along with Konami's 1990 arcade game. Oh, and let's not forget Alien: Isolation from a couple of years back. They're very much diamonds in the rough, though - the needles in the haystack. And yet in spite of this knowledge, apparently I've developed a Pavlovian response to the announcement of a new Aliens game. I don't pre-order games these days, but this was the first one in a long time that I was really tempted to.
The best Aliens games, in my experience, lean hard into what made the movies - or at least the first couple of 'em, anyway - so damn good. The action packed ones have kept to a stripped down and streamlined narrative, while the latter Isolation took all of its visual and tone cues from the first movie and spun a title of survival horror in an apparently abandoned space station - one part ALIEN, and one part Dead Space.
It makes sense, then, to say that this game is to Aliens what Alien: Isolation was to Alien. It's a digital homage, a love letter to the aesthetic, tone, and sound design of James Cameron's 1986 masterpiece. Within ten minutes of starting it, I was firing a smart gun into a swarm of incoming killing machines; the muzzle flash and sound effects lifted apparently flawlessly from one of my all-time favourite movies. My AI companions, Alpha and Beta, were on either side of me, firing their pulse rifles in unison into the melee. Bullets shred xenomorphs, acid blood splashes everywhere - and it all combines into what I almost didn't dare to hope that it could... that being the Aliens game I've wanted ever since I was a kid. The grin that spread across my face in that moment has returned every time I've fired it up since.
I've been waiting for a game that nailed Aliens ever since I saw the movie when I was 11 years old. I've followed the franchise through a series of movies that have all followed the law of diminishing returns, and through more disappointing video game versions than I care to count. Some of them came close to giving me what I wanted... and all of them fell short in one way or another. By this point, my jaded expectations were low - and that helped to add to the surprise. Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a solid, good fun game. If you're a fan of the franchise, this might be the first time in a long time that you're not wholly disappointed by a game based on it.
It moves through areas inspired by the aesthetic of each film across its four core missions, each checkpointed into three separate sections. The first of these is most inspired by the Nostromo; the mining vessel that is the setting for the original film. Later areas take their cues from the more recent Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, and it all ends in an area that brings to mind the hive from Hadley's Hope - the area in which most of the Colonial Marine squad is destroyed in Aliens. It was interesting that this game seems to manage to tie the disparate elements and timeframes of the wider series of films together into a single cohesive whole - in a way that the films themselves generally failed to do.
So far, such high praise then. One might almost be forgiven for thinking that the game's flawless - and of course, it isn't. It's a solid 7/10, AA experience that has a couple of problems. In my time with it, I had one hard crash (on an Xbox Series X) toward the end of the game - in a room with more xenomorphs in it than I could count. There were some framerate stutters, and a bit of occasional lag. Matchmaking is horrible - I failed to find anyone to play with on all but one occasion that I tried... and on that occasion, I was teamed up with a human player that was even less capable than my solo AI companions and soon came to wish I hadn't bothered. And yet in spite of this, the moment I've got a corridor full of xenos swarming toward me and my Smartgun starts chattering away and the acid blood starts splashing everywhere, all of my complaints simply fade away and I can't help but grin like a twat.
There's been a number of games released and announced recently that tie-in to movies from the mid 1980's. Terminator: Salvation is the one I played most recently before this one, and it was a similar love letter. The upcoming RoboCop: Rogue City shows signs of following along in a similar vein, while the aforementioned Alien: Isolation was probably the first game to the party. It begs the question: which franchise is next? Game developers of my generation are now the guys running the studios, and in senior roles - and their affection for movies of that era is almost universal. We might finally be reaching the point where we'll get all those games that we dreamed of as kids.
Me? I'll be right here - playing as many of them as I can get my hands on. While we wait, if anyone needs a Demolisher for their fireteam - give me a shout. I've got a bad feeling about this drop...
Have you been playing Aliens: Fireteam Elite? Or was Colonial Marines enough to put you off forever? Do you have a suggestion for what I can play next? Hit me up on Twitter to share your thoughts!