My Aliens: Fireteam Elite Non-Review

I hate to do this.

Disclaimer: I received a review key for this non-review. As you will see it had no impact on my opinion.

I’ll cut the semantics right off the bat where I say “I went into Aliens: Fireteam Elite wanting to like it” because we all know that’s a lie. Most things I go into are done with the enthusiasm of Ben Stein wearing a sleep mask. I don’t generally accept review keys because if I’m going to do reviews or columns I like to do them on my schedule and accepting review keys means someone’s tapping their foot and waiting for content within a reasonable amount of time. With Aliens: Fireteam Elite in a perfect world I would probably be playing this six months to a year from now being able to judge the game on its merits then, when I paid like six dollars for it on a Steam sale.

But right here right now I have to talk about Aliens: Fireteam Elite as though it’s a $40 game and I can’t write a review of it. An impressions piece? Sure, why not? Let’s do that. And then talk about why I can’t do a review.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a three player shooter that I’m talking about here because it is technically a live service, and as we all know live service games are effectively adjacent to your modern instance-based MMO. The game itself is a series of shooting gallery missions set in long corridors where your goal is to roll in with your squad, start blasting, and try not to die before you get to the next safety point. Every level is peppered with horde moments and inevitably a final boss that’s usually in the form of an Alien warrior.

At its core the game is pretty fun. It’s basically Left 3 Dead but with Aliens. You have horde-level aliens that go squish with a few bullets and then there are aliens that very closely mimic those from Left 4 Dead. There is the prowler that leaps on your character and thrashes them (Hunter), the bursters (boomers) that explode into acid, the Spitter (spitter) who spits acid, and I think you get the point. The problem then comes from the fact that the rest of the game doesn’t match the kind of fun you’d find in Left 4 Dead. You also deal with synths as the story progresses.

Left 3 Dead is stingy on ammo, the playable characters have nothing going for them, and there is virtually no pizazz to the atmosphere of the game. There’s no quippy character dialogue, no musical cues when a specific special alien is nearby, none of that stuff. It lacks the memorable points that other games of this type tend to provide better, and provided ten years ago, and ultimately every level is just a bland corridor with a fight and a bland corridor with a fight and a bland corridor with a fight and a bland corridor with a fight and a… sometimes outdoor area. The only thing I saw that surprised me was synths fighting aliens.

In order to integrate replayability into the game, Aliens: Fireteam Elite has leveling. You level your character, you level your guns, you level your abilities, and you level your levels. You unlock new gear, you grind currency, you buy new gear, and you increase your combat score. Your combat score determines how well you match up in a mission on a specific difficulty. The problem is I barely want to do it the first time.

And this is why I can’t review Aliens: Fireteam Elite right now. I can’t finish it. If I’m reviewing a game that can theoretically be “beaten” I will beat the game before I write a review. But I can’t beat Aliens: Fireteam Elite. The matchmaking is 100% busted as of this review. Despite the game peaking at upwards of nine thousand players this past week, the matchmaking is busted. There’s a good dozen or so levels each with a few difficulty choices, and I can’t get the game to match me up with a single person. Not a single person!

This means going at it solo, or almost solo. There are two synth NPCs named Alpha and Beta that will accompany you if you can’t find players before the arbitrary 50 second timer hits 0. They are mostly useless, by which I mean I’ve seen them stand around doing nothing while the whole team got torn apart. They remind me of the NPCs from Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Everything seems to be at a premium in this game; ammunition and medkits being those that I’m talking about specifically. The dearth of ammo spawns seems counterintuitive to the tone of blasting aliens by the thousands. I hate to keep bringing up Left 4 Dead, but they’re in the same family tree.

At $40, Aliens: Fireteam Elite is hard to recommend in its current state. It’s like paying way too much for the mediocre chain pizza buffet. Some of you kids may not remember this, but back in the day before everyone was locked down Pizza Hut had a buffet that was like $6-7 and came with unlimited pizza, breadsticks, and soda refills. The pizza at Pizza Hut isn’t great, but stuffing your face for six bucks is a feast worth its cost. If you really liked Pizza Hut like I did, boy was it heaven. Now imagine that but forty dollars.

Which isn’t me saying Fireteam Elite is only worth six dollars, I’m not going to parse value. What I’m saying is that for $40, the game doesn’t make much of an impact for its time. Take What Remains of Edith Finch as an example. $20, the game runs only a couple hours, but the time you spend with it is incredibly meaningful. Spend some hours in Aliens: Fireteam Elite and my feeling coming out was that not only was it frustrating and unfulfilling, but I didn’t get anything out of it. I couldn’t finish it because the match mechanics were broken and the backup reserves were broken too. A team game that forced me to play alone.

I will return to Aliens: Fireteam Elite at some point in the future. Probably. Assuming the team at Cold Iron actually improves the AI or the matchmaking and makes the game playable. What I can’t do is pretend that I have the progress required to write a straight-up review of the game. Because I don’t.


%d bloggers like this: