April 11, 2021

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Aliens: Fireteam May Be The Bug Hunt We’ve Wanted

Alien fans got their moment in the sun with Alien: Isolation, Creative Assembly’s exquisite homage to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film. Folks who lean more toward the bombastic action that James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens provided have had to be more patient. We haven’t gotten a truly great Aliens game (sorry, Colonial Marines), and while it’s absolutely too early to assess its quality, the newly revealed Aliens: Fireteam looks like a combat-booted stomp in the right direction.

Cold Iron Studios is using Aliens as a launching point, but the development team is determined to carve out its own path. One way it’s doing so is by setting Fireteam in the year 2202 – 23 years after the events of the Alien trilogy. In other words, don’t expect to see cameos from familiar characters or to revisit locations that we’ve explored time and time again. Instead, players will be experiencing an all-new storyline that spans four campaigns (each containing three missions). 

You play as a newly recruited member of the United States Colonial Marines. You create your own soldier and choose from one of five classes (gunner, demolisher, recon, technician, and doc), each with their own combat roles. For example, technicians can deploy portable turrets to lock down hallways or provide additional support fire; docs can provide their teammates with temporary buffs and healing; and so on. Players can further customize their characters with different cosmetics, weapon upgrades, unlocked perks, and more. It doesn’t appear to be a crazy deep amount of RPG-style tinkering, but it seems as though Cold Iron has been developing Fireteam with an eye toward replayability.

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The mission we see in a live demo is set on an abandoned orbital refinery named Katanga. The USS Endeavor, which is your hub between missions, has responded to the site after receiving a mysterious distress call. It doesn’t require a tremendous amount of imagination to guess what happens next.

Over the course of several brief firefights, I get to see the Aliens fantasy delivered in full force. Rather than trying to outsmart and outmaneuver a single xenomorph a la Alien, this is all about fending off unrelenting waves of the creatures. They scamper along walls and drop down right in front of us, hoping to overwhelm us with the sheer force of their numbers. Thanks to smart turret placement and decent coordination, they don’t stand a chance. Their black carapaces split under our gunfire, showering the vicinity with their corrosive innards. Thankfully, we’re at a healthy enough distance to not be consumed by the deadly goo.

It’s just a small slice of combat, but there’s enough to get a sense of the various rhythms at play. Before calling an elevator (and initiating a countdown-governed standoff), we have a few quiet moments to reload, regroup, and coordinate how best to survive what could end up being a last stand. I’ve always liked those little lulls between explosive action in Aliens, and it’s a nice breather in Fireteam.

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Cold Iron wants players to play through missions repeatedly. To encourage that, the team is giving players the option to play modifier cards before deploying, which can change the game in myriad ways. You might activate a noir modifier, which changes up the color palette. Or you could do something that significantly adds to the challenges, such as a card that only registers headshots when battling xenomorphs. Playing these cards can earn you bigger rewards, including cosmetics, when you’re finished. 

The studio was cagey about pricing and other details when first discussing Aliens: Fireteam, but studio head Craig Zinkievich later clarified that this was not going to be a live-service title. In addition, he emphasized the importance for the game to exist on its own, without charging players for a steady drip of lootboxes and other microtransactions. 

Cold Iron has definitely nailed the visual tone and other details, like the iconic pinging sound of the motion tracker to the staccato sounds of a Smartgun’s percussive shots. I’m excited to see more about the campaign itself, and to learn how my Marine fits into the larger narrative. It doesn’t appear that I’m going to have to wait long. The studio says the game will be coming to PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC this summer.

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