Second Look is back! And we’re off to space to do some screaming about Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite is what you get when you combine a polished but also fairly pedestrian four-player co-op third-person shooter with Aliens. Though I was deeply fond of the game at launch, there was something… missing. I’m the guy who maxed out three characters in Avengers because I value mechanical variety over different set dressings, yet even I ended up bouncing off of Fireteam Elite.
With several months separated and a good dozen other experiences to wash my palette, I’ve come back to Aliens: Fireteam Elite with a sad discovery: This game is barely holding on. This isn’t “live service;” this is life support service. The plot of the main campaign ended with a clear dangling thread for some exciting options, especially if you read the tie-in book and knew what was awaiting planetside.
Maybe the developers are taking their time exploring these avenues, but if Cold Iron Studios is opting for a slow burn, then it forgot to keep the fire lit. The game I played at launch is essentially the game here today, save for a new character class that’s fairly niche, some new guns, and a revamp of the horde mode variant, Point Defense, that adds an extra sub-objective to protect.
That’s it. That’s the whole extent of what has been added to this “live” game in months. I’d understand this if we at least had some indication that there was something to work towards or if something more substantive was on the horizon. It took Star Wars Battlefront II a year to really start getting its act together. Yet there’s no promise of a story conclusion, new threat to face, or anything that really will enliven a game that runs out of steam far faster than it should.
Aliens: Fireteam Elite has had such a slow drip feed of support that fans on PC were creating their own mods to keep the game viable. They addressed legitimate balancing concerns as well as improved the performance of AI teammates if you couldn’t get a full party together.
This latter aspect with bot allies has seriously needed addressing, as the matchmaking is a bit iffy given the shrinking pool of players. However, those much-needed mods have since been disabled for online play, a decision that’s going over about as well as you’d expect. The game has also not added cross-play, which is a really weird exception for a modern multiplayer title in 2022.
You may be rightly wondering why I’m not talking about the gameplay of Aliens: Fireteam Elite that much. Well, that’s because it all works perfectly – except for the lack of variety. You’ve got a sizable arsenal to choose from and a solid set of character classes, but everything about them is so specific that you’ll find your ideal kit and gear quickly. Then it’s just a matter of grinding to unlock more of your perk customization slots.
As much as we all love to complain about fighting for a good loot drop, it’s that Skinner box-esque itch that can keep you trying more daring content. There’s not a lot of reason to do that in Aliens: Fireteam Elite; in fact, at times it actively disincentives it. Your limited-use gear costs a pretty penny, and you need every piece of it to survive on higher difficulties. So to make up the difference, you’re looking at playing a bunch of the same missions over and over again for the right to play those same missions, but this time they kick your ass.
Now, there are obviously players who love a great challenge, but usually that’s because it’s a test of skill. In Aliens: Fireteam Elite, it’s more a matter of if you’re willing to grin and bear it with randoms or set up a Discord call with two friends, each of you hauling in your best equipment. You’ve essentially mastered the game at the point things should be ramping up. As a result, Aliens: Fireteam Elite relies almost entirely on the player to spice things up.
That’s not working. Every time I hop into matchmaking, almost everyone, including me, is running either a Technician or Doctor kit. An infinite sentry to spawn or the ability to heal without medkits is just so crucial on higher difficulties that it’s hard to justify using the rest of the classes. Only a handful of missions don’t simply throw hordes of xenomorphs or gray goo-equivalent zombies at you in waves, and even the handful of exceptions still drag horde waves in every now and then.
What could’ve possibly fixed all of this was the Challenge Card system. The ability to have each player add their own modifier to the current mission is fantastic. Whether it’s playing without your HUD or swapping out standard enemies for weaker versions of rarer opponents, the Challenge Cards offer a way for the same set of 12 missions to be unique.
The problem is the developers made each card single use. Plus, there’s a noteworthy cost of in-game currency to get a random card pack. As far as I can tell, there isn’t a monetization aspect to this either; it’s just there to make you have to grind for more currency like the one-use equipment. How does this benefit anyone? Again, it more often leads to players either ignoring or hoarding an aspect of the game that could shake things up. It’d be so easy to make cards infinite use and even tie daily or weekly challenges to players using certain combinations.
Or, hell, do a daily challenge variant like in Gunfire Reborn. Have an automated system deal out some wild new shake-ups with a set of three cards for the day for a particular mission. Give players a sizable reward of currency if they make it through. It wouldn’t even be “new” content, but it would help enliven things for those still hopping on every so often.
It’s a shame that an otherwise top-notch third-person shooter is effectively sitting on a dusty shelf. If it had been intended as a one-and-done product like, say, Star Wars: Squadrons, I could at least understand. However, Aliens: Fireteam Elite was supposed to be this ongoing war with the xenos for at least a year. It might not have thrown anything jaw-dropping at players, but it was damn good fun. So I’m really left scratching my head at the current state of things.
Perhaps Cold Iron is cooking up something that’ll make these smaller updates feel like a worthy trade-off. It’s totally possible. I’m just not sure how many people are going to be left to enjoy it if such an update ever comes.
Speaking of updates, with Second Look’s revival comes a slight change in how things work. Each week will alternate between Second Look and The Stuff of Legends. Speaking of Legends, where did I put that hydrospanner… I’ve gotta get this Jedi starfighter working for next week.