The legacy of the Alien franchise is beyond any reasonable doubt, and it’s great to see when a talented and passionate studio delivers a terrific entry in the long-running series of videogames inspired by Ridley Scott’s horror classic. In Aliens: Dark Descent, brains and brawn go hand in hand as your squad of colonial marines faces a daunting Xenomorph menace, and no matter the firepower, it’s a tactical treat and as spine-chilling and ominous as we ever hoped it to be.
Real-Time Alien Strategy
Aliens: Dark Descent is a triumph right from the tutorial mission, as it explains all the details that matter, from cover-based shooting to suppressive fire. The ominous atmosphere hits you right away, sound effects working in tandem to deliver chills and scares from a top-down view in a much better way than other games of the ilk do with in-your-face creatures. Everything is finely tuned, from controls to pacing, and even the challenging difficulty makes sense in this game, as venturing into inhospitable and infested regions should be no easy feat.
What’s most impressive about Aliens: Dark Descent is that a quick glance might suggest this to be a top-down twin-stick shooter, something that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It doesn’t linger in standard turn-based tactical battles either; Aliens: Dark Descent uses a real-time approach spiced up with time slowing down or stopping altogether for the most daring moments. It’s not quite a real-time strategy game and neither it is a turn-based one; it feels like a hybrid that picks up the good ideas here and there to deliver something that could be deemed fairly unique amidst the broader genre.
A good comparison to the squad mechanics here would be the classic Bullfrog game, Syndicate. With more aliens, sure, but the idea is similar, as you command a team of colonial marines as a single entity, despite their individuality and unique identities that directly affect the battles. Ordering your squad around is a seamless task that works better than it had any right to, as you send one marine to loot a crate, another one to access a terminal, and the others moving around in other tasks, eventually shooting at aliens, welding a door, maybe even steadily carrying a survivor on their shoulder, and yet still using their gun to help in any way they can.
It’s remarkably enjoyable seeing your soldiers explore the areas, walking backwards as the alien threat relentlessly jumps at them, slowing down time just enough to set up a sentry turret and using all kinds of pistols, shotguns, rifles, and grenade launchers, not forgetting other gadgets such as motion trackers. Soldiers limp from agonizing injuries, are abducted by xenomorphs and gone forever if you don’t rescue them before they disappear in the tunnels, and request support from the ARC to move between some predefined points, this vehicle being a fortress that eats aliens for breakfast.
Behind every recruit is a person, and this game brilliantly spices up the uniqueness of each one. Your marines aren’t eternal, they can die as expected and losing a unit that you’ve grown attached to can be quite a blow. There are more eager recruits to join the fight, but since they have a set of skills and traits that carry throughout missions, it’s best to take good care of them. Marines climb ranks and unlock new individual and team perks, but they aren’t immune to the horrors of conflict, often returning to base with some kind of trauma, which ultimately affects your command points and other systems.
Down the Alien Hole
Deployment is the first step to venture into the hellholes that your colonial marines will have to pull through. You start by picking four soldiers for your squad, choosing from various classes, and carefully consider the limited supplies that are going with you, from medkits to sentry guns or tools, which can be utilized for the most resourceful actions, such as specific attacks or welding doors to create a shelter, reducing the stress that severely hinders their combat ability, often resulting in uncontrollable moments of panic. During the missions you may look around for resources, but make sure that you save them for the heated moments, trying to avoid detection the most, not only from aliens but also from humans who may be overly impressed by the new potential overlords.
The mission structure is daunting and happy to break the rigid rules of tactical games, as you are not expected to go into straightforward in-and-out missions. Your squad will accept an assignment that can expand in various ways, and the player isn’t forced to stick through it from beginning to end – luckily, I might add, as some of these missions may take several hours to fully complete. Feeling low in ammo, carrying a severely injured companion, or not quite ready to take on a particularly challenging foe? Find your way back to the ARC and extract the squad, living to fight another day, and spare those ranked marines a tragic fate as they may yet be very important in the grand scheme of things. Every little bit of info and resources you bring back safely is another step towards your goal, from producing new weapons to unlocking perks.
The atmosphere is truly amazing, the maps are mostly faithful to the franchise, and the sense of claustrophobia and despair is palpable, both in those passageways where you can only hear the metallic sound of your boots echoing, and outside, where raging storms never seem to cease. This is a clear case where technology contributes to the accomplished feeling of dread, spoiling you with many flashy visual effects when they should, from big explosions to impressive shotgun blasts, not forgetting the impressive lighting.
That is not to say that Aliens: Dark Descent is perfect. Sometimes, you may yearn for better ways to give direct orders to a specific unit, something that may be lacking in this intricate seamless squad system. The occasional bug – pun not intended – can also be found, but nothing that drags down the experience to the point of making it less than astonishing.
Aliens: Dark Descent showcases care and respect for the works that it is based upon. This is the antithesis of a cash-grab – this is a game that tried to deliver something different, something exciting that isn’t a mere rerun of previous offerings. It’s moody, the odds are clearly stacked against your squad but that makes each success even more rewarding, and the tactical scope is extremely enjoyable. Fans of a good real-time squad-based game shouldn’t think twice and just dive into this nightmare, weapons blazing.
- A remarkable and spine-chilling atmosphere
- Clever squad-based system
- Quite challenging but rewards experimentation
- You may wish for some additional single unit control here and there
- A few bugs (of the gaming kind)
Aliens: Dark Descent review code was provided by the publisher. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.