Survival horror meets real-time strategy. But how does Aliens: Dark Descent hold up to the other recent Alien franchise titles?
Aliens: Dark Descent is fantastic mash-up of genres. It blends survival horror with real-time strategy and tactical action set in the iconic world of my all-time favourite film - Aliens. With a focus on stealth, resource management, and squad-based tactics, the game captures the essence of the Aliens film better than any recent title (note I said Aliens, not Alien. If you want a gaming experience that matches Ridley Scott’s Alien then get yourself Alien: Isolation, which is also excellent). However, technical issues occasionally hinder an otherwise stellar title.
Is This Going To Be A Stand-Up Fight, Sir, Or Another Bug Hunt?
Dark Descent deviates from previous Aliens-themed games, such as Aliens: Fireteam Elite by switching the focus from shooting to strategy. Players must navigate through the dark, eerie environments, while avoiding detection by xenomorphs. Every alien encounter triggers a hunt, which in turn moves the “hive awareness” bar along, resulting in stronger xenomorphs as well as larger groups entering the map. What starts as initial cautious engagements with single drones can quickly turn into all-out chaos with the potential for squad wipes. And with permadeath for each marine being a major factor you’ll really feel the pressure.
Pressure isn’t just felt by you either, each marine has a stress system. Encounters with aliens, hive activations, and tense situations contribute to stress levels. This impacts marines performance in the form of debuffs. These range from increasing stress for the team, jamming weapons during reloads and losing accuracy. To make matters worse, should a marine be exposed to stress for extended periods of time, they can accumulate trauma. This will carry over from mission to mission forcing you to consider not only physical resources but also the psychological wellbeing of the whole squad.
Alright, Sweethearts, You Heard The Man And You Know The Drill!
In Dark Descent, Military vessel USS Otago, serves as the campaign hub. It offers an engaging strategic layer where you manage research, medical facilities, training, and equipment. The interface is easy to navigate and well-organised. The Armoury is where you’ll train, level-up and equip marines. The workshop is used to unlock new weapons. Medbay and the therapy clinic are for marine wellbeing and allowed your to address the aforementioned trauma. And the Lab is where you’ll research data found in the field to create items to help you fight the xenophobic scourge.
Each marine can gain experience by either entering missions or going into intensive training aboard the Otago. Levelling up, choosing subclasses (Gunner, Sergeant, Media, Recon, Tekker) and acquiring new skills for each marine is a lot of fun. That said, the intensity of missions never lets up and your squad never feel like ultimate badasses. As you deal with stress, trauma, hive awareness and limited resources you’ll also have to deal with a Planetary Infestation level. So the longer you take across the campaign the higher the threat of xenomorphs become from the very start of a mission.
Stop Your Grinnin’ And Drop Your Linen!
The game weaves a compelling narrative of morally-conflicted characters with compelling motivations. Although the voice acting occasionally suffers from inconsistencies the lead characters deliver memorable performances throughout.
Visually, Dark Descent excels, capturing both the style and atmosphere of James Cameron’s original classic. The attention to detail is evident in the way fog reacts to flashlight beams, beautifully recreating the interplay of light and shadow from the film. Accompanied by an unsettling sound design that features squealching sounds as players march through alien-infested territories, the game effectively immerses players in the world of Alien.
They’re Coming Out Of The Walls!
Despite its fantastic gameplay and immersive atmosphere, at the time of writing, Dark Descent has several technical issues that hamper the experience. There’s nothing game-breaking with the majority of them being quirky bugs, such as poorly-synced dialogue in cutscenes and missions . However, I’ve had a few more irritating ones, like creating safe rooms mid-mission so my marines can rest and reset stress levels, only to have the “rest” option not appear. The worst occurrence was when I hacked a security system to check cameras for xeno activity. Upon discovering a Queen I set up three auto-turrets outside the room and broke open the door ready to unleash rapid-fire justice, only to have the game crash causing me to lose half an hour of progress. That said, Tindalos Interactive have already released a couple of patches with a more on the way.
Aliens: Dark Descent is an ambitious survival horror RTS game that captures the essence of the Aliens franchise brilliantly. With its focus on stealth, resource management, and squad-based tactics, it provides a gripping and heart-pounding experience that any fan of the franchise will appreciate. The stress system and hive awareness mechanics contribute to the game’s brilliance, forcing players to think strategically and make tough decisions to keep their squad alive. The compelling storyline and atmospheric environments further immerse players in the world of Alien, evoking the same tension and fear found in the original film.
However, the game’s technical issues present a bit of a hurdle to fully enjoying Dark Descent. Bugs (not the kind you can shoot) and glitches disrupt the experience and lead to replaying missions or restarting entirely, resulting in considerable frustration. But with further technical polish and fixes, Aliens: Dark Descent could easily become one of the best Aliens games ever made.