Aliens: Dark Descent is a real-time tactics game set in the Alien franchise, developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Entertainment. The game launched on April 20, 2023, on PC, Xbox and PlayStation and sees you take control of Maeko Hayes at first, a former Weyland-Yutani Administrator. Later you command a squad of Colonial Marines as they attempt to stop a Xenomorph outbreak on Moon Lethe. This feels very much like XCOM where you send squads off to do missions, only this time combat is real-time with slow motion. Its action packed and intensely great fun.
Your ship crash-lands on Lethe, a backwater planet facing a Xenomorphs outbreak. You now must gather resources to repair your ship, while investigating what is going on on Lethe. During exploration, you’ll uncover dark secrets and mysteries, leading you to an unknown, deadly force; the first of its kind in the Alien universe. As you explore further, you’ll progress in a complex story and attempt to solve the mysteries of Planet Lethe.
The developers have absolutely nailed the intense atmosphere of Alien movies and that found in the game Alien: Isolation. Voice acting is excellent across the board and the sounds are outstanding. There is even a motion tracker that works very similar to Isolation. Any movement detected is pinged audibly and a dot placed on the radar. It’s not a matter of if the Xenomorphs will find you, it’s when, often waiting at corners for you to leave the safety of a room or managing to corner you in. You can also place deployable motion trackers at specific locations on the map and then trigger these to attract the xenomorphs and explode on a timer.
We play from an isometric top-down perspective where you can zoom in to a reasonable level to get some very excellent detail in the environments and character models. However, given the intensity of creeping through the darkness, I zoomed right out to see corridors ahead. The lighting is especially well done as your basic torchlight lights a certain arc in front of you, but holding down left mouse button allows you to focus the light. The fog of war creeps away as you sweep your light from side to side and helps highlight things that you can loot like data pads, dead bodies, or boxes that contain tools, medkits and ammo.
What’s really cool about squad movement is you all move as one regardless of which marine is selected. Also clicking on a box to loot it or a console to activate, sends one marine to do that task while the other marines remain grouped together, continuing the path you gave them. If there were three loot crates, three marines would peel off, while the fourth would continue to where you click-moved them. I liked to progressively click where I wanted my troops to go. This worked strategically, but it meant they would shout out remarks complying with your orders. At first, I loved their comments, but they got repetitive and annoying real fast.
The game’s combat is tense and challenging. The Xenomorphs are intelligent and relentless enemies, and they will quickly overwhelm you if you’re not careful. The basic squads that you start with have some essential skills to utilise such as throwing a grenade, activating supressing fire, firing a shotgun blast, and more. When you go to activate these skills, the game switches into slow motion mode which is fantastic. You can switch this to be a straight pause action so you can plan your attacks, but I feel you lose a hell of a lot of intensity when flat out pausing.
Having xenomorphs charging at your face and having to deal with that on the fly is what the Aliens franchise is all about. Slow motion is almost cheating, but when you’re panicking trying to move the squad in a direction while also fending off multiple xenomorphs, having slow motion to give you that little extra time to hit the right button is when the combat really shines. A quick shotgun blast can dismember or take out a couple of xenomorphs, while having someone at the back on supressing fire can cover your exit.
As intense as these battles are for me playing, your marines also get affected by stress. The higher the stress, the more prone to making mistakes, losing cognitive functions, and getting themselves and the squad killed. On the map you will see small green house icons (these are tiny, so you need to zoom in). This indicates safe rooms, but only if you have enough tools to be able to weld the doors to that room shut. Once secure, your squad can rest and recuperate their stress levels and heal up a fair amount but not always to 100%.
Aside from combat, you will have primary and secondary objectives to complete. There are many people to attempt to rescue, only to find a xeno bursting out of their chest, or a facehugger has just got hold of them. If you do manage to find a survivor, you can escort them back to an ARC which will exfiltrate them for you. At this point you can continue to the next objectives, or you can exfil the entire squad back to the USS Otago which is our base of operations.
Once your squad exfils completely, they will gain experience, any items and supplies you looted will be added to the Otago’s supplies and then your troops will be able to attend medbay where they may be out of action depending on how injured they got. On my first run, my troops were just tired and thankfully not injured. On my second main run I ran into a crusher xenomorph, and it messed up one of my marines. Back at medbay, one of his legs had to be amputed which gave him a permanent movement penalty. Death and injuries are permanent just like in games such as XCOM.
Overall, Aliens: Dark Descent is a well-structured game with squad management, combat is intense and challenging, and they have nailed the atmosphere. Even on normal difficulty, the xenomorph AI keeps you on your toes and I was thankful I could exfil from missions when the shit hit the fan and save my squad, rest, and upgrade them then get back down to the action. This has taken the best Aliens game vote away from Aliens: Isolation for me and fans of the Alien franchise will definitely want to check this game out.