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Monday, July 3, 2023

Aliens: Dark Descent Review Brutal Tactics and Nail-Biting Experience Captures the Essence of Aliens

I’m of the mindset that there has never been an excellent modern video game based on the Alien franchise. Alien: Isolation was an exercise in misery, taking what should’ve been a well-crafted 4-8 hour horror experience and stretching it beyond the 20-hour mark. Aliens: Fireteam Elite was a fun-as-hell co-op shooter, but repetitive gameplay and light content at launch kept it from its potential. The less said about Aliens: Colonial Marines, the better. The point is that there has yet to be a game to land not only the aesthetics the series is known for but the feeling of tension and dread that comes with it. It’s understandably a tricky balancing act, so maybe it was “game over” all along for this franchise in video game form. And then I booted up Aliens: Dark Descent.

When announced a few months ago, many assumed this isometric view game would be a twin-stick shooter or Diablo clone. So expectations were truncated going in. I’m not sure what I even expected from an Aliens game. What I found in Dark Descent was an absolutely nail-biting experience that made me the most anxious playing a video game since Darkest Dungeon. At its core, Dark Descent is a brutal tactics game with Real-Time Strategy combat that replicates the feeling of hopelessness and being outnumbered. It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to a game successfully replicating the feel and tone of the films.

Aliens: Dark Descent sees players take the role of Maeko Hayes, a Weyland-Yutani commander. After an explosive but slow-paced introduction/tutorial, she finds herself in charge of a platoon of the series’ signature Colonial Marines as they’re stranded on the derelict moon of Lethe. Soon she discovers the moon is overrun with the deadly Xenomorphs, which need to be stopped before spreading throughout the galaxy. From what I can tell, it’s a relatively simple premise that takes place after Alien 3. But even if you’ve never seen the films, there’s plenty to enjoy from its story and characters.

Dark Descent Marines

Aliens: Dark Descent takes the X-COM approach to its commander gameplay. Players will oversee a base where they develop weapons, initiate research, and kit out their marines for missions. It’s an established formula that works, and honestly, I’m shocked that “X-COM in the Aliens universe” hasn’t been a concept sooner. After preparing your marines, you choose which expedition to send them. That can range from searching for survivors, gathering intel, or even hunting down certain enemies. It creates a satisfying gameplay loop of completing missions, returning to base, performing research and development, and repeating the process. If you found this loop satisfying in X-COM or Marvel’s Midnight Suns, you will find it satisfying here.

The gameplay shines once Marines get deployed. Players will command a group of marines in real-time combat and exploration. I found this to be more engaging than X-COM in its moment-to-moment gameplay. Instead of plotting out my moves and watching them play out in turn, I felt I had more active control over my squad and could make more tactical decisions on the fly in case things went horrifically awry. When you move your squad, the Marines auto-attack anything in their sightlines, but they cannot use weapons when you command them to run. This decision provides a push-and-pull style of gameplay where you can weigh your options of standing down and fighting or fleeing to escape from the mission. The only time the gameplay slows down is when using ability commands, where the game’s speed slows, and you can issue a command such as telling a marine to lay down suppressive fire or set up an auto turret. It gives the game an even more tactical feel, as it’s best to do this when enemies do not surround you.

Gear is essential in the game too. While on a mission, it’s going to be critical that you monitor how many health packs and toolkits your marines have. Health packs do what they say on the tin and prevent your marines from dying in the field because they’re gone for good if they do. Long story short, don’t get attached. Due to the game’s brutal difficulty, you will inevitably have marines die on missions.

Conversely, toolkits will provide a reprieve from the horrors marines will face. They can seal doors to either force the Xenomorph into a choke point or stop them entirely so your marines can rest. There’s a constant bevy of decisions that players must make at all times, and how this plays out in real-time can be a tense but satisfying experience.

Dark Descent gameplay

I want to talk about difficulty, as this is where many players may feel intimidated. Make no mistake, Aliens: Dark Descent is a brutally difficult game, even on standard difficulty. Sometimes I would go on a mission with fully kitted-out marines only to have an unexpected horde of Xenomorphs completely wipe them out. The game employs a light stealth and “danger” level. The more your squad encounters and fights the xenomorph threat, the more dangerous and frequent hordes will become. The best way to slow this is to stealthily move across missions using clever cover and routing. The only problem with this is that it’s unreliable and often resulted in me engaging in far more gunfights than I was prepared for. You can find more resources in the field, but I never felt quite prepared 80% of the time, which feels like an intentional design choice.

Performance is excellent on PS5. I never ran into any bugs or glitches, and the game ran exceptionally well. Helmet’s off to the team for creating a polished game right from release. The only issues I ran into on the console version were the controls. Aliens: Dark Descent is a game designed for the mouse and keyboard. The controls on the pad function fine but replicate what one would do on a keyboard and mouse configuration; it’s a little finicky with the shoulder buttons acting as left and right mouse clicks, respectively. As a result, a lot of the UI isn’t made explicit for the console or bad. It’s a PC port, and I recommend playing it there.

Overall, I had a good time with Aliens: Dark Descent. After getting over the initial learning curve with the controls and mechanics, I was left with a game that poked at all the right parts of my brain. The game’s design creates a satisfying loop of entering the breach, escaping, strengthening yourself, and returning to the fray. At the same time, the somewhat frustrating horde system makes it so that you’re never comfortable while delivering the number of thrills and hopelessness you expect from the Aliens franchise. Aliens: Dark Descent is the most exciting Aliens game yet and one I’ll find myself returning to often to see if I can pull off the perfect mission.

Aliens: Dark Descent is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Bloody Disgusting was provided a PS5 code for this review.

3.5 out of 5

The post ‘Aliens: Dark Descent’ Review – Brutal Tactics and Nail-Biting Experience Captures the Essence of ‘Aliens’ appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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