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Review: Aliens: Dark Descent

Updated: Sep 21

Despite the one letter difference in the titles, the Aliens franchise has always been far more of an 80s-style action series than the more serious horror of the regular Alien franchise. Aliens: Dark Descent leans far more into the action side of the series, offering meathead marines to fight against hordes of Xenomorphs after being stranded on an infested planet. While the tone and story will certainly satisfy fans of the film, anyone looking for a fun squad-based tactics game is going to be disappointed.


Aliens: Dark Descent is a real-time strategy game where you control a squad of marines, traversing through different levels where you have to fight off hordes of Xenomorphs, cultists, and any other surprises you might run into. It prides itself on being a hard game, with plenty of warnings at both the title screen and during missions. Unfortunately, this insistence on random difficulty spikes is just one of its many shortcomings.


While the tone and story will certainly satisfy fans of the film, anyone looking for a fun squad-based tactics game is going to be disappointed.

The real-time strategy aspect is perhaps Aliens: Dark Descents biggest flaw. The top down perspective allows you to issue commands to your marines, who operate as a single unit. All the enemies move in real-time and most of them are fast and not easy to take down. Despite the fact that the enemies move quickly and come from multiple directions at once really shows how clunky the controls are. In combat, you must either let the marines auto attack enemies at random or you can give the order to focus on one specific enemy, making it difficult to deal with them once you get overwhelmed. You have special attacks and opening that menu slows the game down, but navigating between the different options takes long enough that in many cases you will be far too late.


There are environmental attacks you can interact with, like shooting explosive barrels, but it takes so long to give the command to shoot the barrel, you almost always miss your window. There will be times when the game warns of an upcoming attack and you can spend time preparing for it, but there is enough random chance when it comes to your marines getting injured, abducted, or flat out killed, that it feels like reloading the checkpoint after dying and trying again isn't about a new strategy, but just getting lucky the next time. I beat one onslaught on the third try with the exact same turret setup and strategy, but a few lucky criticals let me win this time, making the whole experience satisfying.




Despite the hard difficulty and the forced reloads after death, you cannot manually save in Aliens: Dark Descent, adding to the frustration. On top of the inability to manually save, Aliens: Dark Descent is a fairly buggy experience. Marines get stuck on geometry occasionally, getting stranded from their teammates. The game also crashed on me about one out of every three times I left a mission, resulting in me having to return to whatever my most recent autosave was, which usually meant replaying a section of the game.


A real-time strategy game starring helpless, fragile marines sounds fun, but the slow and clunky controls makes it much harder to engage with the systems present in combat.

Visually, Dark Descent feels a bit more inspired by the horror aspect of the franchise. Many of the rooms are dark and dirty, with random blood scattered about. Xenomorphs pop out of vents and random places, but the top down perspective really dulls and scares there might have been. All of the marines are voiced and despite their limited lines, there is enough machismo and dumb one-liners to give you a good chuckle on occasion.



During missions you will have a variety of different objectives set around a large level. These objectives can be completed in any order and you can even extract from the mission and come back the next day. Each day that passes the planet infestation increases, but it lets you regroup, get upgrades, and even promote your marines, at least the ones that survive. The objectives vary depending on level and story, but most boil down to going to a specific location and interacting with a computer or a survivor. The survivor objectives feel the most repetitive, especially when you watch multiple different survivors in a single mission have a chestburster kill them, feeling fairly one note.


The survivor objectives feel the most repetitive, especially when you watch multiple different survivors in a single mission have a chestburster kill them, feeling fairly one note.

The story itself revolves around the marine crew of a ship that was shot down by the defense mechanisms of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation after its space station became infested with Xenomorphs. The Xenomorphs are introduced by a mysterious group of humans and it provides enough of a narrative hook to drive you to figure out what happened. That said, the amount of story provided in each mission can feel pretty light, drip feeding new information.


Some of the more interesting game mechanics come in between missions, where you can choose upgrades for your marines, make important decisions in the health bay, and decide what to spend your limited resources on. As each day passes, some random events will occur, where you must choose to sacrifice resources in exchange for something, maybe sacrifice a crew member, or even be forced to roll the dice on a potential resource cache. These decisions feel far more interesting than any of the tactical choices made while out on mission.


Aliens: Dark Descent feels a lot like some of the recent Alien films, where there are plenty of good ideas but the execution is lacking. A real-time strategy game starring helpless, fragile marines sounds fun, but the slow and clunky controls makes it much harder to engage with the systems present in combat. The atmosphere and story are strong enough that if the game was even a bit more fun to play, it would be worth checking out for fans of Aliens, but as it stands Aliens: Dark Descent is a frustrating experience.


Pros:

  • Solid narrative setup

  • Fun B-Movie dialogue

  • Interesting base and resource management decisions


Cons:

  • Clunky controls mixed with fast-paced real-time action

  • Wild difficulty spikes that feel more luck-based than skill based

  • Repetitive objectives and "shock" moments, like Chestbursters.


Score: 5/10



Review copy provided by publisher Focus Entertainment. Aliens Dark Decent review is based on playing on PC.


Aliens: Dark Descent is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and PC.

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