Aliens: Dark Descent (PC) REVIEW – Long Live AAliens Games

Aliens Dark Descent
Aliens Dark Descent
Aliens Dark Descent
Release Date
June 20, 2023
Tindalos Interactive
Focus Entertainment
Our Score

Aliens: Dark Descent is one of those games that’s so inventive and makes so much sense within the Alien IP that you wonder why it’s taken this long to create. An action RTS where you control Colonial Marines stranded on a planet infested by xenomorphs, Dark Descent tasks you with putting together crack squads of your own Hickses, Vasquezes, and Hudsons one terrifyingly tense deployment at a time. Faced against such an inhuman threat, your soldiers will either be forged in fire or go a bit Burke, with you becoming almost as stressed as they are as you question every more. At its best, Aliens: Dark Descent is completely and utterly gripping, but does have some frustrations that will make you use harsh language.

While most games based in the Alien universe have been authentic to a point, Dark Descent really feels like the de facto tie-in for the franchise’s second movie. The mood and feel of James Cameron’s sci-fi action masterpiece is replicated wonderfully here, whether that’s the disquieting soundscape, the unsettling ping of the motion tracker, the iconic voice lines, or the general sense of your back being constantly against the wall. If Isolation is the perfect Alien game, Dark Descent is the Aliens game that will have you dropping your linen.

Putting Dark Descent into a specific pigeonhole is a bit of a tricky task, as it has so many games that it draws from while feeling almost wholly fresh. Its excellent stress and people management system feels akin to Darkest Dungeon, while general movement and combat feels similar to the supremely underrated output from Mimimi Games, known for Desperados and Shadow Tactics. There’s even a touch of XCOM base management here, as you are able to heal wounded soldiers in medbays, unlock new research to help you out against the xeno threat, and even customise your Marines how you want them.

Aliens Dark Descent shelter
Aliens Dark Descent shelter

The customisation and role-playing is really where Dark Descent shines, and it’s arguably what the developers at Tindalos should be proudest of. While the appearance options for your Marines are basic and the “builds” aren’t all that varied as you gradually upgrade them all to max level, it’s very easy to get invested in the little pixels on-screen with bad attitude. I leaned into the role-playing hard with my core team of Marines, and was almost destitute when my gunner Spider (because her last name is Webb, get it) lost her leg in battle, only to recuperate and be equipped with a prosthesis for another deployment. I was most upset when Santa (because of his great big bushy beard) died on the last mission having been with me since the very start, and not only because I’d been looking forward to getting new socks this Christmas.

Dark Descent pulls you in so deep that its name suits the mania you will experience while you butt up against the game’s enthralling push/pull nature, and it’s all thanks to the stress and trauma system. Do you continue to progress through a level with your squad, knowing that they may need therapy afterwards to rid them of their fear of fire? Or do you pull them out, only to send in less experienced soldiers who might not last the distance? No matter what happens, you will have tough choices to make all the time — even walking into an unfamiliar room can feel like a true dilemma.

While I’d stop short of calling it a horror game, there are moments in Dark Descent that will get your heart really pumping. Xeno onslaughts throw dozens of xenos at you once their aggressiveness levels get to high, so you have to painstakingly make your way around to make sure you don’t bring the hive down on your poor squad, which in turn will just cause them more stress, eventually leading to trauma. These negative status effects can hinder your soldier’s accuracy (among other things) and get worse the more stress they take, meaning that your squad can end up firing almost blindly like the first encounter in the movie. There are so many layers to every encounter here that you can almost get frozen by indecision, even with the handy help of a slow-down mechanic to help you assign commands.

Aliens Dark Descent Medic

Seemingly in an effort to make the sometimes unwieldy subgenre feel a little more welcoming, players control all of their Marines at once rather than having to micro-manage. If you want a Marine to perform a specific task, the AI will choose the best soldier for the job. This takes a lot of the faff out of proceedings and does mean that you can focus a bit more on what’s important (not dying), but the lack of granular control does feel like a hindrance in some moments. Not being able to move your sniper into position on his own so he can take out unsuspecting xenos makes things needlessly fiddly, and the AI is also guilty of occasionally choosing the wrong soldier in critical moments to search a container or activate a door. The system is overall a welcome one for strategy beginners, but there should probably be the option for more granular control for those who want it.

Dark Descent does have a few other problems that come across like the scope couldn’t quite match the budget. The aesthetic, soundtrack and general vibe of Dark Descent is spot-on, but the animations can at times be a bit too rigid and simple to match the cinematic flair. It also feels like Tindalos have been inspired by the more cinematic AAA games out there, as it wrests control out of your hands on three separate occasions to put you in the shoes of Maeko, the game’s overarching protagonist who basically runs things. It’s a shame that these are by far the worst moments of a game, two sections featuring unconvincing, frustrating stealth and a final sequence that feels rushed and generally a bit disappointing when you’ll likely want to close out the campaign with the guys and girls you’ve been struggling with throughout. It also doesn’t help that this was the buggiest section by far for me.

Aliens: Dark Descent trauma
Aliens: Dark Descent trauma

While not the buggiest game of the year, Dark Descent does have its fair share of technical issues that required me to reload saves often, as my soldiers would sometimes get stuck in random places or just refuse to co-operate. There’s also a load of visual issues with the UI, with it regularly showing the wrong numbers, warning of missing elements, and hiccups where transitions hitch quite a lot. Again, it’s far from the buggiest release in 2023, but here’s hoping Tindalos go on a bug hunt to tidy things up.

Ultimately, Aliens: Dark Descent is just about everything you could want from an Aliens RTS, or just an Aliens game in general. Reverent for its source material while also building upon it in bold ways, Dark Descent takes ample inspiration from its peers to deliver something that feels fresh and one of the best role-playing experiences I’ve had in a long, long time. Game on, man.

A Steam key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.

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Aliens Dark Descent
Aliens: Dark Descent marries its inspirations with reverence for its source material to create arguably the best Aliens game of all time.