Aliens: Dark Descent Review – Chestbursting With Excitement

Aliens: Dark Descent Review

Aliens: Dark Descent for PS5

Aliens is one of those properties that has been adapted into all sorts of games. There’s been survival horror, a third-person shooter like Left 4 Dead, and an underwhelming first-person shooter. Tindalos Interactive sought to try something new by crafting a squad-based real-time strategy game that works incredibly well in the universe.

The story starts with a small act of sabotage aboard Pioneer Station. Someone posing as an engineer knocks out a worker at a terminal and opens several containers housing Xenomorphs and their eggs. Deputy Administrator Maeko Hayes is the first to notice something is amiss. She arrives at the hangar as a vessel tries to leave the nearby planet Lethe’s orbit, presumably carrying dangerous Xemomorphs onboard.

Her only remaining option is to activate the Cerberus Protocol, which turns the surrounding orbit into a quarantine zone. The Cerberus Protocol destroys the vessel trying to leave but unexpectedly turns the satellite guns on the nearby ship USS Otago. Hayes abandons Pioneer Station after being rescued by Colonial Marines visiting from the Otago. She now must work to get the Otago spaceworthy alongside Sargeant Harper, who hides an interesting connection to the Xenomorph Hive.

Deputy Administrator Hayes
Image Source: Tindalos Interactive via Twinfinite

I should start by warning that Aliens: Dark Descent is a brutal game. Even on the lowest difficulty, I regularly struggled and cut missions short because I was quickly overwhelmed. Though I also mistakenly chose the enhanced difficulty option that gave me only two save slots (with only one for autosaves), and that severely limited me.

The game also throws a further curveball and gives you a deadline. The time limit doesn’t progress while on a mission. However, It does while you work aboard the Otago to prepare for the next one. There might be an event here or there that gives back a couple of days, but the time limit is rigid. However, when it runs out, you only get a quick little text box that reveals you lost. It was a little disappointing to see that when I would’ve preferred a really cool cataclysmic cutscene.

Typically returning from a mission means you need to heal your squad. I’m awful at the management aspect, and I only had a single squad of marines that were mission-worthy for the later game. Healing them after a mission could take anywhere from one to four days, time the game (and I) didn’t have to spare. I do believe that the time limit is even less for harder difficulties. No thanks.

I got close, though. I made it to the second to last mission before it became clear it wouldn’t work out. You can’t even start on a new mission the same day you return from one, regardless of having marines available. This also worked against me, and I rather wish wasn’t a thing. While I do lament wasting 20-30 hours on a failed playthrough, I was at least smarter when I started up my second one.

The game spans 12 missions of various lengths, and the difficulty climbs during a mission through dwindling resources, ever-increasing marine stress, and rising Xenomorph aggressiveness. Stress can be managed by welding all doors in specifically marked rooms to let the marines rest or using one medkit on medicine. Aggressiveness, on the other hand, can’t be lowered unless you extract from a mission.

Thankfully, just about every mission can be exfiltrated at any time. A special ARC (Armored Recon Carrier) vehicle can be directed to marked zones around a map. It is armed with the best turret in the game, so it’s also useful when a swarm is coming. You can return to a mission you left and pick up where you stopped.

Marines will make or break a mission, though you have very little control over them during a mission. You tell them where to move, what to interact with, and can use special abilities. All combat is otherwise done purely by them. In essence, I felt like I was constantly directing walking turrets.

Colonial Marines Squad Moving
Image Source: Tindalos Interactive via Twinfinite

There is a leveling system that will give them extra perks (more armor, more health, better accuracy) and also unlock specialized classes. You can have a stronger gunner, a commanding sergeant, a useful hacking Tecker, a sniper, and a medic. While pretty barebones, there is a character customizer so you can rename and make your marines unique.

Outside of hunting out tools (used for important actions like welding), ammo, and medkits, there’s not a lot of micromanaging. The game automatically chooses the best marine for the job when you select an interaction object, like hacking a door or using a terminal. This does take some of the work out of progressing a mission to let you focus on exploring.

However, exploring is a double-edged sword due to how much time it adds to missions. Xenomorphs can be anywhere; any contact you make with them will raise the difficulty. The game also factors in specific traits of the enemy. For Instance, if you are too close when one dies to gunfire, there’s a high probability for your marines to be splashed with its acidic blood and take damage.

Certain locations might even take your squad into infested areas with eggs and facehuggers. A facehugger could latch onto one of your marines if you’re especially unlucky. Unless you have a special extraction device with you, that marine is beyond saving. I only had this happen once, but it’s a horrifying possibility constantly.

I started Aliens: Dark Descent, sure that it wouldn’t be my kind of game. I prefer more action-oriented titles, and the game did inspire me to pick Aliens: Fireteam Elite back up because I love the universe. This game definitely grew on me after I got locked in with the right squad and got a feel for the best strategy for clearing missions. Despite the aforementioned tragedy regarding when I screwed myself over, I still enjoyed what Dark Descent had to offer.

If you’re a fan of the Aliens universe and want a closer approximation of what being boots on the ground during an outbreak would be, this is probably your best option on the market. There’s something for everyone, whether you are doing this for the strategy aspect or just to enjoy an Aliens story from a fresh perspective.

Aliens: Dark Descent Critic Review

Reviewer: Cameron Waldrop | Copy provided by Publisher.