We dared to dive into the new real-time strategy game by Tindalos Interactive. Aliens Dark Descent is a horror strategy game with a particular approach that will push you to the brink of helplessness, and we will tell you why in our review.
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Regarding real-time strategy games, Aliens: Dark Descent takes a unique approach as a so-called real-time, strategic, squad-based, tactical action game. Whoopsie.
It diverges from the traditional macro-level mechanics of technological progress and gathering of resources. Instead, it focuses on the micro-actions, placing us in the role of guiding a team of four USMC Marines through a science fiction nightmare based on James Cameron’s “Aliens.”
Not ores and minerals cause the worries
The gameplay of Aliens Dark Descent is comparable to the campaign missions in Starcraft, where we command a small group of Terrans, maneuvering them across the map. But suddenly it’s no longer about anonymous masses of troops but about a handful of named characters whose lives and survival we must fear, which drives our tension and empathy to unimagined heights.
Instead of minerals and ores, we care about our ammunition and stress balance and want to do everything possible to avoid the worst: one of our beloved Marines is abducted by an alien drone, and we know the consequences… Aliens Dark Descent knows how to play with our emotions as virtuously as Mozart on the piano.
Learn the game mechanics of Aliens Dark Descent
Undeniably, the game is very close to Firaxis’ XCOM in its squad-based gameplay. However, it is by no means a clone and has its own strengths and unique features.
A 45-minute prologue introduces us to the game’s fundamental mechanics. Make sure to complete this tutorial because the title awaits you with quite some complex gameplay mechanics, and mastering them is crucial in order to succeed.
While our marines have different personality traits, they all start with the same essential equipment and stats. As they gain experience, they can be assigned up to five other classes: A Gunner, a Sergeant, a Recon, a Tecker, and a Medic, each with unique weapons and abilities.
Between missions, we return to the crashed spaceship OTAGO, which serves as a base. Here we unlock new classes and improve abilities and equipment for our Squad. Step by step, the combat strength and know-how of our team increases.
The Squad System
We can’t command a single soldier, but only the Squad as a whole unit. This may sound clumsy, but it also has its advantages in the heat of battle. When we give orders to our team, the squad leader decides who will execute your command best, for example, the soldier with the best firing position or the most accurate Marine.
The distribution of tasks among the Marines is well worked out and fun. It also saves a lot more fumbling in navigation and makes it easier to keep up with the enemies.
Everything is scarce in Aliens: Dark Descent
One of the most important gameplay mechanics in Dark Descent is the assignment of Command Skills. We apply these to our Squad to unlock powerful abilities, such as explosive projectiles for the shotgun and tactical suppressive fire cones. However, these skills always cost a Command Point and are slow to replenish.
This constant scarcity of points, med kits, and ammo make the game challenging and exciting. We must manage it well. So there are different play styles possible. Do we prefer to be more passive or go on a confrontation course, which costs more command points? It’s up to you.
Keep an eye on the stress level
In addition, not only do we as players… but our Marines suffer from increased stress. Experiences such as long battles, injuries suffered, or comrades killed affect the work-life balance. For example, a marine with the stress effect “Berserk” spends significantly more ammunition and hits considerably worse. This stress mechanic adds to the already tense atmosphere and is really great.
In addition, a radar constantly scans the environment for enemy movements, which is a necessary tool for us but provides even more thrills.
The slow-motion feature is crucial during battle
We also get to know the slow-motion mechanic, a core feature of the game. Aliens Dark Descent doesn’t allow us to pause the game (depending on the difficulty level), but we can slow down the gameplay during intense fights to make the appropriate decisions.
Keep permadeath in mind
Should we ever run out of ammunition or get crushed completely, we can evacuate our Squad and take them to the medical station. That’s nice to have because you cannot resurrect fallen marines due to the perma-death mechanic. Any mission objectives completed up to this point will remain fulfilled, and we can continue them anytime. But if we evacuate too often, the threat of Xenomorphs increases, creating an ingenious illusion of an evolving environment.
The atmosphere is cinematic, and the AI smart
The game offers various audiovisually well-realized locations, which perfectly fit into the original world of the franchise. We explore massive space docks and vast colonies teeming with the iconic Xenomorph creatures. It scores incredibly well with its tense moments, in which we, heavily armed, carefully explore the open-world sections. In the vast outer and inner battle zones, we can look forward to numerous unexpected attacks from Xenomorphs of all kinds… or rather fear these moments.
The AI adapts to our gameplay and bypasses defenses like walls of flames or guns. We really get the unsettling feeling of being hunted constantly, which keeps you on our toes.
Where Dark Descent goes beyond XCOM
Yes, some of the gameplay is similar to XCOM’s, but the mission selection clearly shows where Aliens: Dark Descent is superior. The title offers a fantastic open-world feel that invites us to explore new areas on the planet Lethe, allowing us to revisit old sectors to collect missing items or complete side quests.
However, the missions can also be very long, making the game less suitable for casual gamers. This also applies to some cutscenes, interrupting the title’s flow here and there.
Our Verdict on Aliens: Dark Descent
What “Isolation” is to Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” “Dark Descent” is to James Cameron’s. Both are ambitious titles that make us feel they want to implement the ideas and themes of the movies as best as possible.
The game is convincing with its cinematic, dark, and gloomy audiovisual implementation, which sticks close to the franchise and has some exciting, emotionally, and tactically charged moments in store. The squad system works exceptionally well if we disregard some bugs like faulty event triggering here and there. We still would have liked to see a squad split for flanking purposes. It’s not a title for in-between, but a great complex game you must get involved with and plan enough time for.
Do you want to feel the action even more?
The creepy tension is almost unbearable in Dark Descent. But if you miss that mid-action feel and prefer to fight nasty creatures in first-person, it’s time for the Best Zombie Games.
Are you a fan of the Alien series? How do you like this kind of tactical gameplay? Let us know in the comments below.