Developed by Tindalos Interactive, probably best known for the Battlefleet Gothic: Armada series, Dark Descent looks to take the Aliens franchise into a gaming direction I haven’t seen in a while, not since AVP Extinction at least, as the venerable colonial marines get another chance to shine. A worthy excursion into xeno territory? Lets take a look
At Pioneer Station orbiting the moon of Lethe, a shuttle, the Bentonville, drops off some cargo. A mysterious infiltrator releases its contents: deadly Xenomorph aliens, which begin to massacre the crew. Deputy Administrator Maeko Hayes realizes more Xenomorphs are in Bentonville’s remaining cargo and activates the Cerberus Protocol, a Weyland-Yutani planetary quarantine procedure using armed satellites. Once the missile salvo ends, Bentonville and another freighter are destroyed with all hands while the USS Otago is crippled. Hayes is later extracted by Sgt. Jonas Harper and his squad of Colonial Marines from the crash-landed Otago, who must all now work together.
Wasn’t really expecting much of the games story but it ain’t half bad. It’s presented well with some decent cutscenes to showcase the corporate wrangling meets colonial marines bravado early on, before everyone obviously has to pull together with some twists to look forward to and a unique enemy type to this story. There isn’t anything else to the game though unfortunately, but you get plenty of bug hunting. 25 to 30 hours should be the average first runtime depending on difficulty, and if not already done, another run through on maximum difficulty afterwards for peak sweat inducing tension is a given.
An Aliens game needs to have a certain atmosphere to it, and that is something accomplished surprisingly easy here. It’s not visually incredible by any means, but it uses what it has to good effect. Characters and environments are modelled well enough, even when zoomed in, and everything has that typical Weyland-Yutani look it. Lighting & shadow is where the game thankfully excels as darkness creeps and shadows dance from the torches to keep you alert.
The audio backs up the visuals with a generally quiet soundstage that ramps up when needs be. You’ll recognise plenty of the staple sounds, ie Pulse rifle, that makes for a complete Aliens experience. You won’t have to worry about performance of the game either as it offers 2 modes, one for graphics that can have the odd stutter (smoothed out a little with VRR) and another that looks to drop resolution to lock up the framerate to 60fps. I used the graphics mode myself as the resolution was preferable given the slow pace, either way the couple of second long load times are a welcome bonus.
Going in a little cold I was expecting something along the lines of a turn-based Xcom, but instead the game turned out to be real time (outside of tactical pauses during skills etc) as you freely move your squad around the objective areas. Your squad can be customised and is made up of several classes to balance, they can also permanently die on mission so don’t get too attached. These excursions will generally take place in an open enough area for exploration and have an objective as well as survivors to rescue that can boost areas of the ship. Research and medical will be most peoples focus, but don’t forget about getting some extra hands on repairing the ship. You can get better gear, additional staff to help injured marines, and repair new parts of the ship – so grabbing survivors took priority to me. Luckily hopping in the APC allowed the squad to quickly move around areas unscathed.
The games atmosphere goes a long way to keeping you on your toes as well when out in the field. Many indoor areas are dimly lit so progress is always slow and careful with plenty of torches beamed down dark corridors. You can sprint of course, although your squad cant shoot then, and the venerable motion tracker gives you some pointers to xeno positions – doesn’t stop ambushes so check those corners. Sneaking and avoiding contact is the best way to go about business as the hive gets alerted to gunfire etc and the xeno’s get more aggressive the more aggressively you play. If it gets too much just seal your squad in a room (make sure there’s no vents and only one way in) to allow the alert to ease off and you can reduce squad stress too by resting so they don’t break down. Completing all the objectives in an area without alerting the hive is tough, and tougher still as the hive grows each day, but its something I enjoyed trying each time to keep the squad in the field as long as possible. The only major downside was the odd bug, fixed by reloading your save most of the time, and the one time I had a bugged auto save so manual save often, its the only way to be sure – luckily the save issue has been mostly fixed since release.
Aliens Dark Descent is one of the most surprising games of the year so far. Its slow paced tactical gameplay and atmospheric visuals perfectly compliment each other for an authentic Aliens experience, the story is decent too, and there’s plenty to see during the single-player with many ideas thrown together that work well. There’s the odd bug that takes the sheen off a little bit, but franchise fans will easily overlook that for some honest colonial marines action, genre fans will also find much to enjoy if a little tension to go with the tactics sounds appealing.
One of the most authentic Aliens & colonial marines experiences, done in a way you never knew you wanted