An eerie silence pervaded the station. The buildings inside were a mess—rooms dotted with bloody streaks and overturned furniture. Guttural sounds echoed from ebony nests; The longer my Marines held out, the louder the pounding footsteps became. While it’s not a survival-horror title, Aliens: The Dark Descent skillfully sets off the dangerous atmosphere of the franchise. It’s packaged as a solid squad-management XCOM-lite while infusing a new terrifying genre. But although it respects the source material and serves up its motivations well, the squad coordination and combat can sometimes be a bit unruly and frustratingly unfair.
Crash landing on a moon known as Lethe, Xenomorph Outbreak thrusts you into the shoes of former Wayland-Yutani administrator Mako Hayes and US Colonial Marine officer Jonas Harper. The story unfolds swinging in that alien fashion of everything going to hell, but slips in some surprising twists and turns to humanize the characters, which keeps you hooked and going wherever Dark Descent goes. Pleasant pays to invest.
You lead a team as a unit in mission areas colored by objectives and resources. The fog of war hid enemies as I sneaked soldiers through doors – keeping an eye on a pulsating radar. During these times, memories of Alien: Isolation come to mind, and The Dark Descent exactly repeats aspects of that hair-raising hook. The suspense and zone layout add terrifying content to the exploration, and the tension rises during battles.
Players take down iconic creatures like Facehuggers and Alien Queens through real-time battles. Encounters slow down or pause with the click of a button to focus squad fire. The mannerisms of the Xenomorphs are faithful to the series, they wildly attack and drag down my soldiers when possible. Using squad resources to shoot a wide-spread shotgun or flamethrower provided loadout depth and control as my marines fired automatically.
Unfortunately, the cryptic sections through packs of sleeping Xenomorphs make squad movement feel cumbersome. And sometimes, crouching and clicking other buttons isn’t fast enough, leading to deadly encounters with enemies. Depending on your last save after a tragic death, you may have to backtrack to prepare and work hard to try again. Dark Descent is aware of its difficulty – as explained in the tutorial – but the increased difficulty, backtracking and working around clunky controls can be annoying.
When there aren’t sweaty combat scenarios, battles are fast-paced and take on a more playful complexity as you level up troops. Reminiscent of XCOM, there are role-based classes that excel at gunnery or hacking with flying bots. Without Taker, I can’t open specific doors. The medic revives teammates from unconsciousness, and the sergeant provides an escalation in critical condition. Each class feels like an important role to play during a given mission.
At your home base, you can spend on supplies to gain unique skills of your class or hire medics to quickly get injured soldiers back to the field. Underneath the hood of Dark Descent is the framework of an XCOM game. Initially I believed the design to be a safe crutch, but there’s a satisfyingly progressive loop cooking up here that, combined with the setup of an alien story, becomes more enjoyable the more you put into it. .
Filled with dark sci-fi environments and humanoid personalities, The Dark Descent maintains the hallmarks of an Alien title and executes most of its squad-based gameplay. Despite some shortcomings and precise moments during Squad Control, several elements of it lead me to look forward to its conclusion. It was an exciting journey with ups and downs, but I came away appreciating its experimental turns.