When it comes to tackling the establishment of a beloved horror franchise for over four decades, Aliens: Dark Descent has the distinct honour of being one of, if not, the best Aliens adaptation that differentiates it from prior counterparts in its gaming line-up. Alien: Isolation may have placed prominence with its excellent narrative transposed to a palpable third-person action-adventure, but Aliens: Dark Descent proposes an altered perspective with the top-down real time strategy gameplay loop that adopts the intensity, excitement on tactical prowess of a well polished XCOM title. The potential behind Dark Descent itself is massive, but is held back by impeding technical issues that have been mostly resolved, but are still evident in its PC port.
It’s always a daunting task for development teams to take on the magnitude of such projects that have an insurmountable cult-like following, and releasing a game with the “Alien” franchise attached to it would have been no different for Paris based game studio, Tindalos Interactive. While demonstrating what a great RTS could be within the space of an already existing universe, the title bears blemishes that can be quite unforgiving to those that are simply seeking a time sink that whisks them away, yet ultimately falls victim to a bug-riddled experience which some may turn a blind-eye to, but is an unbridled inconvenience to many. Regardless, its unquestionable that the effort placed in Dark Descent, with unequivocal quality in presentation and punctual gameplay that helps elevate the game beyond its problems.
Reign in hell...
✔️ Dark, dank and dreary. A helpless recipe for an astonishing RTS.
✔️ Innovative features shine.
✔️ Presentation is aces, with stunning detail.
❌ An incomprehensive UI.
❌ Too many crashes to immerse oneself.
If there was a doubt in anyone’s mind, Tindalos certainly has its fair share of Alien fans. Set nearly two decades after Alien 3, the year is 2198 where upon the moon Lethe, the Bentonville prepares a cargo drop-off, but its crew is slaughtered by a swarm of Xenomorph’s, that were secretly kept aboard and unleashed by a conspirator. After an obvious outweigh in additional crew, Deputy Hayes order the ship into detainment, but is overruled and outranked by commanding Supervisor McDonald. Upon docking, Hayes is confronted by another swarm of Xenomorphs, forcing her to weld the bay doors shut.
Out of her control, the ship is infested by facehuggers, that attack and plant their seed into McDonald and other crew rendering them helpless. With Bentonville’s cargo remaining, more Xenomorphs begin to nest upon the USS Otago forcing Hays to call for the Cerberus Protocol, an action call that had been implemented by the Weyland-Yutani as a quarantine measurement using satellites as weaponry. Bentonville is sacrificed and Baldrin destroyed while Hayes is rescued by Sgt. Harper and the Colonial Marines, taking her to Otago.
So this is where the fun mostly begins. Portraying a mixture of classes, each with their own style and attributes with weaponry to match, It’s your job as the player to command your squadron of marines as you encounter swarms of Xenomorphs, and turncoat agents that work in tandem against you and your group. The RTS engagement sets up a nicely paced expedition, that doesn’t feel rushed but is certainly rapid. The feature to slow down time and assess the situation is a massive aid in this factor, as battles can be quite busy to survey, with ambushes being quite overwhelming to follow while keeping a close eye on your UI. As you progress, it’s encouraged you check for secret paths and shortcuts to explore more of the station, but not to stray completely from main pathways. Shortcuts should only be considered if things get too intense or for need-be backtracking.
Trapped pathways are usually unlocked with a welder, which comes in handy for other opportunities such as quickly trapping a group of enemies into one location, but may be detrimental as you close yourself in. It’s an interesting feature that awards and erases player advancement intelligently, but the only setback to this is the inability to re-open a door as once you’ve welded it shut, it’s permanent. Throughout the lofty campaign, which took around fifty hours to complete, I did find the addled mission-turned-cumbersome slog at times with some bottlenecking the overall experience up to 10 plus hours. It’s a little much to complete one objective, but this is what RTS tactical time sinks are all about. But the cost may not be worth the little reward and technical hiccups I had throughout this escapade.
Bugs and crashes amongst many errors that occurred, including crew members that died from just resetting the game. After leaving the game to be patched, I was happy to note that it ran a lot smoother, and there were less crashes however they were still evident after the last patch. Noting crew, the characters you come across will have their own mental trait, giving them unique stats to their attributes, including accuracy, personality, and even loyalty. You may have the odd renegade that betrays your group, or even begins to act out against commands. Perma-deaths are a major factor, and can happen in some cases, but this again is an unwanted occurrence when rebooting into the game, and one of your team are gone after spending multiple hours levelling them.
it has the potential to improve and I may revisit it after a few more patches, but as it stands right now, Aliens: Dark Descent is more risk than reward.
Some downsides to Aliens: Dark Descent’s presentation is its unintelligible, incomprehensible and most certainly overwhelming menu navigation and on-screen UI. If you’re going to make the game as busy as it is, make sure your lettering and font are at least readable from a size perspective. Small lettering is laden across the screen, maps are extremely busy to keep up with and while legends may be listed clearly, markers are a cluttered mess in one constrained area. It’s too confusing to keep up with while deep in action sequence. It raises a difficulty factor that’s completely unintended and out of the players control, and while the RTS genre purposely sets an intention to alarm, or create tension for the player in regards to a riddled menu, this was not ideal in the sense of simplicity in the slightest. As they say, too much of a good thing is not good at all.
Game Over, man...
Presentation wise, Aliens: Dark Descent is incredibly gorgeous. Quite possibly one of the best RTS top-down designs of the generation, that details its universe greatly but not overbearing to the point of an eyesore. Cutscenes are far and few between, but when they are present, it’s a pleasure to sit back and watch the narrative progress through pre-rendered sequences before placing you back into the deep end. Intermissions always welcome, but a sense of dread always occurred when loading a cutscene would crash the title, forcing a reboot of the game and then having to deal with any disasters and bugs that came along with said inconvenience. It certainly breaks a deep immersion delivered in its horrific allure, but the constant need to restart, reload and reassess became exhausting.
It’s hard to rate this game without the intended experience provided, but it’s certainly one I can recommend to those that are fans of the franchise nonetheless. Despite its problems, Aliens: Dark Descent is a solid top-down RTS experience, that ultimately delivers the devotee an intense, nerve-racking, alarming and sometimes anxious campaign that slots itself nicely within the Alien timeline. While the lowlights of this bug-riddled title may blockade its highlights in some regard, there is certainly opportunity for its innovation to shine through, inspiring a wave of RTS titles in the future to adapt certain facets that have yet been thought of, or implemented. As for the title itself, it has the potential to improve and I may revisit it after a few more patches, but as it stands right now, Aliens: Dark Descent is more risk than reward.
Aliens: Dark Descent is a real-time strategy video game developed by Tindalos Interactive in collaboration with Disney’s 20th Century Games and published by Focus Entertainment. Set in the Alien universe, the game was released on June 20, 2023.