An unsettling stillness permeated the station. Buildings were scrambled on the inside – rooms dotted with bloody streaks and furniture upturned. Guttural sounds echoed from ebony nests; pounding steps grew louder the longer my marines stayed still. While not a survival-horror title, Aliens: Dark Descent masterfully bottles the franchise’s menacing ambiance. It comes packaged as a solid squad-management XCOM-lite puffing a new terrifying style. But while it respects the source material and nails its inspirations rather well, squad coordination and battles can be a bit unruly and frustratingly unfair at times.
Crash landing on the moon known as Lethe, a Xenomorph outbreak slings you into the shoes of former Wayland-Yutani administrator Maeko Hayes and U.S. colonial Marines officer Jonas Harper. The narrative comes out swinging in that everything-goes-to-hell Alien fashion but slips in a few jaw-droppers and humanizes characters, keeping you hooked and pleasantly paying off for investing in where Dark Descent heads.
You lead a squad as a single unit into mission zones colored with objectives and resources. Fog of war concealed enemies as I huddled troops through doorways — keeping an eye on a pulsing radar. During these times, memories of Alien: Isolation came to mind, and Dark Descent actually replicates aspects of that hair-raising hook. Suspense and zone layout add terrifying substance to exploration, and that tension explodes during battles.
Players gun down iconic creatures like Facehuggers and Alien Queens through real-time battles. A click of a button slows down or pauses encounters to focus squad fire. The mannerisms of Xenomorphs are faithful to the series, with them wildly charging and dragging off my soldiers when possible. Using squad resources to shoot a wide-spreading shotgun or flamethrower provided loadout depth and control as my marines automatically fired.
Unfortunately, stealth sections through packs of sleeping Xenomorphs make squad movement feel cumbersome. And at times, crouching and clicking other buttons aren’t snappy, leading to deadly encounters with enemies. Depending on your last save after a sour death, you may have to backtrack to prepare and slog back to try again. Dark Descent is aware of its difficulty – as noted by the tutorials – but the difficulty spikes, backtracking, and clunky controls can be annoying to work around.
When not in sweaty combat scenarios, battles are fast and lean into more playful complexity as you level up troops. Harkening to XCOM, there are role-based classes that excel at gunnery or hacking with a flying bot. Without a Tecker, I couldn’t unlock specific doors. Medics revive teammates from a comatose state, and Sergeants provide crucial stat boosts. Each class feels instrumental during a given mission.
At your home base, you can spend supplies to get your class’ unique skills or assign physicians to get injured soldiers back into the field quicker. Under the hood of Dark Descent is the framework of an XCOM game. I initially believed this design to be a safe crutch, but there’s a satisfying progression loop cooking here that works jointly with the setup of an Alien story, becoming enjoyable the more you pour into it.
Soaked in dark sci-fi environments and human personalities, Dark Descent nails the hallmarks of an Alien title and executes much of its squad-based gameplay. Despite some downsides and squad control during precise moments, plenty of its elements kept me jacked in to see its conclusion. It was a thrilling ride with ups and downs, but I left fulfilled and appreciated its experimental twists.
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