Friday , May 17 2024

‘Aliens: Dark Descent’ Review – a Better, Scarier Take on the Colonial Marines

Knowing that we have to go from room to room, sector by sector, just to try to survive is wearing on me more and more. I gave up long ago on finding more than a handful of survivors, but the squad keeps me going.

Hefting my smart gun I look to Torres, quick to patch us up and even quicker with a bad joke. Malone who could shoot the eye of a rat at 100 yards. And the Sarge, Bolivier, who hides his soft heart under a dictionary’s worth of swear words.

These are my family, them and the rest of the platoon back on the Otago, or what’s left of it. Hayes seems to think we can find a way off this rock if we get enough resources and survivors, but I have seen too much to believe anything will really save us.

The motion trackers we placed start to ping into our comms. With a sigh I check my ammo readings and look at Sarge. He winks at me and says, “Good, we were getting bored here waiting for the files to decrypt. Positions you worthless grunts!

With the pings getting louder I check the sentry guns and position myself at a good corner to strafe as many of these creatures, these xenomorphs, as I can. I may not have hope, but I do have my family and will kill anyone or anything that comes for them.

With a screech the barricade topples and black shapes start pouring through the hallways into our choke points. The stuttering of the guns is echoed by my controlled bursts as more of the bastards fall to our hail of fire. Hopefully we make it back, but if not at least I will be with my family in the end.

The legacy of the Aliens franchise is so ingrained in culture that making something that lives up to its legend is very difficult. Even the original creator struggled with the recent films Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.

In the world of video games, for every great like Alien: Isolation there is a not-so-great Aliens: Colonial Marines. Getting that magic touch of dread plus action, sci-fi plus horror is so difficult. Thankfully in the case of Aliens: Dark Descent the developer Tindalous Interactive nailed the feel of the classic series and delivered a truly exhilarating experience as well.

I first tried this game at PAX East and was hooked by the RTS-lite gameplay mixed with XCOM style planning and base/asset management. It is nowhere near as deep as XCOM in those aspects but has more than enough to make the pre-planning interesting and dynamic.

Essentially the game has two main parts. First, the planning, upgrades and marine maintenance aboard the Otago. Second, the deployments on missions with the squad to discover what is going on, complete objectives and locate survivors and resources.

What surprised me was how interesting the dynamics on the Otago were. The characters, scenarios and cutscenes that lead up the the playable missions add a layer of depth I was truly not expecting and this gets further explored when deployed.

The main meat of the game is in the deployments and they are handled much differently than in normal RTS games. First of all, there are only four Marines deployed per mission and they operate as a true unit, moving together whenever a waypoint is picked.

While exploring, the Marines find clues, resources, survivors, cultists, upgrades and of course plenty of Aliens. The typical familiar enemy creatures are there, but they are encounter variants enhanced in power, speed and stealth.

An interesting wrinkle in Aliens: Dark Descent is that a mission does not have to be completed in one deployment. As enemies are encountered the Marines experience stress, trauma, and wounds and may even be knocked unconscious.

The environment as well becomes more hostile the longer the Marines are deployed, with hunts, mass attacks and heightened alien presence growing over time. The game is designed for the Marines to regroup, level up, restock and redeploy.

There is something really special about this game when these mechanics all just click: running through a section of a base, collecting resources and a survivor or two, and mowing down Aliens. Then a harrowing retreat to the evac craft and back to base to heal up (mentally and physically) before redeploying the next day.

The look and feel of the game is as stellar as the gameplay, with dark flickering lighting, appropriately creepy alien growth mixed with high-tech veneers all setting the tone beautifully. There is a slight art-deco look and feel to the game that really echoes the lo-fi tech that the Aliens franchise is known for.

Aliens: Dark Descent is a fantastic experience that both nails both the nuances of the Aliens mythos and delivers a game that depends on just one more room or tunnel getting explored to lead to late-night sessions. Aliens: Dark Descent is available right now for PlayStation 4|5, Xbox One / Series X|S and PC via Steam and Epic Games Store.

We were given a Steam code of the game by the Publisher for review purposes.

About Michael Prince

A longtime video game fan starting from simple games on the Atari 2600 to newer titles on a bleeding edge PC I play everything I can get my hands on.

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