Aliens: Dark Descent Review

Player(s): 1
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The group in charge of the Aliens franchise series of games seems like they are constantly exploring different genres to discover what works for an Aliens game. It seems like their most well-received game was Alien Isolation (my favorite so far), but they have still been trying different genres. Aliens: Fireteam Elite captured the feel of the Colonial Marines’ action side rather well. This time the developers have gone with a squad-based real-time strategy game called Aliens: Dark Descent. Just like with Fireteam Elite, I really just wanted another Alien Isolation, but a squad-based real-time strategy game fits Aliens quite well.

Just like Fireteam Elite, the story to Dark Descent takes place after the original Alien movie trilogy. The main character of the story is Maeko Hayes. After a mysterious infiltrator lets loose xenomorphs on her ship, she is forced to quarantine the outbreak and is rescued by Sgt Harper. Hayes boards the Otago with Harper and his squad and soon crash lands on a nearby planet. With Harper in charge, Hayes does her best to help out Harper and his squad of marines with missions to find supplies to help repair the Otago. The story continues to unfold through files and conversations aboard the Otago as you make your way through the game.

In Dark Descent, you take control of a squad of four marines and must go through missions that take you deeper into the heart of each area and challenge you with maintaining your squad’s stress while trying to make your way through and out of each mission area. The beginning tutorial does a pretty good job of explaining the basics to you while setting up the main story to the game. The game is constantly giving you new tutorials and opening up new options for your squad. You get to choose between several marines which all start out at level 1 and level up as you complete missions with each squad. Marines are highly limited at first, but as you begin to level up your squad gains access to higher level weapons and abilities. You can also assign each marine to a different class which gives them access to unique skills and weapons.


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Before each mission, from your central command deck aboard the Otago, you can plan out each squad dive by configuring marine skills, upgrading your marines with new weapons, healing your marines in the med bay, and developing new squad improvements via the laboratory. Each option requires certain materials, such as extra material found on expeditions, DNA extracted from fallen xenomorphs, squad experience points, and medical assistants. You can allow days to pass by while aboard the Otago and accumulate materials or allow your squad to rest up but this causes the planet infestation to level up per day (basically, you’ll run into more enemy encounters per deployment).

Once the squad has been picked, you are sent off on a mission and your marines can use the ARC vehicle to get around the area. The squad is always protected by the auto-fire of the ARC until you venture away from it and into hostile territory (buildings, nests, etc). I hear the overall gameplay to this game is similar to Xcom, which I have not played. You don’t take direct control of any marine. You lead your squad around the area by tapping the X button onto a targeted area. The marines automatically attack enemies and you can issue special commands by tapping the RT button to bring up a list of commands such as shotgun blast, suppressive fire, motion tracker, and many other commands which differ based on your marines’ abilities and classes. The game can be set to pause or go into slow motion while you cycle through commands.

Commands cost command points which replenish over time. Practically every action you take has some sort of cost. Your squad has limited healing and ammo, so you always have to scavenge for more in the environment by opening chests. After each fight, each marine in your squad will start to accumulate stress. The stress will cause a marine to lose accuracy when aiming. Once you’re at maximum stress, not only do you run the risk of not hitting an enemy, but your squad members start to receive negative status effects that add even more negatives to your squad.

Aliens: Dark Descent is not an easy game. This game can get so hard and so intense that it will kick your ass sideways at the slightest encounter of enemies. Enemies will sometimes ambush your squad with little warning. The main beauty of this game are its intense situations, such as when you’re in the heart of a xenomorph hive and you’re trying to rescue hostages while all your squad members are at maximum stress levels. Along with the marines, you start to feel the stress of the situation as your squad members are attacked by constant hordes of xenomorphs. If you approach each encounter with a good strategy (such as laying turrets and placing suppressive fire on a narrow passage that enemies are coming from) you might just make it out with all your marines intact. But what happens if you forget that you haven’t got enough command points to issue a suppressive fire command or you left behind a turret in the previous room? What about that last med pack that you have? Do you use it on Marine B that is one point away from death or your more valuable Marine 2 that is two points away from death? It’s stuff like this that makes this game so very awesome!


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And yes, you can lose marines. Marines that are killed are gone forever. They can fall and the rest of your squad can give support for dragging them along with you. Fallen marines can be dragged off by xenomorphs. Marines can also be killed instantly if they receive too much. The game autosaves at certain points and you can manual save in many rooms by welding all doors shut. Manual saving in rooms will allow your squad to reduce stress among other positive effects. A mission can be quit at any time but you MUST make it out of the current area and get back to your ARC in order to postpone the mission. Missions have both main and sub objectives and there are many optional rooms and other areas to explore to track down extra supplies.

The environments to this game are absolutely beautiful. It really captures the feel of the movie and the dread of when you’re in a xenomorph infested area. Your marines will have a sticky sounding movement while in alien hives. The entire game is shown from a top-down perspective. You’ll fight many different types of xenomorphs and there are other types of enemies that you’ll fight as well. Other more powerful enemies start to show up as your squad engages in long fights.

From the beginning of each mission, your squad will have the advantage of stealth and you can sneak around the battlefield and avoid enemy encounters by waiting out known enemy locations or actually hiding from enemies. Just like in the movies, your motion tracker shows off enemy movement in nearby rooms. If you wait long enough, enemies will move on or completely despawn, allowing you safe passage. Once discovered, enemies will be alerted to your last location. You can run off and lose their sight then go back to stealth once their awareness goes down. Once alerted, the enemies start to level up their attack squads and you’ll eventually be ambushed by a horde and eventually large enemies.

The game is not completely perfect. While the developers did a pretty good job mapping everything to controller, the controller gameplay sometimes feels a bit too limited. One very noticeable flaw with a controller is that the LB and RB buttons don’t want to work all the time when cycling between options. It almost feels like there is some type of lag when cycling between options with how I have to spam the LB and RB buttons around four times just to get a single movement in one direction. While the graphics for everything else looks good, the character models are noticeably bad. They literally look like high resolution Xbox 360 models. The game also has a few bugs and glitches here and there. At times, I got xenomorphs models that would just stand in place on the map and wouldn’t attack (and I couldn’t attack them either). Squad members would also get stuck behind walls randomly and I’d have to regroup them all and make them go a certain way to keep one from getting stuck.


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Missions in this game can be quite long – mine often lasted around one hour a good majority of the time and that is with extractions. Overall missions per stage should last you around 2-4 hours if you go all the way through them without extraction. This game perfectly captures the feel of the Aliens movie from the perspective of a marine squad dealing with xenomorphs. Fans of survival games that enjoy some super intense battles should give this game a try. If you’re an Alien fan, definitely give this game a shot. I’m not really too big of a fan of real-time strategy games, but this game pulled me in as I learned more and more about it. It’s very hard from the start but as you start to learn it, it gets a bit easier, but you’ll never have a truly comfortable time with all the different situations that keep popping up and that is what makes this game fantastic!

The Good:
+ Captures the feel of a soldier squad from Aliens very well
+ Great atmosphere
+ Intense and stressful in a good way

The Bad:
- Character models could look better
- Bugs and glitches here and there

Final Rating: 80% - Fans of survival games should definitely give Aliens: Dark Descent a shot!

 

Note: A review code for this game was provided by the publisher.