Aliens: Dark Descent

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Aliens: Dark Descent review
Dan Lenois


A fun tactical action-RTS that both casual and diehard fans can enjoy...

Facehuggers don't respect personal space here…

Aliens: Dark Descent aims to provide an interesting mix of old and new, reuniting longtime Alien fans with all the classic character archetypes and motifs, such as the various species of xenomorphs and the colonial marines you’ll primarily use to combat them, while simultaneously presenting the unsettling world from a perspective not commonly seen before in prior videogame adaptations, being through the lens of a top-down RTS. Whereas some games, like 2014's Alien: Isolation, have focused primarily on survival horror from an individual perspective, and 2021's Alien Fireteam Elite conversely took a casual squad-based cooperative action approach, Aliens: Dark Descent attempts to merge these two opposing gameplay disciplines into a singular game aimed at fans of either direction.

Check your corners, rookie…

Dark Descent's various gameplay missions are held together by a excellently-crafted narrative that somehow manages to find an ideal balance between campy horror clichés and genuine hair-raising chills. Xenomorphs aren't the only thing out there making things go bump in the night. Even among other humans, it can often be impossible to fully trust each other. Similar to characters in shows like Arcane, characters here will all act in ways that serve their own self-interest. They will deliberately commit actions that come across as irresponsible and even outright diabolical to others, but to themselves appear to be entirely rational and coming from a place of truest intention. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is often paved with the best of intentions.

The plot itself is nothing revolutionary, but it serves as an excellent foundation upon which to foster meaningful character interactions through the game's many fully-animated pre-rendered and in-game rendered cutscenes. Nearly every character executes their intended purpose well. The colonial marines are the typical gruff no-nonsense grunts always ready and eager to pick a fight. There are plenty of Weyland-Yutani Corporation technicians, researchers, and medical staff to rescue and aid. And, of course, we have the xenomorphs, the chestbursters, the facehuggers, etc., to provide the very real sense of imminent danger at all times.

Bringing the right equipment to a fight makes all the difference…

If you want to live through one of the inevitable swarms of xenomorphs that will converge on your group's location during a number of scripted moments during a mission, (and sometimes at unscripted moments as well,) you'll need more than one automatic primary weapon per person within your squad. Manually-placed turrets and other items can often provide some much-needed heavy lifting when it comes to thinning out the oncoming masses, although these objects will do little, if anything, against larger, more powerful units.

The game is in almost every sense a tactical shooter, prioritizing stealth, conserving ammo, and engaging hostiles as infrequently as possible while instead focusing on the main objective. However, unless you're playing on the hardest difficulty setting, the game is merciful enough to forgive small mistakes, provided you correct them before they become large ones.

Combat against bosses like the xenomorph queen do tend to be reminiscent at times of boss fights in other games like Destiny 2, where the fight becomes less a test of the player's situational awareness and mechanical skill, and instead more of a tedious slog where the player incrementally chips and pokes away at an excessively-generous health bar while simultaneously dancing around in circles so as to remain out of reach of the boss' melee attacks at all times. These faceoffs might indeed be visually impressive and thematically intimidating, but from a strictly gameplay perspective, mind-numbing is the only descriptor that comes to the fore.

The game balancing is fantastic. Each combat encounter feels challenging and intimidating, for the possibility of having your troops dragged away screaming into a nearby vent by a xenomorph, or ripped apart by the creatures' cruel long claws and fangs, is always present. Carelessness is punished firmly here, although not excessively. Your marines are durable and can take a few hits in the fight. However, if singled out individually by a boss or swarm of xenomorphs, they can be downed and/or killed within seconds. The colonial marines at your command are only effective when they stick together as a singular unit. Don’t make the mistake of separating your marines if at all possible.

Home Sweet Home

Similar to games like XCOM, the player operates a command centre that functions as the central location from which to select missions, send troops for medical recovery, manufacture new weapons and gear, and promote your troops once they've levelled up through field activity. Each department is headed up by a specific NPC, who will become central figures throughout the story campaign, aiding you in the universally-shared goal of rebuilding your heavily-damaged base, and finding survivors and other help wherever you can, while at the same time ensuring that the xenomorphs do not follow you aboard ship.

This hub is purely functional, and doesn't do anything to make the player want to spend their time there, save for the story cutscenes scattered throughout at specific points within the campaign. It is clear that the development focus was centred almost exclusively around the action-RTS mechanics, to the point where the hub is almost completely ignored, which is odd considering that the player will spend all of their time there in-between missions.


Aliens: Dark Descent is, without a doubt, one of the best games in the franchise's history. It's campy and ridiculous, intimidating and unsettling, tactical and yet still casual. It attempts to pull off a number of different (and often even opposing) themes and mechanics, and impressively rarely fails outright at any of them. The story, dialogue, and cutscene animation all work in tangent to produce a compelling narrative that stays true to the typical narrative conventions of the Alien franchise, taking what would normally be a forgettable cast and setting, and making them stand out through their reactions to situations and their contrasting personalities and approaches to dealing with the threats that face them.

The maps are large in scope, yet the large buildings that occupy them consistently maintain that claustrophobic interior design that will put you on edge at all times, never knowing where a xenomorph may decide to pop out. While the mouse-oriented movement and slow-paced mission design may alienate some potential players, it feels well-suited to the squad-based tactical experience the game thematically and technically attempts to convey. Watch out for those vents, rookie, and keep your gun loaded. You don't know what may be laying in wait for you…

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fun score


Compelling storytelling, satisfying gameplay loop, faithful thematic aesthetic


Boss fights require excessive grind, home base isn't particularly interesting