Aliens: Dark Descent from Tindalos Interactive is a real-time strategy game in which you play as a group of USCM Marines fighting to escape a crash landing on a planet full of aliens.
You control the entire squad at once by clicking to move, take cover, prioritize targets, or use abilities, but the squad will always auto-fire at enemies, meaning you’re directing the tactics of the team more than the individual shots. Initially, the game seems overly simple, consisting of slowly walking forward and setting suppressing fire to slow down approaching aliens, but over time the game develops a unique balance of stealth and strategy that isn’t super deep but rewards preparation and caution.
Your minimap is a motion tracker, meaning any approaching enemies are predictable. If you haven’t been found by the aliens, you can sneak past to complete your objectives, which see you exploring a new area to interact with switches, rescue survivors, and investigate the alien infestation. As soon as a single alien finds you, a hunt timer begins, during which every nearby alien will descend upon your position.
Combat strategy revolves around the command menu, which slows time and allows you to spend slowly refilling command points on skills that range from direct damage to buffs for your team. During a hunt, you’ll set your abilities up to cover the entrance the aliens will use and spam damaging abilities to deal with any that get through your perimeter.
Once the hunt timer ends, you’re back to stealthily working on objectives, but some smart mechanics prevent this loop from getting repetitive. As your marines fight or are hunted, they experience stress that slowly lowers their performance, and fights aren’t always avoidable. On top of this, each fight with the aliens increases their aggressiveness during the mission. Eventually, your stress and alien aggressiveness will be so high you’ll be better off retreating from the mission, which you can then continue on a future day.
After each mission, you go to a base management portion of the game, which is functional but underwhelming. There’s a timer counting down the days until you lose the game, so you’ll need to be fast. If a squad is injured, you’ll either need to take out a second squad with less helpful upgrades, or wait for them to heal. On the other hand, if you’re not careful during a mission, your soldiers can permanently die, and you’ll have to replace them with a less experienced soldier. You can customize and rename each marine in the vein of XCOM, but the visual customization is very limited, and I didn’t get emotionally attached to most of my marines. If you lost too many marines you could enter a death spiral, but it’s fairly easy to avoid.
The version I played was prone to irritating glitches that broke almost every part of the game during missions. Many of these issues were fixed by reloading a save, but there’s no manual save option, only autosaves, so I often had to lose progress to fix them. Some bugs were so severe I had to leave the mission and lose a day, which made the time pressure a massive pain. That said, the game works most of the time, and I’m sure many of the bugs will eventually be fixed.
The story is a bit hit or miss. A lot of early dialogue is flat, and the characters are underdeveloped — but there are some genuinely cool moments later on.
Aliens: Dark Descent gives off a bad first impression, but I came away from the game impressed by the quality of its gameplay and the great graphics and voice acting. If you like the sound of an XCOM-esque real-time tactics game in the Aliens universe, you should give this a try.
Aliens: Dark Descent is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S and X for $39.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Aliens: Dark Descent.