Aliens Dark Descent PS5 Review. It’s never game over, man. Control a squad of Colonial marines as they battle an infestation of everyone’s favorite acid-dripping Xenomorphs. Find out if this RTS take on the Alien franchise is acid hot or if this is just another bug hunt in PlayStation Universe’s Aliens: Dark Descent review for PS5.
Aliens Dark Descent Review (PS5) – Strategic Bug Hunting Takes the Alien Franchise in a Refreshing Direction
There’s no doubt about it. We are getting closer to the ultimate Aliens experience.
Games such as Aliens vs. Predator had a good whiff of it in Marine campaigns, and while the less appealing whiff of Aliens: Colonial Marines still can’t be neutralized to this day, Aliens: Fireteam Elite course-corrected things, even though still missed a true sense of helpless peril.
Aliens: Dark Descent moves us ever closer to it – even if its developer’s efforts don’t always go smoothly. I haven’t felt the panicked sweat of Xenomorphs closing in this hard since Alien Isolation. And here you have an arsenal and several Marines at your disposal, so that’s already a credit to what Battlefleet Gothic developer Tindalos Interactive has achieved with Aliens Dark Descent.
The story sees sinister forces unleash a swarm of xenomorphs upon the planet of Lethe. Stuck in this infested hellhole, a newly-minted, yet reluctant, commander must utilize a battalion of Colonial Marines to eradicate the growing xeno presence. But the chitinous droolers aren’t the only threat on Lethe. Weyland Yutani is represented by some typically devious rogues, and there’s also a bit of a cult problem to deal with.
Aliens Dark Descent is…overwhelming to say the least. It throws a lot at the player in its opening hour. Even with a carefully-controlled tutorial mission, it’s only begun to scratch the surface of what you can expect. By the time you’re plopped down on one of the game’s large maps and have multiple objectives to deal with, it becomes practically stifling. It’s got what I’d call the ‘XCOM Trajectory’ because it blows you away with its systems to begin with, but the lessons learned from failure in that time are more valuable than any tutorial.
There’s a gleeful, sadistic vein running through Aliens Dark Descent that isn’t the only XCOM-adjacent thing I found to like about it.
I’ve spent years using XCOM as a template for what I want in a strategy game, and it’s rare any game has matched exactly what I want. I did not expect Aliens Dark Descent to come closest. Now, it’s refreshing to have an Alien game that isn’t first-person or a traditional shooter too. I didn’t know I wanted an Aliens RTS until we got that reveal trailer for this game, and when you start playing Aliens Dark Descent, it begins to make so much sense. But the most immediate things it does made me take notice.
Despite being an RTS rather than a turn-based affair, Aliens Dark Descent bleeds XCOM acid like no other in its opening hour or two. The scene-setting tutorial. The base hub where you can research and upgrade things. The ever-growing threat of losing control of the planet, and marines who can die a very permanent death no matter how attached you get to them. It all feels so comfy and familiar. But when we get down to it, the game isn’t going to feel like XCOM in the moment when the entire gameplay style is so different, right?
Well, it actually manages to be a lot closer than I’d ever imagined. During missions, your job is to direct a squad of 4 Colonial Marines towards whatever goal you’ve chosen and they’ll do the shooting if they see any threats. But there’s a subset of commands that can be accessed by tapping R2. This slows the action (or pauses it if you choose that option) and gives you a selection of options based on what your squad has available to them.
Handy For Close Encounters
For instance, anyone wielding a shotgun as backup weapon can blast back any Xeno that gets too close. Or lay down suppressing fire to help facilitate an escape. These cost action points, of which you only have a few to begin with (they recharge…slowly). So that’s where your strategy really kicks in during combat.
So combat is a hybrid of turn-based and real-time that was a bit odd to get into at first, but gels quite well once you get in its groove. The extra tactical touches give Aliens Dark Descent an extra level of flexibility. These include managing stress and injury levels mid-mission by welding a room shut in order to rest. Utilizing a room’s layout when making a stand against an incoming horde. Or even bailing in the APC when things get a bit too heated. One of the best lessons to learn early on is that it’s not cowardice to haul your collective backsides into the APC and get back to base if the risk is too high to continue. Yes, this means the Alien threat on Lethe grows just a little bit higher, but it can be far worse to lose good soldiers because they’re too stressed/tired/covered in acid to make it through another grueling gauntlet.
You can alleviate the pressure of that growing threat by taking on special missions that might help reduce the counter or give you a much-needed haul of goodies, but it’s a day wasted when you could have been on the more important missions. Juggling this is one of the hardest aspects of Aliens Dark Descent’s campaign., but it’s surprising how much it can help to take a day off from blasting Xenomorphs to help the greater good.
I must admit, it could have been a very repetitive game if all you faced were the garden variety Aliens, but to Tindalos Interactive’s credit, it has laid on a buffet of enemy types that don’t detract from the Alien stuff. Alien Isolation continues to be a really positive influence on expanding the Alien universe in games because just like Fireteam Elite, Dark Descent takes what Creative Assembly added to the table and expands upon it in interesting ways. It’s definitely more effective here than it was with Fireteam Elite, but I think that’s because there’s a greater focus on the story and a generally slower pace with Dark Descent.
Having a four-way tussle on Lethe between Weyland Yutani, Cultists, the Xenomorphs, and the Marines makes for a fascinating dynamic both in and out of missions. The Marines just want to get off the planet alive, and the weird war they find themselves entrenched in just makes that harder with each passing day. On a strategy level, it means you never get comfy with your lot on Lethe. A single Alien can be as brutally impactful on the success of a mission as an entire squad of Weyland Yutani turncoats because the wrong action at the wrong time can bring several flavors of hell down upon your poor Marines.
I won’t spoil the surprises Aliens Dark Descent can throw your way in terms of enemy types, but there’s a few times I simultaneously felt excited and filled with dread.
Game Over, Man?
Aliens Dark Descent comes so close to being something special, but the myriad of technical issues I’ve had with it in my 20-odd hours with it have not done it any favours. These include levels not loading in properly to items not functioning correctly and more than a few muddy patches on the visual front. Some issues were eased by a patch, but they certainly haven’t entirely gone.
It took me a little while to get used to what Aliens Dark Descent was offering me, and that made it a bit hard to love at times. But truly, it only gets better with failure. Some games have to teach you this way, and I’m quite receptive to that. Sure the technical issues and steep learning curve almost made this an express elevator to hell, but by the time I’d seen many Marines fall by the wayside, I began to really see the beauty in Aliens Dark Descent.
Aliens Dark Descent is out now for PS5, PS4, PC, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.