Games of 2023: Aliens: Dark Descent preview

Continuing our look at some of the games we have to look forward to in 2023, we turn towards Aliens: Dark Descent, the upcoming team-based (single player) shooter from Focus Home and Tindalos Interactive.

What we know

Developed by Tindalos Interactive (previously responsible for the Battlefleet Gothic Armada games), Aliens: Dark Descent is a return to the world of the Alien franchise. It’s not always a happy combination, but Alien: Isolation was great and Fireteam Elite was pretty decent as well. This one, scheduled for Xbox, PlayStation and PC, has us pretty excited.

It’s a single player game, but it’s squad-based, so you’re essentially commanding a team of space marines in real-time despite an almost XCOM-like feel (due to the isometric point of view and indirect controls). Dark Descent also features different character classes with abilities you level up in order to give them special skills while also researching a tech tree as your base in order to improve your combat abilities even more.

The story campaign is grounded in an original story and features both familiar foes (from Facehuggers to Queens) and new creatures, but you’ll come under attack from Weyland-Yutani forces. Quick thinking and dynamic battle tactics are essential as you anticipate and react to enemy movements, so you might want to order your team to weld some doors shut in order to focus your firepower on a singular point of entry, only to see that other doors get broken down in the heat of battle.

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What we saw

We were invited by Focus Entertainment to see a developer-led demo for Aliens – Dark Descent. During the (hands-off) demo, we saw lengthy overview of gameplay mechanics through live gameplay, exploring what Dark Descent will play like.

What we thought

As much as we enjoyed Alien: Isolation, we love that Dark Descent is much more aligned with James Cameron’s sequel than with Ridley Scott’s original. The more action-oriented approach is a great natural fit for a video game, and the squad-based dynamic of the film carry over extremely well to a team-based shooter.

With dimly lit space stations partly overgrown with organic matter and some cool lighting and fire effects, Aliens: Dark Descent also does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of the film. The isometric point of view also works well in this regard – when you’ve secured you and your team in a room and welded the doors shut, it’s a harrowing sight to see xenomorphs floor the hallways outside, looking for a way in. You know they eventually will, so tensions are always high.

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To relieve some of that, you can set up motion sensors and automated turrets to give you support and some advance warning when danger is close, but there’s little room to relax. Getting a moment of peace is important though, as keeping your team’s sanity at a normal level is one of the gameplay mechanics here. That’s in addition to managing your health and inventory, as both are finite resources as well.

One thing we wish that Dark Descent had was support for local/online multiplayer, with each player controlling a squad member and working together. It might be harder to implement because of the squad leader/management aspect of things, but because this one looks like “The Ascent meets Aliens” it seems like too much of a good thought to pass up – maybe in a separate game mode, please?

Anyway, we can see XCOM purists lamenting the fact that they’re not getting a turn-based take on the popular Alien IP here as the cycle of planning, anticipating and reacting would lend itself well to an Aliens game, but we’re definitely down for what the developers are going for here. Aliens is an action film, and being in control of the action rather than just issuing orders is a good way of getting that across. Our main concern would be the pacing of things though, as Aliens works so well because there are moments of suspense, moments of relative peace and quiet and then sequences of edge of the seat action. If Tindalos can manage that for Dark Descent, this could turn out great – we can’t wait to see more of it.

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