Aliens: Dark Descent, much more than an XCOM clone

Aliens: Dark Descent, much more than an XCOM clone

The preview of Aliens: Dark Descent, a new strategy based on the Alien film saga: we have seen it in action and we talk about it in this preview.

If we talk about videogame transpositions of Alien, in the hearts of the players there is room for a single title: Alien Isolation. This game, in fact, represented the perfect synthesis of the first iconic film signed in 1979 by Ridley Scott and still today both the community and the critics hold the work of Creative Assembly in important consideration. But what if we add an “s” in the title, if thatAlien becomes Aliens? The team will give an answer Tindalos Interactive and publisher Focus Entertainment, with Aliens: Dark Descent.

Here the player will no longer play the role of a single protagonist intent on escaping from a Xenomorph, but will have to manage an entire team, since we are talking about a tactical squad-based action. During the days of Gamescom 2022 in Cologne, we attended a presentation in which several points related to this game were clarified, which we tell you in our Aliens: Dark Descent preview.

Persistent game world

Exploration is at the heart of Aliens: Dark Descent

Aliens: Dark Descent is set twenty years after the events recounted in Alien 3. Here a group of Colonial Marines are shipwrecked on Lethe’s moon, which houses several Xenomorph nests. The narrative element seems to be very important and, being the persistent game world, all the player’s actions will have a significant impact on the story. The plot extends along the main missions, but obviously there will be no shortage of secondary ones, which can be interrupted and resumed at will. During the presentation, Tindalos lets us know that even the quietest missions can take a bad turn and not always staying on the field is a wise choice. The game world of Aliens: Dark Descent is persistent, which means that any changes will occur within a level, that will be permanent until a later intervention: if a hatch is left open on a map during a mission, it will remain open until the player closes it. This also applies to the Marines killed in battle, if the body is not recovered you will find it where it fell on the next visit.

During the presentation we could not see much of the map from the main menu, but the rare times it was opened we noticed with some surprise a very remarkable extension of the game world. The levels of Aliens: Dark Descent seem large and very treacherous, made up of an intricate series of passages many of them dark; we do not know if in other biomes the situation will change but, if nothing else, the level we saw (an abandoned space base attacked by Xenomorphs) conveyed the right atmosphere.

The missions of Dark Descent are carried out in a very simple way: you prepare the team of four Marines for battle, equipping each one with military equipment and weapons based on its class, you land on the game map where the actual mission takes place, you arrive at the goal and return to the rendezvous point for extraction. The difficulty, as you will have understood, is surviving in the intermediate phase.

The graphical interface hosts i parameters most important to keep under control during the mission: the resources of the team, which are very scarce and must be used with great parsimony, the level of enemy aggression, which will indicate the awareness of the enemy in your presence, and finally the vital parameters of the Marines, composed of health and stress. A high level of stress impairs the efficiency of the Marines, who will miss their target during combat. Under normal conditions, the four team members are able to perform a series of basic actions independently without the player’s intervention: for example, if the group passes by a crate with materials, the closest Marine will stop for open it and collect the content.

Clearly you can intervene in the micromanagement of the team at any time, with the option if necessary to slow down the time for as long as you want, and then return to the action in real time.

Marines against Xenomorphs

Exploiting the environments in Aliens: Dark Descent is essential to survive

Exploiting the environments in Aliens: Dark Descent is essential to survive

As anticipated, one of the parameters to always take into consideration is the level of aggression of the enemies. The Xenomorphs they will patrol the maps always remaining alert: if something attracts their attention, their status will change from “patrol” to “hunting” and at that point everything can end in only two ways: or you will be hunted and found, and at that point you will have to necessarily engage in a fight, or, if you manage to hide, after a while the aliens will give up on the search and will resume the patrol. The Marines will never know where the Xenomorphs are unless a bearing buoy is placed on the map.

This mobile motion tracker it is used to scan large portions of the map, identifying moving enemies nearby; these work automatically and their effect is active even if the Marines are out of their range. Obviously Xenomorphs are intelligent creatures, so your boas may not stay hidden forever, in fact, it won’t be too long before aliens find and destroy them.

Marines have strong nerves, but they too sooner or later give in to stress

Marines have strong nerves, but they too sooner or later give in to stress

It’s not hard to imagine how stressful it can be to walk through a dark military base infested with murderous aliens – our Marines are trained soldiers, but at some point they too will give in, in body and spirit. To keep under control i vital signs of the team you can clearly use medkits but, like all resources, they are very precious and the advice is to use them in really difficult moments. To avoid waste, the group of soldiers can camp for refreshment and take a breath. These stages are called safe areas and can be set up on the map at strategic points; in the demo seen, the safe zone was set up in a former windowless office, where the Marines had blocked all the doors and barricaded themselves inside. Managing the surrounding environment is really very important in Dark Descent and, as we could see during the presentation, making good use of the spaces and strategically preparing for the confrontation in focus definitely makes the difference.

Stages of combat

In Aliens: Dark Descent, open zones are the most complex to defend

In Aliens: Dark Descent, open zones are the most complex to defend

If the first part of the demo was characterized by many small firefights, against a handful of aliens who marched against the group of Marines in narrow corridors, the final phase took on the shape of an arena tower defense. Arriving in a control room, the Marines started a data download procedure, attracting the attention of the Xenomorphs to themselves. The player then instructed the team of soldiers to seal all the doors and place automatic turrets to defend the main entrances, while the four soldiers remained to cover the most vulnerable points. In this scenario we really understood the concept of “take a bad turn“. When stirred up, groups of aliens are really difficult to contain, both in aggression and in number. Forget a single Xenomorph that hunts you like in Isolation, here there are hundreds of them and, as the developers say, they are not. not even the most formidable enemies.

A really negative note that we would like to report is the animations of the aliens: it is true that we are talking about a strategic one with an overhead view, but it is clear that there is something deeply wrong in the movements of the aliens, so clumsy that every now and then they distracted us and tore us a smile despite the most excited moments of the action.

Getting things out of control in Alien: Dark Descent is a matter of seconds

Getting things out of control in Alien: Dark Descent is a matter of seconds

The escalation of the confrontation led to numerous damages: one turret destroyed, the other out of ammunition, one Marine dead and one badly wounded. The team, therefore, left the dead teammate on the field to move to the extraction point; en route they rescued a civilian who, once brought to the base, will become a useful resource to help rebuild the ship destroyed in the crash. However, the work does not end with the extraction of the team because, once back at the base, the player will have to deal with what happened during the mission, sending in Infirmary the wounded soldiers, who will not be able to be enlisted on a mission until their recovery, which will obviously depend on the extent of the damage reported.

If you think Aliens: Dark Descent is a copy of XCOM 2 in Alien sauce, we must contradict you. Of course, the Firaxis Games strategy undoubtedly serves as a primary source of inspiration for the title of Tindalos Interactive, and it can be seen in the macro-structure of the missions, composed of the preparation, action and debriefing phases. What happens on the battlefield, however, has nothing to do with XCOM 2, and not only for the lack of fighting on the grid, since in Aliens: Dark Descent movement and combat are free and in real time, but also for the different type of strategy that the title requires of the player. The exploration of the map, the tracking of enemies, the exploitation of the environment in one’s favor are all distinctive elements of Aliens: Dark Descent, which add depth to the gameplay, as well as make the atmosphere decidedly in line with the series cinematic.

CERTAINTIES

  • Large, freely navigable maps
  • Strategic management of the environment

DOUBTS

  • Alien 3 is perhaps not the most beloved chapter of the saga
  • Animations of the Xenomorphs to review


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