Aliens: Dark Descent review: "A fresh and fun take on the series"

Aliens: Dark Descent screenshot
(Image: © Focus Entertainment)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Aliens: Dark Descent is a fresh and fun take on the series, with great tactical action supplemented with unique concepts like stress management. The writing and characters sadly don't amount to anything memorable, and boss battles can feel incredibly jarring to the pacing and tension.


  • +

    Excellent tactical action

  • +

    Fresh concepts like stress levels

  • +

    Intriguing setup


  • -

    Dull writing and characters

  • -

    Boss battles upset the atmosphere

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I've always found there's some undeniably horrific about real-time strategy games. Peering down on a battlefield and seeing an army getting massacred beyond belief and knowing "oops, I did that" will really make one feel horrendous. While smaller in scope, Aliens: Dark Descent is gunning for this same terrifying feeling of helplessness. 

Fast Facts

Developer: Tindalos Interactive
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Release date: June 20, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One

The new real-time strategy game from developer Tindalos Interactive puts you in control of a group of space marines, armed to the teeth, fighting tooth and nail against Xenomorph horrors. It would've been easy to look at Dark Descent's tactical trappings and wonder what possessed Tindalos to take the series in such a direction, but the tactical action has a chokehold of suspense on you from the jump.

Fight to survive

Aliens: Dark Descent screenshot

(Image credit: Focus Entertainment)

You'll command your squad of marines into dark caverns and dingy corridors, peering into rooms and just praying there aren't a couple Xenomorphs there waiting for you. Every foot forward feels like rolling the dice, gambling with the lives of your squad as they press on to encounter the unthinkable, and then reacting in a split second when a Xenomorph inevitably appears and charges full pelt at your squad. 

Aliens: Dark Descent's action is pulse-pounding. As I maneuvered from one claustrophobic environment to the next, I could barely take my eyes off of the motion tracker. As soon as something out there moves – whether that's towards or away from you – it's time to hunker down and prepare for the worst. Just one Xeno ambushing your squad can instantly render a marine dead, so you're constantly on the lookout for any threat.

You can command marines to use abilities like overwatch on a particular area, placing a mine to block a route, or setting up a lethal sentry turret. These are key to survival, but they're also a limited resource, hinging on a recharging meter. This means that while firepower can feel overwhelming against the aliens, it's also neatly stunted – you're always thinking about saving some gas in the tank for the next encounter. 

Aliens: Dark Descent screenshot

(Image credit: Focus Entertainment)

The hordes are where everything comes to a terrifying head. Every now and then you'll get a notification that a horde is on their way to disembowel your marines, and you've got roughly 20 seconds to prepare for arrival. Palms get sweaty real quickly here, as you'll have to find a good point to defend, and pray you've got enough ammo, turrets, grenades, and special abilities to see out the Xenos. It's a randomized element you can never truly predict, and works wonders for making Aliens: Dark Descent feel genuinely threatening.

Sadly though, boss battles do unravel this tension. Occasionally, a mission will throw an elite enemy at you, but it'll warn you that pressing a button of interacting with a terminal will trigger said fight. Knowing the fight is coming sort of takes the wind out of its sails, but on the other hand, the boss fights are near-impossible to overcome if you haven't already planned for them. Aliens: Dark Descent is sort of caught between a rock and a hard place here, and as a result, the boss battles are a little jarring to the pacing of a mission. 

Down time

Aliens: Dark Descent screenshot

(Image credit: Focus Entertainment)

Aliens: Dark Descent is so much more than just pressing forward and shooting. Every marine has a 'Stress' meter that can increase for a myriad of reasons. Did they just shoot a Xenomorph in the face, get splashed by its acidic blood, and see its friends come out to play on the mini-map? They're really stressed now, and it's up to you as the commander to manage that stress level and literally stop them from freaking out. 

To do this, you need to create a Safe Room. Having your soldiers weld a door shut is all well and good for halting a Xenomorph, but if you weld shut every entrance to one room, you'll create a space where your squad can take a breather and recoup their mental strength. It's a brilliant and original feature that makes you stop and consider your squad of toughs as a little more human than just walking guns. 

This also feeds back into the management aspect of Aliens: Dark Descent. Tindalos takes a page out of XCOM's book and makes you consider your soldiers after a mission. If they're overly stressed, they'll need treatment in the trauma center, while a wound will take days to recover in medical, taking them out of subsequent missions. It's an extra layer of complexity which works to make the marines under your command feel like more than an expendable resource.

Unfortunately though, the writing of Aliens: Dark Descent is just plain poor. We're playing as Deputy Administrator Maeko Hayes, teaming up with space marine toughs like Jason Harper. There's incredibly little depth to these characters, especially the marines, who talk with their chests puffed out and like every interaction is a battle to be overcome and won. Dark Descent feels like it wants to take after Aliens' bro-tastic writing of its marines, but there's not enough depth here to make individuals shine through. 

Aliens: Dark Descent screenshot

(Image credit: Focus Entertainment)

There's a neat idea at the outset of Aliens: Dark Descent though. Horror always has its 'idiot' characters, people who do things that go against all sense and logic in the heat of the moment, and the Aliens series is no exception to this (Aliens' Burke locking himself away from the only people who can save him springs to mind). Dark Descent actually has us playing as this idiot trope, as the game begins with Hayes mercilessly opting to launch rockets at every ship in the vicinity after a Xenomorph outbreak, just in case they're infested. 

They are, in fact, not infested, and Hayes realizes this pretty quickly. One of these ships is the Otago, which is your base of command for the rest of Dark Descent, immediately putting Hayes at ground zero of her error. It's a really good narrative point, twisting that idiot trope to put you in the command chair of the role for a change. It's a shame nothing else in Dark Descent's story comes close to this level, but it's a nice setup nonetheless. 

Aliens: Dark Descent is a surprisingly inventive new strategic take on the series, bringing fresh ideas to the party with stress levels and hordes, while borrowing from XCOM's action and the movies' air of pure dread. The writing and characters fall woefully short of this high bar though, and boss battle work to sadly undo a lot of the tension Dark Descent brilliantly establishes. In its moment-to-moment gameplay though, Dark Descent is a really fun time. 

Aliens: Dark Descent was reviewed on PC, with code provided by the publisher. 

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Hirun Cryer

Hirun Cryer is a freelance reporter and writer with Gamesradar+ based out of U.K. After earning a degree in American History specializing in journalism, cinema, literature, and history, he stepped into the games writing world, with a focus on shooters, indie games, and RPGs, and has since been the recipient of the MCV 30 Under 30 award for 2021. In his spare time he freelances with other outlets around the industry, practices Japanese, and enjoys contemporary manga and anime.