The tactical horror of Aliens: Dark Descent looks surprisingly scary
At Gamescom we learned new details about how the upcoming squad-based action game adds horror to the mix.
All the way back from the Atari 2600 to the newest generation of consoles, the Alien franchise has spawned countless video games. Unfortunately, the quality has often been rather lacking (and that is putting it nicely), but at least things seem to be improving with two quite interesting projects on the horizon. One of these is a yet unnamed VR-game, and just the thought of exploring USCSS Nostromo in the virtual realm gives us the shivers. The other is Aliens: Dark Descent, an upcoming tactical action game from French studio Tindalos Interactive. The genre might seem less suited for horror, but after seeing a presentation of the game at Gamescom hosted by Focus Entertainment, we were left feeling quite impressed.
Introducing: Tactical Horror
Aliens: Dark Descent is a tactical action game where you have to make tough decisions on the fly. Tasked with stopping a Xenomorph outbreak on the moon Lethe, you take control of a team of five Colonial Marines, which can be replaced or upgraded between missions. With permadeath and enemies constantly on the move, whether Xenomorphs or mercenaries, you'll probably never get a relaxed moment.
Since the game is based on the Alien Franchise, horror plays a large role in the game. One of the things that make horror, well horrifying, is of course the perspective. A first-person camera or a third person view of a scared and vulnerable character makes you constantly fearful of what lurks around the next corner. With its top-down perspective, Aliens: Dark Descent will probably not have you jumping out of your seat anytime soon. Yet, thanks to some clever design decisions, the game still manages to add horror elements in some interesting ways both in terms of moment-to-moment gameplay and when it comes to larger strategic decisions.
This is an ad:
Opening and closing doors is a central gameplay mechanic
Just because the camera is top-down, doesn't mean you will see everything coming. The moon stations primarily consist of tight corridors and rooms divided by heavy metallic doors. What lurks behind these is often unknown until you manage to get them open - it might be useful equipment or a Xenomorph just waiting for the chance to turn your squad into chewing gum. As power is often disabled due to all the aliens, explosions, and what not, you'll have to use a large electrical saw to open the doors, which leaves one of your team members extremely vulnerable.
Exploring the station and making shortcuts by opening doors helps you isolate the moving enemies and plan ambushes, which is key to survival. With the help of deployable motion trackers, you can view the aliens' movements on the mini map (these can get destroyed though, so you better hide them well) and welding doors shut might cut off enemies from certain directions giving you a bit of breathing room. If only the soldiers cut shut out their traumatic experiences in the same way...
This is an ad:
Keeping a cool head means keeping your head
What we liked most about Aliens: Dark Descent is how the horror aspect also plays a role when managing your squad. Even your battle-hardened Colonial Marines are not immune to the horrific dangers they are constantly facing, and you'll have to not only manage their physical health but also their mental well-being. Put too much strain on a given team member, and they might start acting irrationally, missing their shots, disobeying orders, or even sabotaging your mission.
How your soldiers will act during missions depends on their various mental traits, such as stubborn or determined. You will have a huge roster of soldiers to choose from and upgrade during the game, but it will eventually get smaller, as the game features permadeath. Pulling out is always an option though, and sometimes an evacuation during a mission might be a better option than loosing all of your squad - especially if they have useful upgrades. You can always come back, and the game even remembers your previous actions leaving the layout as it was when you left.
Games based on the Alien-franchise have often struggled to find a balance between the slow, methodical horror of the original cinematic masterpiece, and the intense action of the many sequels and spin-offs. With it's tactical horror Aliens: Dark Descent looks like a surprisingly well-thought-out attempt at doing just that. The infested moon stations seem to be a great setting for a tactical squad-based game, and it makes us wonder why the genre hasn't dabbled in horror elements more often. Hopefully Aliens: Dark Descent will be just as exciting as it seems when it releases in 2023 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.