The Alien franchise has had an incredibly varied history within video games. Until Alien vs Predator in 1999, there wasn't anything that could have been considered undeniably great. Following this, mixed and mediocre results were frequent until the franchise hit rock bottom with the abysmal outing of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Fortunately, Creative Assembly rode to the rescue with Alien: Isolation. Following Focus Entertainment's release last year, Alien: Fireteam Elite, Focus are retaking the stage with Aliens: Dark Descent.
Set twenty years after Alien 3, you lead a group of marines that have crash-landed on a planet suffering from a Xenomorph infestation. Throughout the game, you'll find yourself tasked with completing many missions on sizable maps, each with multiple objectives, giving you varied rewards and more. So far, so ordinary. What isn't normal, particularly for the IP, is how Aliens: Dark Descent plays and the game type.
Think real-time XCOM. Or, possibly, XCOM mixed with a touch of Alien Breed, possibly Red Solstice 2? Maybe Valkyria Chronicles. Aliens: Dark Descent is a real-time tactic squad-based isometric shooter. In addition, it will feature a strategic XCOM-style layer, where you move from mission to mission, develop your characters, and more. As you could expect, if you lose a character, they're gone for good.
You may think that being mauled to death by a Xenomorph is the only thing that could knock your squad out of action, but you'd be wrong. The game will also feature stress as a core element, which you must watch out for within your marines. With three levels, your characters can move from simply impacting their aim to having them not listen to your commands at all. If they get injured or get too stressed, they'll need some time out, making them unavailable for a while.
This is why you'll need many marines to choose between, giving you options. With five starting roles and a different role to level up to, you'll need to find a good balance as you progress, rotating as and when necessary. Not only that, but different roles will have different abilities, giving you access to certain parts of a map and allowing you to change it permanently.
Permanence is where Aliens: Dark Descent offers an exciting feature. Generally, once you leave a map, it resets in games of this type. Here, you'll find yourself returning, and any changes you've made in the past will be permanent. This permanence will allow you to create safe places where your marines can have a momentary rest from the Xenomorphs. In addition, any damage you do, corpses you leave behind, and more, will be there when you next visit an area.
As for why you'll find yourself returning, each map will feature multiple objectives, ones that will require you to have beefed up your squad. You don't need to complete them all at once, coming back when your marines are more prepared. Also interesting is that I've been told some of the objectives could last up to and over an hour to complete; the size and scale are only partly visible in the gameplay presented to me.
If I have one concern, it's about the Xenomorphs themselves. I've no issues with the game type, and I often enjoy a real-time tactics title. I'm more than a fan of games like XCOM too. My concern is from the gameplay presented, particularly the mindless nature of the enemies you'll face. The AI doesn't cheat; that much was visible. You'll be using the motion detector and other equipment to see where the Xenomorphs are so they can't sneak up on you, and any noise you make will attract them to you.
The problem is when they're attracted, from what I saw, they charge mindlessly. I hope this was just due to the limited amount of gameplay shown, but Xenomorphs should be sneaky buggers, going along the walls, through the vents, and dribbling on your heads before pouncing. I genuinely hope this will be the case in Aliens: Dark Descent, but I must admit that it's too early for me to know precisely how they will act.
Despite any reservations I may have about the behaviour of the Xenomorphs, and they may be completely unfounded - Tindalos Interactive (Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, Etherium) is still developing the game - I am interested in Aliens: Dark Descent. An XCOM-like title, with real-time tactical elements, set in the Alien Universe will always interest me. It certainly looks to have the atmosphere; I hope it's got the gameplay when it releases in 2023.