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Aliens: Dark Descent is very real-time XCOM and I love it

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Finally, another Aliens game to sink my teeth into. I've been playing Aliens: Dark Descent and overall I'm pretty damn happy with the experience. Played on Linux desktop (Fedora KDE) and Steam Deck with Proton Experimental, overall it's scratched an itch I've had since blasting through XCOM 2.

It is very much in the spirit of XCOM, there's clearly plenty inspired by it, but Aliens: Dark Descent is a very different violent beast that knows how to cut the power. While XCOM is turn-based, this is a real-time tactical-action game. You're constantly thinking on your toes, often while running for cover to prevent being spotted or just generally running away while your marines get stressed out and get dragged away by aliens.

Here stealth is much more the point rather than going in guns blazing. You may control a squad of absolute bad-asses with sharp sticks and pulse rifles, but getting swarmed by aliens is likely to go pretty badly. Here you want to actively try and avoid them with the help of your motion tracker, that gives the all too familiar and terrifying beep when it gets a signal. The more you're spotted and you engage the aliens, the worse the mission will get over time as they will eventually get very aggravated and swarm you.

An interesting mechanic you have here is that missions aren't a one-and-done thing. You can enter a mission, do a bit and extract if it went a bit badly. To then come back to it with a refreshed squad to finish it off. It's a nice touch and quite necessary actually, since it's a tough game. However, each day that passes will make the missions progressively more difficult to do as the alien infestation grows - so you'll still want to try and do as much as you can in one go. However, once you've started a mission, going back to it later allows you to even select your entry point.

Thankfully the somewhat lengthy prologue eases you firmly into it, showcasing the controls and character abilities, while setting up the story of the main campaign.

The open feel of the campaign is the highlight though. Not only can you bug-out and come back later, but the order in which you do various parts of the missions is up to you. Since the mission areas can be quite large, you're also given an APC to ferry your marines to various points across the map. Not only does it speed some of the travel time up, but it also has a great big turret on it and will smash through any aliens that come near it during travel and when it's parked up.

While it is a real-time action game, you do get a little bit of time to breathe. Your marines have various skills, and when you bring up the skills menu it will slow down time. Not only that, but in the options you can swap that over to a complete pause if you prefer it. Speaking of skills, it also has the individual marine level ups found in other squad-based games, so you can level them all up and give them special abilities - which will come in handy as the game goes on.

In between missions at your base you'll also be able to do various things like unlock new weapons, assign medics to treat your marines a little quicker and there's even some special events that appear. The problem with the events is that there's always a downside. Some might give you an extra person but you'll skip a day of deploying your marines - resulting in a bigger infestation. Others might present you with marines that have issues, and you have to pick who you deal with. There's always something to consider even outside of the real-time action.

You can see some previous thoughts on playing it on Steam Deck in the below video:

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For Steam Deck, in short, it's not quite there yet. I wouldn't recommend it but I also wouldn't completely tell you not to get it. While it has some performance issues, a lot of it can stick to 30FPS. Valve have it officially rated as Unsupported on Steam Deck due to performance, so I truly hope Tindalos Interactive can get some optimizations in to get it to properly stick to 30FPS on Steam Deck. That, plus some text size scaling and it would be golden.

Since the above video, the developer has already solved one of the most annoying issues - the marines shouting the same voice lines while moving constantly. They've toned it down a bit now and it's much nicer. More patches are also confirmed to be on the way.

It's a pretty ambitious game and while enjoyable, I do wish there were slightly more tactical options. Your squad is always together, so there's no chance of splitting them to do any kind of special manoeuvre. It's all about their abilities together as a whole which often ends up as placing down a turret, setting one to throw a flare and another to suppress the enemies with bullets as they come running at you. Atmospherically fantastic but mechanically quite streamlined.

During some fights you'll be frantically clicking around, as various types of alien creatures are coming at you. Some will knock your marines down, destroy your turrets, pick them up and eat them and plenty more ways to die. Thankfully, at least at the default difficulty I was playing at, the game tends to warn you when a major encounter is going to happen so you get a little bit of time to prepare.

The script is another issue, it falls pretty flat quite often. Some of what they say just feels…stupid. It's a relatively minor point overall, but it at times feels like a sci-fi B movie script where they're just so dumb. The action at least makes up for that most of the time. Although it commits a bit of a sin here where the aliens are the most interesting thing, and yet at one point you end up fighting off a bunch of idiotic cult-like humans that are basically useless. I want aliens!

On desktop Linux with my NVIDIA 2080 Ti and Ryzen 5800X, with the graphical preset set to High at 2560x1440 resolution I've been seeing around 60FPS generally. Mostly above it but it does dip below now and then. Which for this type of game is absolutely fine.

There's a lot to like about this one. Overall I'm very happy with the experience. Tindalos Interactive are clear fans of the source material, with Aliens being one of the greatest sci-fi action films ever made (I'll fight anyone on that) and I hope there's more to come for this game and from the developer in other games.

I will recommend playing it with Proton Experimental, as Proton 8 gave me a few Unreal Engine crash screens which I haven't seen with Proton Experimental.

You can buy Aliens: Dark Descent on Humble Store and Steam.

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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly. Find me on Mastodon.
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leillo1975 Jun 28, 2023
It's been a long time since I've found a title that really interested me, and this is one of them, to my wishlist !!!!
cwbutcher Jun 28, 2023
This looks great. Another great Xcom style game that I've thoroughly enjoyed lately is Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate - Daemonhunters. Picked it up in last month's Humble Choice for May and I'm so glad that I did. Highly recommend it to fans of the genre. Also it has worked perfectly for me on Steam Deck by the way.

Last edited by cwbutcher on 28 June 2023 at 4:34 pm UTC
StoneColdSpider Jun 28, 2023
I just have one question....... How do I get into this chickenshit outfit????
this looks really awesome.....
Eri Jun 29, 2023
A friend and I are huge fans of the Alien franchise and were very surprised by Aliens: Fireteam Elite, we didn't expected to be a good game at all and we had a great time killing Xenos, even if the game didn't have much to offer. But this one looks awesome, I can't play it with my friend but I will buy it soon, definitely. Thanks for your thoughts about it.
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