When it comes to strategy games of the last five years, near the top of many lists will be the reboot of XCOM, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It was an intriguingly deep game where you had to defend Earth against an alien invasion. You did this by acting as the commander of an elite military organisation called, rather surprisingly, XCOM. Acting as the commander meant managing a base and directing soldiers in battle against the alien foe. It was important that you managed your soldiers well and kept them alive, mainly because once they were dead that was it. There was no getting them back, unless you were the kind of person to reload everything that didn’t go your way. This would almost always lead to some of your best soldiers dying that you had spent hours levelling =-up due to one wrong decision. It was frustrating and, to some, even emotional. XCOM 2 makes sure to keep the intensity of combat intact, whilst also highlighting the fact that everything you did in Enemy Unknown was in vain.
The humans didn’t win. The aliens now rule the Earth and are in the process of manipulating history in their favour, XCOM was forced to go in to hiding but now, 20 years after the invasion, they’re ready to make their move. You’ll have to start from scratch again, building up your base and researching the aliens and their technology to improve your weapons, armour and base. You’ll also see many soldiers rise through the ranks and have to make the tough decisions on what kind of soldiers you’ll want them to be. For example, even if a soldier becomes a sniper there’s still different perks for you to choose. When you’re dealing with rookies your squad choices are much easier, due to the limited customisation. It’s the latter parts of the game, after you’ve spent time fine tuning the perks that picking your team for a mission can become a challenge. Choosing the team for the mission is just a small part of using your squad though. You’ll also have to make some difficult decisions as you progress through the game.
Do you sacrifice a squad members’ life to save another? Do you leave your squad behind, leaving them to be captured, to save a VIP? Do you run away from the alien forces that have already killed two of your team or do you stand your ground and fight? They’re difficult decisions and ones that can see your squad wiped out if you get it wrong or without a handy resource boost to help build your base.
It’s a great feeling when it all pays off. When it doesn’t though it is understandably frustrating. With the percentages shown of the likelihood of hitting your targets my playthrough saw a few too many 80+% misses for my liking. It made it feel like the game was trying to cheat me. It’s a small niggle, which is highlighted because the numbers aren’t invisible to the player. It doesn’t make it any less frustrating though. Especially when you’re shooting at near point blank range. That’s the main issue I had with the game mechanic wise. Some parts are a bit clunky on a controller, but there’s so much to do that you’ll forgive this. The random generation of maps and the monthly events that can occur keep you on your toes as you progress through to try and free the world of its alien overlords. There are also plenty of enemy types to get used to and soldier set-ups to tweak. Although it’s rich with things to do there are issues with how the game runs on consoles.
The load times are ridiculous, taking over a minute at times to get in to a mission. The framerate and animations in the game also seemed rather temperamental, with it juddering if a bit too much was going on. XCOM 2 also suffers from the same issue many PC games suffer from when porting to console and that is that the text is too small. This combined with huge documents that you’re not allowed to scroll through means a lot of the extra text documents, such as experiment breakdowns, will no doubt not be read in full by some players. These are all things that could be patched out in the future, but they’re all things that were noticeable in a way that detracted from the experience, even if it was just a tiny bit.
If you’re a fan of the XCOM series, or just love squad based strategy games, then XCOM 2 is easily worth picking up. It’s brutally hard at times, sometimes leaning on the side of unfair, but it’s an experience that will keep you going back for more. There’s plenty to tinker with and it’s a lot of fun, but the flaws of the console versions make it hard to recommend them over the PC version. If you have the choice, then pick it up on PC. If you don’t have the choice and can put up with long load times and framerate issues, then you’ll have a great time.
You can watch my first hour of XCOM 2 below. Warning: I was terrible at this.