Reviewed By Steve Polak
It may have been around for a while now, but XCOM 2 is still a game worthy of your attention, as it brings a lot to the table, and not all of it is gooey vaporised alien corpses, although if you are going well there are plenty of these too.
In case you have never come across this amazingly long lived strategy series, XCOM is a turn based strategy game that has seen PC and in later years console pundits taking on alien hordes as they invade our vulnerable planet. The original game was released on the PC back in 1994 and it was a surprise hit. The game was such a seminal offering I even still have it in my library.
The series was revamped recently in 2012 and this latest offering brings a whole swag of extra toys to the table.
The key premise is that you are the commander of a strategically small, but powerful force of resistance fighters who have taken on alien invaders. These insidious extra terrestrials have unfortunately taken over the Earth and pretty much enslaved or co-opted the bulk of the population.
You have an extremely powerful ship, the ‘Avenger’, and you must establish a base of operations and then reach out to the disparate, disorganised pockets of resistance planet wide, as you begin to co-ordinate a strategy aimed at fighting back against the alien menace.
How do you wage war in XCOM 2? Well you must co-ordinate the development of your technologies, salvage junked areas on-board the Avenger (which was originally an alien space ship), recruit new troops, engage in research and most importantly send ‘away team’ parties of crack troops down to the earth’s surface to fight the aliens at significant hot spots.
Yep, there sure is a lot to do in the game and those not familiar with the series may well find themselves swamped at first. The centrepiece of the play is the squad based tactical combat in ‘away team’ mode and thankfully XCOM 2 does take you through this in detail.
However, managing the departments and subsystems on-board the Avenger is a pretty major undertaking and at first you may well be swamped by choices and not understand the full implications of any decision you are making.
Do you research new weapons based on captured alien technology or should you conduct an autopsy (a messy business) to find out how the aliens tick and perhaps determine a weakness?
There are many more options than these two, but you will have to select the one that best works for you, and some can be really critical in that they open up new ship upgrades that may be vital to how effectively you contact other resistance groups.
Alongside the research side of the game you also have a capable engineer called Shen, and can recruit many more. A good complement of engineers, soldiers and indeed scientists is essential to your success.
You will need more engineers if you want to build several facilities on board the ship at the same time and several scientists are vital if you’d like your research to proceed at more than a snail’s pace. On top of this a good troop of well trained soldiers is critical too.
How do you amass this private army? Often you must venture into combat and rescue individuals who then join your cause.
Indeed combat is at the core of the game’s appeal. You will have to have your other ducks lined up in a row before combat, as you’ll need resources and the fruits of cutting edge research for a winnable fight, but the combat side of the game is where most of the fun is to be had.
The action is simple, and despite the game’s original PC origins and quite complex controls, you’ll find it is also easy to get a feel for the many squad based commands.
There are four basic troops types. A tech specialist, who controls a very versatile combat support drone, a heavy weapons soldier, a sniper and last, but far from least a Ranger. Ranger’s are critical to mission success as they are stealth experts and are brilliant at ninja inspired melee take-downs. Knowing how to co-ordinate your different personnel so that their cumulative attacks are as effective as possible is a real skill in the game. Your troops also develop more skills over time and you have some choice about the direction of their development. This adds another strategic element to play and it is welcome even if it isn't at the core of the game's appeal.
What you really want to do is head to a combat zone, take out all of the aliens and complete your objectives while minimising injuries and incurring zero fatalities. This can be quite a challenge as some missions see you seriously outnumbered. The aliens also continue to develop new technology, while also hurling new creatures at you, just to keep you on your toes too.
There will be more than one moment when you are forced to reload or at least take a step back as a new enemy looms into view and you find your squad is ill prepared to cope with the threat.
There are some great tactical aspects elements in combat mode though. Chief among these is the way you can forego a movement ‘turn’ so that your soldier can wait in over-watch mode, shooting at an alien when they move and before they have time to react.
You can set some really satisfying ambushes this way though too and these can devastate the opposition.
On top of this XCOM 2 lets you select between weapon types, there is indirect fire (most commonly with grenades), you can use your drone specialists to hack alien defence installations plus cover and elevation will play a major role in combat success.
XCOM 2 has a huge toy box full of tactical combat options and this combined with technology, weapon development and the way that your squad can ‘level up’ adds a lot of strategic depth to the tactical play.
The basics surrounding each combat may be the same, but your strategic preparation back at HQ can have a major impact on your success and even the way you will try and go about winning a fight.
The game is tough, fair and at times frustrating when you are outmatched. However XCOM2 is always fun, if you have the patience for this genre.
On the critical side of the equation there are very few marks against XCOM 2. The game could have benefited from shorter loading times and this issue is inflamed by the need to reload a few times when a tough fight is on the menu.
The visuals are also distinctive, but far from cutting edge on the PS4.
However, these minor quibbles aside this is quite likely one of the best strategy games on any console this year.
Game: XCOM 2
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games