Game Review: ‘XCOM 2’


I don’t need to buy XCOM 2.

There are so many reasons not to. I got 3 new games for Christmas and I haven’t finished any of them. I haven’t even played one of them yet. Not to mention the games on my Steam wishlist. And the semester has just started, I’m going to be busy. It’s the first day available and you know that it’s going to start dropping in price before long. Give the developers a chance to iron out those glitches. I’d have to clear about 25% of my files from the laptop before I could even download it.

**Buys XCOM 2**

 

Ok, I’m a pushover. I first played an XCOM game 21 years ago, the original UFO: Enemy Unknown and it held a place in my top 10 all time games ever list right up until the surprisingly well designed reboot of the series in 2012. After the many mediocre and failed attempts to update UFO: Enemy Unknown and Terror From the Deep I’d never have thought we’d get the series back on that level. When this more refined sequel turned up on Steam I couldn’t wait to check it out.

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For the first time since…ever…the story has taken a different turn. It turns out we lost the first game and the human race surrendered to the aliens. Jump ahead 20 years and aliens and humans life side by side in a somewhat totalitarian yet peaceful society. The few people who remained loyal to XCOM’s mission went into hiding and now strike back from the shadows. The aliens are hiding something and by building a resistance force can take the planet back. You command the effort from the Avenger, a flying central command where you plan your strategy, manage resources and research and oversee ground missions.

The controls are simple easy to follow without restricting the gameplay. The research possibilities are very different from previous games so seasoned players will have a lot of new content to discover and play with. Hunting UFOs seems to be out the window, having already been greatly reduced in the reboot. Instead you spend your overworld time picking which supply store to investigate while creating a rebellion communication network.

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When hitting the ground in combat situations you remain at the disadvantage and will need to plan carefully to bring your team back in one piece. Once again we have four classes of troops but with some adjustments. Snipers and grenadiers are about the same, but support troops have been buddied up with drones that can be used for attacking, defending, hacking and healing. Rangers also have a funky upgrade, being able to unlock the ability to move unseen through the mission area and take down enemies with melee weapons. Swords seemed an odd addition to the game when they turned up in the early screenshots, but they’re awesome! It’s satisfying to see a soldier sprint towards an enemy and take them out in one swing. With the greater range of environments and procedurally generated maps you can expect much more variation in gameplay.

A big change to the combat is the ‘concealed’ function. When most missions start your team will be hidden from the enemies. You can move around, avoiding the eyelines and security monitors of the aliens, in order to set up the squad where they’ll do the most good before choosing to attack. Using the rangers to get the drop on a few stragglers is highly satisfying.

It’s also as challenging as the series is known for, with soldiers often coming back dead or wounded. You do get attached to your best troopers and will have to work hard to keep them moving up the ranks, but there is a reason I modeled mine after the Suicide Squad. Customization has been given a huge boost, something the reboot lacked (until the expansion pack) with plenty of hair styles, colours, patterns, tattoos, scars and accessories to kit them out with. It’s fun giving your team a unique look.

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Totally makes sense to send Harley Quinn after aliens.

In terms of design it is the aliens who are the most striking. The developers didn’t exactly make them cuddly before, but now they’re downright horrifying. The generic looking sectoids are bloody creepy this time around, having been spliced with human DNA. Seeing the snakemen from the original game return is pretty cool as well, and they’ve got some surprising moves under their scaley belts.

This is a damn good game. The type of game you start planning your week around playing. We’re still early days in the story based campaign and we’re looking forward to seeing how it unfolds. This is made by a company who have listened to the players and delivered what they wanted.

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