If the last XCOM was subtitled Enemy Unknown, with the release of XCOM 2, the enemy is well and truly known, and they are out for blood. Human blood.
Your human blood.
Set 20 years after the events of Enemy Unknown, the alien invading force has taken the name ADVENT and has well and truly taken over the planet. ADVENT has subjugated the populace, but the short playable introduction reveals there are still some revolutionary hold outs, scattered about the globe with a few friendly faces from the previous game. A lot will be familiar for veteran XCOM players and it can be quite daunting to new commanders.
Visually, the game is decent. Nothing mind blowing and nothing horrible. The character and enemy models have a very distinct and unique style which fits the game’s universe really well. I also adore the loading screen art which has a very distinctly futuristic propaganda feel to it. Unfortunately, the game suffers a lot of screen tearing and glitching on the PS4 version, especially during loading screen cinematics. It was slightly disappointing, considering the amount of time spent loading each engagement and the long install time. Ultimately though, it’s bearable.
XCOM 2 simultaneously punishes and rewards side questing, forcing the player to balance and prioritise your time between researching options and engineering projects. These improve the back end of the game; the command ship, the understanding of alien anatomy and they advance the story. The other option is to go guns blazing and instead researching and build new weapons and armour for your crew to slaughter the invaders with. It’s a fine balance, too much of one will inevitably lead to ruin.
For example, advancing the story too quickly will leave you woefully underpowered against a vastly superior enemy. On the other hand, building your soldiers equipment up to the exclusion of all else, will allow the familiar doomsday event to plod along unhindered and thus end the game. As such it’s a delicate game of cat and mouse and resource management to eventually bring the earth’s resistance to victory.
Make no mistake, this game is HARD. The mission difficulty indicator actively lies to you. You’ll be conditioned into a false sense of security, truly believing that your scrappy band of rag tag guerrilla fighters will be able to stand up to the job.
They can’t and they will die. Over and over again. And that’s ok because of the aggressive autosave system. Every couple of minutes — generally at the start of your player turn – XCOM 2 saves your progress, allowing you to reload and adjust your tactics. This is both a blessing and a curse, since it takes nearly 2-minutes to reload each time. I don’t mind using the time to make more coffee, but with the amount of times the aliens will kill you, 60 cups a session is just a little unhealthy.
One of the more painful moments you’ll face during XCOM 2 is when you are reluctant to let your character — you so lovingly crafted — take a permanent dirt nap. I created a squad based on the PowerUp! team, so it was a little unnerving having everyone annihilated by lasers. Or see their faces bitten off by alien snakes…with lasers.
Combat and action are fast and the AI brutal. So many times I saw my sharpshooter miss a 95% shot, get counter sniped by the target which then caused my perfectly placed grenadier to panic and run out of position, This of course absolutely wrecked my carefully orchestrated ambush. Pulling off that perfect ambush the next time though, is such a great feeling you’ll forget about the previous failures.
Each squad member has an experience and upgrade system which unlocks classes. Everyone starts at the Rookie level and upon ranking up are assigned a class. These include Ranger, Sharpshooter and Grenadier. The need for a balanced squad is crucial to the success of the mission. Stack it full of rookies and you’re going to be reloading a lot. That, or accepting the fact your operational supply budget is going to be spent on pine boxes and folded flags. This brings me to the thing absolutely love about this game; the psychology.
ADVENT has the ability to control minds, disorient and panic your soldiers, force them to react out of turn, fire on friendlies or stop dead in place. This forces the player into target priority and adds an incredibly tense element to each engagement. Risk vs. reward is this game’s core philosophy and is definitely something that will promote multiple play throughs. Doing so is the only way to ultimately defeat ADVENT and win; a fact of which I am not upset about at all.
XCOM 2 is a definite win in my book. Despite many frustrating, squad level massacres, leaving me welcoming our new alien overlords, the thrill of seeing a plan come together strengthened my resolve and steeled my trigger finger. Combatting the alien menace and liberating the planet one Sectoid at a time couldn’t get any better.
XCOM 2 was reviewed using a promotional copy as provided by the publisher.
Game Title: XCOM 2