Available on: PC
Release Date: February 5th 2016
The climax of the mission is now. Two battered and wounded soldiers are still fighting, a third carries an unconscious fourth. The instructions are simple – plant an X4 explosive in an alien facility and get the hell out, but the place is still swarming with ADVENT aliens. My grenadier fires wildly and misses despite having a 72% chance of a successful kill, so now the time has come to cut my losses and go straight for the objective. The second of my two remaining active soldiers, a Specialist with little experience of war, makes a desperate sprint for the foreign equipment where the explosive is to be planted and somehow dodges the heavy fire of a camped alien sitting in overwatch in an adjacent room before planting the fateful bomb. The rookie has successfully ridden his luck. This time.
Now it’s the turn of the aliens and all I can do is watch and hope. My Specialist is currently completely open after planting the explosive and the enemy are poised to take full advantage of that fact – a venomous snake-like creature whips out his elongated tongue and quick as a flash drags my soldier half way across the building before promptly wrapping its scaly body around its hapless and helpless prey. I now have a choice – backtrack to save my ensnared soldier who is slowly having the life literally squeezed out of him, my most decorated Sergeant (with some cutting edge tech on his weaponry I might add, which I would lose should he die) and risk the lives of my other men and women… or continue to the extraction zone mere feet away and sacrifice the life of one man to save several?
One of the features I love most about the XCOM games is the permanent death of your soldiers if such a scenario takes place. It adds a whole new dimension to the strategy genre as every individual soldier truly matters, particularly as you can customise them and name them after friends and family – which sounds very tempting as it adds a personal touch to your campaign but ultimately detrimental to your plight as you’ll find yourself overprotecting your mother or your spouse instead of perhaps taking a necessary risk when the need arises. In the above situation I left my Sergeant behind, but in all honesty that had more to do with protecting my little soldier version of me (embarrassingly the unconscious one) than rescuing one of my doomed comrades, a decision that would have probably gone the other way had I not personally been a part of the mission in the first place.
The story behind XCOM 2 assumes that you’ve failed to resist the alien invasion events of the first game. Twenty years on and for the most part humans and their new overlords, now known as ADVENT, coexist in relative harmony. Nasty experiments take place behind closed doors among other hush-hush conspiracies, so there are pockets of resistance fighters spread across Earth still hoping that against the odds life will return to how it once was if they can take down the enemy.
This is where you come in as the Commander of the resistance movement. In the first XCOM game you had a military base at your disposal which has long since been destroyed, but now oversee a huge mobile flying base with a similar layout to your previous dwelling. You are responsible for organising scientific research, hiring new recruits and adding new and important rooms to your flying fortress, all while taking on ADVENT on the ground at every opportunity. After a brief story introduction and a helpful tutorial mission you learn of the existence of the Avatar Project, a top secret device being built by the aliens that means certain game over if it’s completed before you can stop it. Your primary goal is the halt the production of the project as often as you can.
XCOM 2 is a turned based strategy game, simplistic enough on the easiest difficulty but still a very unforgiving game if you’re not sure what you’re doing. The game tells you what you should purchase or research first as the story progresses but doing that in the early stages isn’t a good idea as you’ll end up neglecting necessary weapon and armour research that makes your soldiers stronger and more durable. I learned that the hard way on my first playthrough; I’d progressed far enough into the campaign to draw the attention of some pretty damn big aliens, but I still had my soldiers equipped with the same arsenal I started the game with. My company was wiped out in short order, so I recommend ignoring what your advisers tell you to do at first and concentrate on creating stronger weaponry – you’ll be grateful of a gun that deals 8 damage instead of 4.
Graphically XCOM 2 looks very good, the characters up close looked suitably detailed and the randomly generated maps give a varied and realistic look to a war-torn planet. As mentioned each soldier can be customised and to a reasonably deep level, and with the inclusion of the Steam Workshop mods are being made every day that adds new classes, aliens and little details to add to the experience. It is poorly optimised however and can struggle even on high end PCs, but for now turning off anti-aliasing does the trick. Sounds and music are bang on the money too, and the soundtrack is available on Spotify if you’re interested in listening to it.
Ive yet to finish the campaign but having played 12 hours across two saves I’m impressed with the length of it, and the highly anticipated ‘Long War’ mod that improved the first game in nearly every way should be released before too long. There’s also a multiplayer one-on-one mode available and the inclusion of co-op is coming by way of a mod too, so expect Alan and I to give it a blast once I’ve pestered him enough to buy it. My biggest complaint is that the Avatar Project can be built a little too quickly and that timed missions are a pain in the arse – blow something up or retrieve a hostage and make the extraction zone in under eight turns for example. I’m of the opinion that strategy games shouldn’t rush the player, however once again mods come to the rescue as both the Avatar Project progress and timed missions can be thankfully slowed down or stopped completely.
To conclude, XCOM 2 is a fantastic game made infinitely better by the inclusion of mods that’ll keep players coming back for more for years to come. I’m very excited for the addition of the Long War mod and co-op capabilities, and even now the vanilla campaign is exhilarating enough to keep me hooked and with randomly generated maps you’ll never quite experience the same playthrough twice. XCOM 2 is a game well worth buying for sci-fi fans and strategy enthusiasts, it’s also easily an early contender for game of the year as well.
Exhilarating gameplay, every decision matters
High level of customisation
Steam Workshop adds potentially thousands of mods
Poorly optimised and struggles on a lot of computers
Difficulty can be unforgiving at times
Timed missions are unnecessary