Yes I know XCOM 2 has been out for a little while. Since February to be precise, and I have very much been burning myself out on it. But finally it’s now out on consoles, which means my housemate with an awful computer can finally play it on his PS4.
XCOM 2 is a game that has, and in my opinion still, knocked the ball out of the park. The game improves on every aspect of Enemy Unknown. It has taken a step beyond traditional strategy games, creating a story that gives a sense of purpose to the game. It is an experience that I recommend to everyone who wishes to enter the world of strategy games. No other tactical games elicit such an emotional attachment from you to the team you create.
The story very strangely seems to follow from the failure condition in Enemy Unknown. You as the commander have been captured by alien forces and used as a tactical computer for their nefarious schemes. After being broken out you continue your command of XCOM from your new base. Rather than defending from the oncoming hordes however you now have to regain control of Earth from the alien. You now meet your foe Advent; an alien government who has run earth for the past 20 years.
In essence, XCOM 2 works in largely the same fashion as Enemy Unknown, if you strip out the new mechanical overhauls. You underground base is now a retrofitted UFO and while looking cooler it is only a cosmetic change. Your soldier recruitment and upgrading is the same, as is most of the combat however the orientation is less towards repelling aliens and more towards sabotaging their plans on earth. This cut-and-paste is not a bad thing: mechanics are given new depth and plenty of graphical overhaul. You’ll first notice this in the procedural generation of maps and objectives during a mission, meaning that not only each game, but every mission in XCOM 2 is unique, adding a massive amount of replay value to the game.
The core of the experience is still the three parts: managing the ship; the command centre overlay and the turn-based combat. The overall goal is to stop the destruction of all humankind by destroying black site locations across the map. To get to them you have to connect regions of the resistance around the world together. While this happens you aim to prevent ‘dark events,’ time-sensitive events requiring you to send a team to prevent them as they negatively impact your progress. The pressure is always on, and the game has taken on a Pandemic styling.
Base management has moved to ship management. Like previous games, you slowly build up your stock of alien technology and corpses, letting your scientists uncover secrets and advance the storyline forwards. Your basic currency is supplies which you use to build better equipment, armour and items to improve the chances that your troops won’t be slaughtered horribly. Currency has also been extended to allow you to purchase additional soldiers or base staff, specialised rooms for the base and perks for training soldiers up
Combat, while largely the same, has seen an upgrade in the depth and control given to the player. For a start, stealth is now a viable tactic of play, rather than just the precursor to making the first shot it was previously. Overwatch is now a viable tactic also, allowing you to sacrifice some action to get a free shot on aliens who venture too close. These tactics are at odds with the time pressure put on most objectives. This compels you into a more risky mind-set, pushing forward harder than in Enemy Unknown.
Time pressure is really the bugbear of this game. Stealth and tactics such as Overwatch are very sparing, as the time limit forces you to move forward far quicker than you might like to. Before you know it, your squad of grizzled veterans, an unstoppable force, have become paste. You very much feel like time is never on your side which adds to the stark departure from the defensive play of Enemy Unknown. You are not defending Earth, you are attacking an occupying force who is constantly moving forward. Even in the world view outside of combat you have time limits on missions and the overall progress of the Armageddon event.
This extra time pressure may just be the fall from grace for the game in the eyes of some people. While Enemy Unknown had some timed mission, XCOM 2 has pretty much everything on a timer which for some is just going to make the experienced too pressured and does at points feel more like an action game than a tactical adventure. While pressure in tactical games is nothing new, think StarCraft or Command and Conquer where the pressure is your enemy, XCOM is not a competitive series and the clock combined with the more limited control of the gamepads may put off both fans and new players alike.
Like previous iterations, there isn’t anything really wrong with how XCOM 2 plays, in so much as it plays pretty damn similar to them. There is a smattering of bugs and glitches which are more a minor annoyance than game breaking. The worst part of the experience on console is the drop in graphical quality and the use of the controller. While you can forgive the drop in graphical quality to keep up consistency the controller makes the game feel somewhat more difficult than using a keyboard and mouse.
Graphical drop aside, XCOM 2 is the exact same game you’ve had on PC now on a console. The experience continues to be smooth despite the limitation of the controller. Glitches don’t hamper the experience either: The game has transferred to consoles with flying colours. While the PC version will be considered the best for those without a PC powerful enough XCOM 2 is a pleasant console experience earning a solid 9, and keeping up the chances of this being the game of the year.