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XCOM 2 Review

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Firaxis’ long-awaited follow-up to “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” released this week, topping the charts and offering more alien-destruction than ever before.

Previous installments to series may have fallen a little short in the past, the undersea world of “Terror from the Deep” wasn’t exactly a high-point in the XCOM timeline, but “XCOM 2” only improves on the 2012 hit.

While it isn’t necessary, having played the previous reboot should help you follow the storyline and gameplay aspects of the new title. The game picks up 20 years after the initial attack that players battled against in what is now XCOM 1. Only this time humanity has lost the fight against the alien invasion and you will have to pull Earth’s forces together to topple the alien regime.

The aliens have come to Earth, established themselves as ADVENT and are currently ruling Earth’s inhabitants. While the aliens aren’t hiding, their true goals for humanity are kept secret from the public. Under martial law, the resistance grows and you begin the game at a pinnacle time in the uprising. The once great XCOM project, thought destroyed, is slowing gaining power and it’s up to you to recapture the Earth.

On the resistance side you stand as Commander of the XCOM Forces, your number-two in command is Central Officer Bradford and in Engineering and Research you’ll find An-Yi Shen and Dr. Richard Tygan respectively. These characters will make the core of your team and Fireaxis did a great job giving them distinct personalities and backstories.

The gameplay is structurally the same as the previous installment, a turn-based strategy game with fogged-out areas and grid-based movement. One of the new mechanics that is introduced in the title is the “concealed” intro to missions. On most missions when your squad drops into the firefight, the alien forces are unaware of your presence. This allows you to move about the map without the aliens barring down on your position. Simple things like crashing through a window, firing, busting open a door or moving into direct line of sight will cause you to lose your concealment. The upside to the concealment allows you gain a lot of ground without fighting and if you attack while concealed you’ll get a major bonus to damage and aim.

For better or for worse, a timing mechanic is a huge part of this game. Almost every mission requires to act before the mission fails. Some missions you may have 11 turns to hack into a terminal, others you may have 8 turns to destroy a transmitter. Depending on how important taking your time and not being challenged to hurry is to you, this could break your spirit while playing.

The game does a terrific job of diversifying your mission-log, no more shooting down UFOs then scooping up what’s left time and time again. Players will have to escort VIPs out of hostile territory, gather intel, destroy terminals and/or HQs and much more. The game does a terrific job pushing you forward in the story as well, while constantly testing out your defensive and offensive strategies.

In the end all of this effort is to grow the resistance. When you begin the game the world’s resistance groups aren’t a unified force, and it is job to connect them. This takes a ton of resources, countless missions and will most likely cost the lives of countless troops. While you spend your administration time improving your base, researching alien-tech and assigning engineers and scientist to newly constructed rooms, your missions is where the real gameplay begins.

Your missions and resource-points become active while you allow time to pass. Building, assigning specialists and other troop maintenance sits in a sort of ‘time limbo,’ where you are free to take all the time you need. In contrast, all of your construction, research and scanning for resources will take a certain amount of “days” to complete. As time passes, world zones will ask for your aid and you will have to stop what you’re doing and go and help them.

It can be a bother to keep switching from “world view” where time passes, back to your ship to start a new research project or order new troops, but overall the mechanic works seamlessly.

On the battlefield the action is better than before, with more detailed maps, a creative AI to battle and a wide-array of difficulty settings to test out. There are countless actions, tactics and squad configurations to play around with and learn, and the enemies offer some terrific tactics to counter.

XCOM 2 offers more than any previous installment in the series. The story is engaging and exciting, the strategic options are cleverly designed and detail oriented and the game runs with little to no hiccups. Even the lowest difficulty can be challenging for players that may have spent time with the original series or the reboot, and the game offers an extreme mode for when you think you can handle anything. While the action-cam may duck behind a wall at times, or an 80% chance to hit may miss more times than you may have hoped for, XCOM 2 is easily one of the best turn-based games on the market today.