The XCOM series has been a staple part of any PC strategy gamer’s diet since the launch of the original game way back in 1994. When the reboot by 2K Games landed in 2012, the series was finally introduced to the console market. It sold very well and in early 2016 the sequel was released on PC. It received great reviews (including ours) and seemed to be one of the better entries in the series by all accounts. After a little bit of a wait, XCOM 2 has at last launched on PS4 and Xbox One.
Game: XCOM 2
(Review code provided by publisher)
It’s no secret that console gamers usually pay more for their titles than their PC counterparts, so lets take a look at what all the fuss is about and whether the game is worth picking up on your console.
First, lets talk a little bit about the game itself. XCOM 2 is a direct sequel to the 2012, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. No matter how your particular game ended in the first one, in XCOM 2, the aliens won the war. The game starts several decades after the aliens have destroyed XCOM and taken control of the world through a puppet government.
You once again return to play as the legendary “Commander” who in the tutorial mission of the game is liberated from alien custody by a band of human rebels who are mounting a resistance against our alien overlords. You are brought back from confinement to rebuild XCOM and once again take the fight to the enemy and save mankind from extinction.
What I love about the direction they have taken in this game is that the narrative carries on directly from the first game. The world is full of characters with connections to the past, and you essentially play as the same character. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the first one though, it’s not necessary to fully enjoy this title.
I really appreciated the change of perspective XCOM 2 offers. Rather than being a simple XCOM re-skin, with a few added features, the game feels fresh and unique while still possessing the core mechanics players of the series are familiar with. It’s definitely an XCOM game, but it has been shaken up with the new resistance narrative. The biggest change comes in the fact that your base of operations is actually a commandeered alien spacecraft, and your opponents now include more human hybrid type creatures.
So while I’m on the subject, the new alien designs are great. There’s a whole host of new bad guys to eliminate, but even the old, familiar ones have been altered and tweaked, with new powers and new looks. The Greys or Insectoids, for example, used to be short and frail creatures, but now they are 6ft tall and have an array of new psychic powers due to them being part human.
The main missions of the game are also much more dynamic and interesting compared to the first game. Although it still uses a world map and random events, XCOM 2 feels like it really has a main storyline. It has twists and turns all the way through. It’s not the most original story ever told in a game, but it’s entertaining and kept me engaged right up until the very end.
Speaking of the missions, the difficulty level of XCOM 2 is still incredibly high and unforgiving. Enemy troops are smart and lethal, and soldiers are just as fragile as ever. There is nothing more heart breaking than losing a fully ranked up soldier to a lucky critical hit, or ambush. I never shy away from the challenge in games, and I love turn based, tactical ones like XCOM 2, but there were moments where I had to reload due to a particularly brutal mission leaving me utterly shafted for the rest of the game. If you’re looking for a tough single player campaign to entertain you for a month or so, look no further.
With XCOM 2 being so ridiculously hard at times, it stands to reason that it would need a good control system. Thankfully, the developers in charge of the console port did a fantastic job in this department. The game handles really well on a controller. The movement is fluid and commands are easy to execute, but not too complex where it would be easy to mess them up if your concentration slipped for a moment; like if the dog started chasing the cat around and in the chaos knocked over your wife’s favourite photo frame.
The game also looks fantastic on a PS4. I know that doesn’t sound that surprising, but PC’s are still way ahead of their console brethren, so it’s not unusual for games designed for PC’s in mind to look bad on a console. This is not the case with XCOM 2, however. The environments are rich with detail. The aliens and soldiers look cool. The particle effects and cinematic action shots both add great depth to the visuals. The only negative I can think of with the visuals is that the soldier models look a bit low detail compared to everything else, but I think that’s down to the fact they are customisable to a mind boggling degree. Honestly, I must have spent a good 5 hours or more customizing each individual soldier I recruited. It’s great fun in its own right, but be warned, it makes their loss even more tragic.
XCOM 2 on console, however, is not without its faults. The load times between missions are quite long. They mask it quite well with an in depth mission briefing, but even with that I find time to check my Twitter account as I wait for a mission to start.
The game, while quite pretty to look at, does suffer from some serious frame rate issues on PS4 at least. This kind of problem doesn’t have as much of an impact on a turn based game as you would imagine, but it’s still quite jarring when it occurs. It’s not that it ruins the experience or game play, but it does tend to pull me out of the immersion, which is a shame.
Don’t be put off by the few negatives I have mentioned above. XCOM 2 is a fantastic addition to the console roster. It’s a smart, engaging, and thoroughly brutal turn-based strategy game, with plenty of replay value and entertainment to be had. If you played the first one and liked what you saw, then this game is a safe purchase for you. It’s more of the same with some nice new additions and a refreshing take on the already winning formula.
If you’re new to the series then I think this is the best one to pick up and start at. It provides a truly authentic XCOM experience with great tactical gameplay, whilst offering a satisfying introduction to the world. I hope that the minor issues I encountered will be fixed in time with patches, but if not it still wouldn’t stop me playing the hell out of this game. I can’t think of another strategy game that came even close to XCOM 2’s quality this year, or even this console generation. I don’t know if you should pick this up on console over the PC version, but I do know that you should probably give it a go one way or another.