XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a welcome return to the invaded world of turn-based alien blasting. Back in 2012, 17 years removed from the original X-Com: UFO Defense, fans wondered if anything beyond a GoG release and maybe some fan-made mods would ever come. Happily enough, XCOM came, conquered and was a multi-platform hit. Strategy fans, rejoiced, aliens and humans died. It was a wonderful reboot of a wonderful series, but there was work to be done. The sequel would surely tie up developmental loose ends and introduce a great load of new features, right? Right?!
There’s no denying that XCOM 2 looks gorgeous. Textures, character movements, and mostly the environments received a much-needed visual upgrade over Enemy Unknown. There are still some wonky physics and moments in which an alien will “reveal himself” while stuck in a wall or piece of geometry, but the impressive destructible environments and, most importantly, the randomly generated maps, more than make up for any technical shortcomings.
XCOM 2 is an odd egg. It’s pretty much perfected the gameplay and ideas of XCOM and X-Com before it, but that’s not innovating really in any way. Innovation was X-Com in 1994, this is just refinement. We’re still playing a turn based system that is essentially 22 years old, and beyond the expanded character creation system and item/clothes customization, this is the game you’ve known and loved for quite a while.
I recreated the cast of The Sopranos to aid me in this mission to reclaim Earth from the alien forces. From Tony and Uncle Junior to Carmela, the New Jersey family and their other “family” would have to step up and lay the smack down on the greys. The level of detail you can put into your units makes their death cut deeper, but there are only a few character faces to choose from, so I could only make so many members of the cast before everyone started looking like the same person.
The new world map has slight changes that make you feel like you have a little more control and interactivity, but it’s not really all that different from the more menu-based interfaces in the past. The big gameplay “change” is based within the narrative: Earth lost the war in XCOM, now you’re fighting guerrilla style, from the shadows. It works out okay, but for the most part, you’re just playing XCOM with a brief element of surprise. Even the “commandeered alien vessel” from the end of XCOM is essentially the same base you had before. Meh!
The real innovation lies in the Steam Workshop compatibility. Modders are already busy adding weapons, aesthetic gear and gameplay tweaks to the game. As someone who still plays Civ 5 religiously thanks to the Workshop, this is welcome.
As stated many times: This is the best XCOM. It’s everything that’s come before it, distilled into a perfect representation of what XCOM wants to be. There are some glitches, like the ones mentioned above, but it’s a smooth experience that any fan of the series will enjoy. Once you dig a little bit deeper underneath the surface, some questions pop up that simply need to be answered. Questions like: Why can’t I f*cking hit a f*cking 8-foot tall, 4-foot wide alien that’s standing 2 feet in front of Carmela Soprano with her massive chaingun? Carmela is battle-tested and she can spray bullets all over the place with that cannon; who allowed this to get past testing? My two biggest complaints about XCOM was the lack of different environments, and the utterly infuriating targeting system. They solved 50% of my complaints. There’s nothing worse than when I have my squad staring aliens in the face, and they can’t hit them. Even with high percentage shots. WTF? This ridiculousness makes me want to import all of the developers from the XCOM pool and have them die slowly at the hands of a muton to teach them some sort of digital lesson.
There’s no doubting fans of the series will get their money’s worth out of XCOM 2. I personally like to play a game until it’s around a dollar an hour. So, can you get 60 hours out of XCOM 2? Yes. Easily. Creating soldiers, adding them to your pool so you can rescue them on missions alone is worth replaying the game multiple times, but of course, the best part about XCOM 2‘s staying power is the randomly-generated maps. I purposefully stopped and re-started a mission ten times just to see if the devs were blowing smoke… and they weren’t. Each time, it was a completely new map, always loyal to the region the mission took place in, such as a snowy map in the arctic north.
F*ck the targeting system. Outside of that, there’s a solid lineup of DLC that will be dropping over the next year. XCOM had up and down additions to its game, but the price tag is right. Hopefully someone on the Steam Workshop can fix the targeting. I can’t get over it. I hate it so much.
I love the style of XCOM 2. I love becoming emotionally invested in my squad. It makes it that much more intense and heartbreaking when Carmela is mind-controlled then turns her gun on Tony, blasting him to bits (this really happened in front of AJ and Meadow, making the flight home awkward). As a fan of everything XCOM, even the underrated The Bureau, I think it’s worth the $60 price tag, but if you’re not familiar with the series, pick up XCOM on sale for pennies, then see if you want to dive into XCOM 2.
With all of that said, I’m ready for something new. I believe in a game where two beings don’t have to be sitting, breathing heavily and staring at each other while battles rage on around them. It’s time for a non-turn based XCOM experience.