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XCOM 2 Review – Classic in its Own Right, Simply Exemplary
You spread your team of 5 wide across the initially visible map, the long-ranged Sharpshooter staying behind, the Specialist lurking in the shadows with his/her ever-trusty drone.
The Rangers serve as the spearhead of your guerilla infiltration, and the grenadier stays close; launcher polished, Gatling gun loaded and ready.
You decide your final move of the turn, pushing the ranger ever-closer to your objective, flirting with the enemy’s line of sight.
Suddenly, your ranger’s movement unveils an unanticipated foe; a deathly turret hidden in the Fog of War spots your front-man, readying its laser cannon. With the Ranger in only half cover, you pray it misses. It doesn’t.
XCOM 2 isn’t a forgiving experience, and it makes it known to you earlier than you’d expect. Much like it’s fantastic 2012 predecessor XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it keeps the margin for error at a minimum.
One wrong move such as exposing your ranger prematurely, or undermining the rather verisimilar likelihood of a nearby turret can cost the life of a veteran soldier who you spent hours editing and had grown fond of.
It’s a feasible difficulty that only goes on to extrapolate the game’s core plot. XCOM 2 canonically puts you as the leader of a rebel XCOM unit 20 years after the events of Enemy Unknown.
Mankind’s attempt at preventing the alien colonization has failed, irrespective of your experience in Enemy Unknown, and as a result our Pale Blue Dot is now occupied.
The aliens rule urban centers with an iron fist, implementing martial law-like order through a military known as the ADVENT, which retaliates mercilessly against anyone who dares oppose them. Outside these urban metropolises mankind suffers, without water, power, or security of any kind.
With limited resources and a largely forgotten existence, the XCOM project has retreated to an alien spaceship, constantly moving around and conducting guerilla-warfare styled missions to oppose the alien subjugation.
The setting merely acts as a canvas for the parameters attached to the real-time strategy part of the game and the mission structures observed in the turned-based gameplay.
An ever-lingering doom-counter permanently occupies the top portion of the world map after the tutorial mission, foretelling the inevitable annihilation of the human species as a result of an enigmatic project being carried out by the ADVENT.
Lest the player frequently takes on important story-progressing missions to counter the progression of this project, the bar begins to fill. The game is lost when the bar becomes full.
This way, XCOM 2 not only demands intelligent decisions on and off the field, but demands them with swiftness.
That’s not to say the game forces you into haste – far from it, as multiple ‘optional’ missions constantly stain the map, aiding in your overall progress as an organization by offering rewards in the form of materials, non-combative personnel, information, supplies, and also established soldiers.
However, the constant presence of the ADVENT counter demands intricate time management, ensuring players are constantly progressing the story as they carry out multiple operations to reach out to other parts of the world.
This setting projects itself in everything you do in the game. When not in missions, a familiar Enemy Within-styled view of your base presents you the opportunity to micromanage various parts the XCOM initiative.
Research and engineering is done in a similar manner to the game’s predecessor, but with added depth.
Soldiers can be recruited, trained in Training Facilities, and also customized in a much more detailed manner than before, ranging from cosmetic customization to weapon modifications that serve tangible purpose on the battlefield.
This is the game’s real-time strategy side, and it is polished and presented with perfection. While possessing seemingly overwhelming complexity for newcomers, the game does well in guiding your hand initially, giving good, relevant overviews of where to do what, whenever necessary.
Within a few hours, you’ll find yourself expertly going through menus within the multiple partitions that the XCOM headquarters.
The decisions you make and the time, resources, and effort you spend on your facility between missions directly contributes to how well you progress in the game.
Delay the opportunity to research advanced weapons and you may find on-field battles becoming increasingly difficult. Ignore certain upgrades and you’ll eventually be chasing the game.
Overlook the importance of relations with other parts of the world and you’ll be financially crippled. Every facility, every research, every upgrade, and every drop of resource matters in XCOM 2.
The game constantly tests your decision-making and management skills like no other, and the rewards you reap or the consequences you face are directly a result of what you opted to or not to do between missions.
Things change drastically when you decide to take the field though. That’s when the turn-based aspect, and the true combative gameplay reveals itself.
At first you’re limited to deploying small set of soldiers, but can further unlock additional slots to have a larger squad to send on ground operations. As the commander, you control the movements and decisions of your squad on fantastically designed maps and chess-like grids.
The complexity of the maps and their variety have grown two-folds since Enemy Within. Your average map appears to be much larger – both in width and length.
Expertly designed height advantages can greatly aid you if you take the chances, though they are often occupied by deadly turrets and other unexpected foes.
Unlike Enemy Within, in XCOM 2 you are the one on the offensive. This gives a tactical edge at the start of every mission in which you are ‘undercover’ – a status that is displayed on-screen by a blue vignette effect around the screen.
Staying undercover gives you the necessary time to spread your squad out according to your needs. Enemy field of vision is shown as red tiles, and as long as no squad member has trespassed into one of these tiles, your team’s cover will not be compromised.
The application of this mechanic is obviously tactical, but XCOM 2 ensure it’s not a feature that can be abused and relied upon.
The game will often toss in mission with objectives that have turn limits. This means you’re only given a limited amount of turns before the objective terminates, which automatically leads to mission failure.
This is one of several ‘factors’ in the game that encourage a player to be tactically versatile and take every step with extra measure.
XCOM 2 is masterful in its ploy to force players out of their strategic shells, and prevent them from forming routine tactics. This not only makes the game extremely unpredictable, but also consistently fresh; even after having played 20 odd missions, you’ll come across a situation that will test your mettle and your ability to work under pressure.
The pressure and situations largely come from environments and enemy types. The game features a large variety of maps that mix urban region with fantastically designed natural landscapes. This variety combines wonderfully well with the vast amount of different alien races in the game, ranging from simple ADVENT soldiers to complex, eldritch entities that pose threats never-before observed in the franchise.
Each enemy type’s behavior is different. ADVENT Stun Lancers will aggressively push towards the nearest soldier, while Troopers strategically attempt to flank you. Officers will command their troops, marking specific soldiers to concentrate fire on.
The evolved Sectoids will look to use their Psyonics to resurrect downed ADVENT soldiers, while also attempting to mind-control the XCOM personnel. Vipers will look to aggressively move in and poison, while Berserkers rush in as Mutons provide covering fire.