Title: XCOM 2
Platform: Steam, Windows, Linux, Mac

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Tactical RPG, Strategy, Simulation
Players: Single player, Versus

Written by Whistler 20th February 2016

It can be difficult for a sequel to live up to the standards that its predecessor set, people will expect higher stakes, bigger battles and a better overall experience. This is especially true for Firaxis Games’ latest instalment into the XCOM franchise that follows on from the 2012 reboot Enemy Unknown. But is XCOM 2 all that everyone had hoped or could Firaxis not raise the bar any higher?

Interestingly XCOM 2 follows the story from the perspective that you were in fact defeated; twenty years later the aliens have now fooled the world with unending propaganda promising gifts and peace under the guise of the ADVENT government. Now after a desperate struggle to reform, XCOM has risen from the ashes and now launches guerrilla ops from their mobile base the Avenger.

While the change in perspective doesn’t overly change the gameplay formula going on the offensive changes the implications. This time around as you operate from the mobile base you’ll find yourself with not much time to breathe as you fly around the globe contacting local guerrilla forces, collecting supplies and launching assaults on ADVENT.

All the command functions you perform in your base such as research and manufacturing new technology all performs the same where you’ll need to manage the costs in resources and time.

Thankfully though personalizing your individual squaddies has been expanded upon with armour patterns, more hairstyles, facial features, personalities and accessories to help make them more than just slightly different shades of burly space marines. It’s a nice addition that I welcome with open arms as I create my dream team and has already been expanded upon with the inclusion of mods coming in.

While gameplay making strategic decisions from your command centre will feel familiar there’s certainly more tension and a sense of urgency this time around. Of course there’s the ever ticking clock as you struggle to prioritize balance between taking the fight to the aliens and recuperating, but added to the overall meta game is the Avatar project. A mysterious project that the aliens have invested a great deal of resources and time into developing in secret is represented by a glaring red bar above the global map. Red boxes are filled as time passes or the alien’s build avatar facilities and are emptied when you complete certain objectives and destroy said facilities. Every time I would see another red blip flash up I would feel the dread setting in, it’s a small addition to the overall meta game but it has the right amount of balance that makes the non-action parts feel more exciting.

Combat plays relatively the same but has been given a nice injection of goodies (and baddies) to bulk up the variety. Most missions will have you infiltrating behind enemy lines where XCOM 2’s new stealth mechanic comes into play, starting each mission you’ll enter concealment where your soldiers will be hidden until spotted or your first attack.

Understandably however this is a very minor addition and is only intended for minor scouting and setting up an ambush for your first contact. It’s a shame that you can’t really stealth entire missions since after you initiate combat you’ll be revealed for the duration of the mission no matter how quick you are.

Despite this combat is still enjoyable and always gets the heart racing as you forced between caution and efficiency. I did find however that timed missions are too frequent during the early period of the game, these missions will limit the amount of turns for you to achieve the mission’s goal and safely evac out of the hotzone. These are a great addition to the tension but they’re far too punishing for how early and how frequently they show up.

Besides this combat can be frustrating, but it’s balanced with the enjoyment the game offers.

XCOM 2 will throw new enemies and powerful variants on the old ones to keep you on your toes and will more often than not wreak chaos amongst your squad. Some disguise themselves amongst the civilians, some give shields to their comrades and then there are ones that can snatch your team mates from afar and render them out of the combat until you can help them.

While classes in its predecessor felt rather uninspired, XCOM 2 introduces a lot more individuality to your squad’s classes without removing the option to adapt them to your individual play style. The Sniper class returns to assassinate from afar but can be further specced to allow them to deal with close quarters scenarios or the Grenadier who utilizes a gattling gun and improved grenade launcher for getting rid of pesky cover or terrain.
The Ranger steps in for the assault class wielding a trusty shotgun and serrated blade making them a serious threat once they get in close.
The Specialist acts as the all rounder for the team, bringing great firepower and versatility to the team with a hover drone capable of healing or giving buffs to allies and hacking mechanized units from a far. While I’ll always have a sofspot for the sniper (especially thanks to their late mid-late game skill Kill Zone), I found the variety on offer thanks to the Ranger and Specialist class really make replayability and tactical gameplay shine.

That is however, if the sodding game wasn't so much of a bug ridden mess.
While you could argue it only serves to highlight how good the game is that I didn’t stop after the first few crashes or bizarre glitches, XCOM 2 is still immeasurably disappointing for just how buggy and unoptimized it is. Performance on both high end and mid specced machines is dicey at best with incredibly inconsistent frame rate drops and a cascade of visual issues. The camera would repeatedly get stuck in the environment or would be blocked by something, ruining the action-cam moments or hacking sequences where I’d just have to click randomly past the obscuring wall.

Often the game will come to a standstill during or after certain actions where you can hear the game desperately trying to remember what it was doing for a solid ten to twenty seconds. This is but a small glimpse into the shopping list of issues I’d run into (nevermind the floating mech I had to deal with for a whole mission), sure it’s likely Firaxis will be steamrolling in the patches as fast as they can to avoid angry customers but XCOM 2 has launched in a poor state.

It was almost enough to make me uninstall XCOM 2 once I finished playing enough to start reviewing the title. I look forward to the smoother experience down the line but what I was expecting to be an unconditional recommendation has been cooled down to a moderate one. XCOM 2 still shows Firaxis are improving the formula but they dropped the ball on optimization for a title released on so few platforms.

You win this time ADVENT.

Great replayability and variety in combat,
Interesting change in metagame keeps it interesting,

Occasional difficulty spikes,
Ridden with bugs,

Final verdict,

With better optimization I would have gladly gave a 8 or even a 9, but for now XCOM 2 receives a 7/10.

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