Title: Xenonauts
Platform: Steam, Desure, GOG, Windows, Mac, Linux

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


Written by Whistler 3rd October 2014











Way back in 2009 one avid gamer who probably spent more time playing the original X-COM than I played Killing Floor (which is a feat in itself) became disappointed with games failing to capture that original ‘defending the universe from an alien invasion’ feel so decided take it upon himself to start developing this very game, Xenonauts.


Xenonauts is part turn based tactical strategy, part planetary defence simulator that can be best described as a faithful reimaging of the classics like UFO: Enemy Unknown and Terror From the Deep that is honestly as much of a spiritual successor (if not more) to the classics as 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The story follows the fairly established scenario that you take the role of the commander for the Xenonauts, a special operations department who are entrusted with defending a Cold War-era Earth from the inevitable threat of an alien invasion.


Now before I get into the meat of the review I feel I need to mention that Xenonauts has honestly been one of the most difficult games to review due to how much content there was to cover, the learning curve, how much there is to do, and this game had me going back and forth between opinions for one reason or the other (oh and my hard drive that had my steam folder and all my screenshots didn’t f*cking help either).






















While Xenonauts presents a lot of clear similarities between its spiritual predecessors and familiars, it still stands on its own two feet that presents a strong balance of real time global management on a huge scale with small scale hard as nails tactical skirmishes, though Xenonauts seems to find it difficult to unshackle itself and thusly there isn’t too many differences.


My only experience with the old school XCOM games is admittedly through watching videos and being told about it through friends so the only true comparison I can make is with Firaxis’ Enemy Unknown but I do feel Goldhawk Interactive handled the global management simulator side far better to its watered down indirect counterpart. As you begin your conquest to save the world you will be greeted to the world map where you will build the first of (hopefully) many bases, from there you need to start managing the base by choosing what structures, each with their own purpose, to place in a 6x6 grid ranging from your command centre to radar arrays to get coverage of your surrounding regions to garages, the living quarters along with laboratories & workshops to increase your pop cap for scientists, soldiers and engineers. Along with building the bases you will need to manage upkeep costs, your research department priorities, engineering projects, recruiting and gearing your squads, building/buying and outfitting aircrafts both for dogfights and transporting troops, and your stock levels for equipment and alien spoils (did you catch all that?)

Xenonauts gets scale dead on, this isn’t one base where you just add/remove whatever fits your needs; no in fact you’ll micromanaging so much just to make sure you keep on top of the alien invaders (and the bloody debt collectors). While I’ll admit once you hit the 3-4 bases milestone micromanaging becomes rather hectic and does start to drag on when you repeat upgrades and such for every single base but the level of micromanaging lends itself perfectly to the overall atmos and feel the world of Xenonauts envelopes you in.

With one or two bases you’ll notice quickly that it really isn’t enough as your jet fighters can only go as far as their fuel tanks let them meaning they can only deal with threats within a certain range which while is frustrating as you hopelessly watch a swarm of the green-manned ships circle around the edge of your regions like smug flies it creates some amazing world building elements. You’ll find adrenaline levels in a constant flux as you try to find the best solution as fast as possible to deal with each scenario while being almost terrified of the unknown horrors going on outside of your control driving up the tension that then makes that close victory as you fend off the invaders from the streets of in my case Glasgow, all the more rewarding as you sigh in relief, go over the spoils (and likely casualties), reassess the situation and start the cycle once again.





















So you’ve got a pesky UFO in your region, time to take the fight to them; you’ll start by picking 1-3 of your interceptors to take the bugger out while planning for the fight to go in your favour. Once they come into contact you can go into the games dog fighting section though I must admit I found it a little dull visually so I tended to just select the auto-resolve option (I know, I’m a dirty casual).

Now like me you’ll probably make the mistake of just simply air striking the downed UFO to pick up the quick cash sum of $3,500 or so, easy money after all; but you’ll quickly realize this is by far the worst method of dealing with the invasions (though sending ground forces eventually becomes a bit of a slog as you dealing with several downed UFOs) as the difficulty ramps up with the alien fleet sending its bigger and badder array of extra-terrestrial military force that will show just how undertrained and unprepared your squads will be as they attempt to kill an armoured Sebillian or the zombie producing Reaper of which they fail miserably.
No in fact the best method is to gear up the marines and get ready for some traditional turn based strategy which leads to the second main phase of the game, the combat.


Once ground combat begins veterans of any of the XCOM games will be happy to know that combat will be second nature however newcomers and even those who played Enemy Unknown might be in for a rather harsh learning experience. Each soldier can perform various actions as to be expected from crouching, opening doors, shooting, using equipment and while there are no extra skills like in Enemy Unknown soldiers are what you make of them and each action expends the soldier’s time-unit (TU).

While at first certain changes from the formula did put me off I’ll freely admit that for small changes they make massive improvements on the classic mechanics (if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, improve it).

In the hud you’ll notice a slider next to your soldier’s portrait, this is slider is used so as to accurately reserve TU points where the game will limit you overspending points when moving and such to ensure your soldier can react to incoming fire if needed. While return fire isn’t a new feature by any means it is crucial for the majority of the combat as alien’s have better vision than you and fire from an unseen adversary is not uncommon; along with simple return fire soldiers can spend more TU in order to perform aimed shots or burst fires to maximise damage or accuracy for both the player’s turn and the alien’s turn.

I love this mechanic as it means you need to strategize way more, equating for distance and ensuring while you can deal as much damage that you won’t risk casualties in the process.


While the rather brutal difficulty in combat can be a little unforgiving at times (especially when it was Pvt. Bob the demolitions expert that got half of my Alpha squad killed in the first place) it makes every combat scenario its own set piece full of tension and excitement (or terror, mostly terror) however there is one an element that feel is a little to unforgiving at times.
You’ll quickly realize that your troops are about as squishy as a ripe tomato, while of course most deaths can be avoided, there are multiple occasions where situations can become unfair even with squads full of seasoned specialists you’ll sit there as a single alien spams grenades wiping them with ease.























There’s also a bunch of nags that while it’s nit-picking I feel still need mentioning, for one visuals are while faithful to the classics are well, they aren’t the prettiest and character models just stand there with no idle animations. The menus and game manual (which can only be accessed via the game launcher) are incredibly obtuse and rather muddled in a lot of cases; yes reading the manual before playing would’ve been a good idea but personally I’d prefer to be able to read the game manual in game when I need to quickly reference something.


Besides these and contrary to my complaints made in this review, Xenonauts is a fantastic game.

With every little detail you can feel the love the developers put into this title, for five years this little indie bundle of love was put together and is still being updated, hell there’s already a devoted community of modders improving and changing the base game to enhance everything and anything (I recommend the

Jsleezy’s Real Armours and Real Fighter Portraits mods that enhance the visuals of your soldiers as well as the Xenophobia mod that adds a lot of features). My only gripe is that while Enemy Unknown simplified the genre but enhanced combat with camera angles and such to really throw yourself in the heat of the action; Xenonauts improves upon the game mechanics as well as depth in the genre but is forced to stick to a traditional fixed camera angle meaning the action is always kept at arm’s length.

But Xenonauts is still an amazing addition to the strategy and alien sci-fi genres that for £15 offers well over 40 hours of gameplay where I still haven’t completed the game after 4 restarts, this is one game you will sink your teeth into and find trouble refreshing your pallet.


Pros:    

Amazing atmosphere,

Plenty of meaningful micromanagement,

Tons of game play,

Great replay value,

Adrenaline fuelled strategic combat.

   

Cons:

Cumbersome menus,

Somewhat under whelming visuals,

Sometimes unfair learning curves,
Can become a chore managing everything.


Final verdict,

While Xenonauts had me going back and forth I know it more than deserves an 8/10.


Written by,

Whistler













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