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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2016

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


PC Review - 'XCOM 2'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Feb. 5, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

XCOM 2 transports players 20 years into the future, where humanity lost the war against the alien threat that has established a new world order.

Buy XCOM 2

When the XCOM franchise was rebooted with 2012's well-received release of Enemy Unknown, there wasn't much that the game needed to improve upon. The 2013 release of the Enemy Within expansion managed to do so nonetheless, making a great game even better. Firaxis Games could've decided to play it safe with XCOM 2 but chose to significantly overhaul it, and the result is easily the best example of modern XCOM to date.

In a successful playthrough of the original game, humanity won the war against the aliens. However, the plot of the sequel hinges on an alternate timeline where humanity failed to do so. In XCOM 2, 20 years have passed since the original game, the XCOM organization has been destroyed, and humanity lives in subjugation under the Advent administration. It's a dystopian future, but the majority of Earth's population has been effectively brainwashed into believing that the aliens came in peace and XCOM attacked the aliens without provocation.

However, a resistance is rising against Advent. Some people no longer believe the alien's lies, and chief among them is C.O. Bradford ("Central"); scientist Dr. Richard Tygan, who used to work for Advent but defected; and Chief Engineer An-Yi Shen, who is the daughter of the engineer who helped the commander in the original game. The new team operates aboard the Avenger, a stolen alien warship that also serves as a mobile base. This aspect of the plot fits the motif of resistance fighters stealing what they can to fight back, but it also factors heavily into the new gameplay.
Instead of looking at a static world map from within your base, you must fly the Avenger to locations and interact with them directly. At the start of the game, you have no support and must unlock new zones by contacting local resistance cells. Occasionally, random events pop up and provide benefits such as supplies (effectively replacing credits this time around) or new soldiers and staff. As time passes, missions also pop up, some of which are optional.

However, in parallel to your efforts, the aliens are working on a secret project codenamed Avatar. You find details of this plot as you progress; if Avatar is successful, it means certain defeat for the resistance. The aliens' progress is represented by a bar of squares filling up on the world map. One of the resistance's main goals is to delay or reverse the progress on Avatar.

Even more so than in the previous game, time is never on your side. In addition to the time needed for wounded soldiers to heal or projects to complete, all events take some measure of time. You may spend seven days gathering additional supplies at one event or decide to fly to a new region and spend a few days searching for the local resistance cell. Excavating sections of the Avenger to build new rooms (similar to building a base in the previous game) takes time, as does flying the Avenger from place to place. Even most missions have some type of time limit.

As someone who usually hates such a mechanic, the time limit rarely feels overwhelming. Instead, it breeds a healthy respect for the efficiency of your actions on the world map and within missions. There's simply not enough time to do things in an ideal way, but you do the best that you can. It makes the game feel much more urgent when all of your actions have repercussions, and a big part of your success is dictated by how well you forecast them.

Another element to manage is your staff. You have a much smaller pool of engineers with individual names, and you assign them directly to tasks. They can speed up excavation or building jobs, man communication consoles to expand the number of territories you can contact, accelerate building new technologies, or be stationed in the power relay room to generate more power for the ship. As with nearly everything else in the game, managing your staff effectively is a matter of taking limited resources and using them in the best way.

Gameplay during missions has also been expanded. Many missions start with your squad in concealment, so you can sneak around the map undetected. While enemies have a visible spotting radius to determine how soon they can detect you, your squad can set up an ambush, which is little more than Overwatch without the aim penalty. Ambushes can be devastating since the enemy is rarely behind cover at the time.

The key to concealment comes in never being flanked and to avoid kicking down doors, breaking windows, or performing any hostile action until you are ready. Once one squad member does, the entire squad loses concealment. Thus, choosing when to lose it is a very strategic choice, and while you may want to wait until you're closer to your objective, you increase the risk of being spotted or being surrounded.

Mission gameplay has been tweaked in other areas, with enemy AI seemingly much smarter in its choice of tactics. Enemies are sometimes more aggressive and attempt flanks more often than they did previously, but foes who are clearly outmatched may retreat and join other groups of aliens to get reinforcements. The new enemy classes have new abilities to worry about, from melee-centric aliens to others who can grab and pull soldiers away. Others still can add shields to nearby aliens, and most annoying are aliens who can teleport and clone themselves. It's a whole new battlefield, and you'll have to relearn enemy tactics.

The old soldier classes have been replaced, though there are some obvious similarities to the old ones. The Specialist replaces the old Support class but comes equipped with a drone that can heal troops or hack terminals, add defensive bonuses, or be upgraded with offensive capabilities. Rangers are the new Assault class and are now armed with a blade weapon that does incredible damage but often leaves the soldier automatically considered flanked. Grenadiers are a rework of the heavy class, armed with both a minigun and a grenade launcher. Sharpshooters replace Snipers, though this class only seems to have minor changes.

While psionic troopers are still their own class, MEC troopers and anything involving MELD are absent from the sequel. There is an analog, since troopers can get into EXO suits that mount heavy weapons, but they're not as powerful, and it's only a suit of armor instead of a separate class. Soldiers can still get augmented in the form of PCS upgrades, which can offer permanent boosts to stats.  Weapons can also be customized from parts occasionally dropped from killed enemies, so you can add bonuses to aim, damage output, ammo capacity, or even have missed shots do some damage.

The biggest customization comes in the form of your soldiers, which can now have all manners of their personality and appearance changed. Colors of their armor and weapons can be changed, patterns to the latter can be added, a handful of head and face accessories are available, and you can also choose their mannerism and voice. Other options also help you get the look that you want, including scars, tattoos and cosmetic armor choices for arms, legs and torso. Some options are locked until the rank of Sergeant, but once they're all available, you can tweak your soldiers to the point where losing them is all the more painful.

While XCOM 2 does look noticeably better than the previous title during the in-engine cut scenes, it's about the same level of quality during normal gameplay. I did notice that the frame rate sometimes took a dive during the cut scenes and during the scenes with your soldiers aboard the Skyranger. It's not critical, but it's a little jarring when your awesome view of a soldier leaping through a plate glass window suddenly becomes a temporary slideshow.

From a technical standpoint, the game is fairly well polished. It can still be a struggle at times to get a move order onto the correct floor of a building, but it seems like far less of an issue than in the previous game. The UI seems a bit smaller but offers more information, such as being able to hover over icons in the bottom left to see the currently selected soldier's buffs and passive abilities. Gamepad support is still going to be added but doesn't seem to be in the game yet, which gives you even more options to play the game.

XCOM 2 took a formula that was already deeply compelling and made it even better. The game is even more punishing due to the expanded gameplay and the emphasis on urgency, but it gives you plenty of opportunity to succeed all the same. You'll celebrate every victory, you'll learn from each defeat, and either way, the game manages to be amazing. As good as the previous release was, XCOM 2 is an even better game in every conceivable way.

Score: 9.6/10

Reviewed on: Intel i7 4970k, 16 GB RAM, NVidia GTX 970

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