XCOM 2 (PlayStation 4) Review

By Chris Leebody 15.11.2016

Review for XCOM 2 on PlayStation 4

XCOM 2 originally launched as a PC title in February of this year. With the success of the turn-based strategy game's predecessor, XCOM: Enemy Unknown on the last gen consoles, it was unsurprising that Firaxis Games deemed it appropriate to port its current title. Twenty years have passed since the events of the initial alien invasion, and it becomes apparent, even for first-timers to the franchise, that the aliens have seemingly invaded earth and infiltrated society. Up steps the XCOM project, which operates from the shadows in order to expose and destroy the ADVENT threat. The XCOM franchise is long established, with a reputation for hard-as-nails difficulty and excellent strategic gameplay. Time to saddle up, Commander, and see how this one plays out…

One of the immediate dangers with strategy games on console lays fundamental to everything: use of the controller. Going from mouse and keyboard to gamepad has tripped up many a cross-platform translation. It is thus pleasing that right off the bat XCOM 2 delivers frustration free gameplay, at least when it comes to control scheme.

On a big screen TV, the battle map is clear and the rotation of the camera even in scripted moments is simple and effective in providing clear unobstructed views. The analogue sticks are equally precise in movement of characters with no accidental commands given. Finally, launching attacks and snapping between targets is probably more streamlined than the PC version.

This is a good thing because there will be an abundance of attacks to launch. XCOM 2 presents a very different landscape to the first title in which humanity was under invasion. The Avenger acts as the mobile headquarters of the XCOM project, which is now the guerrilla striking against the ADVENT, which has infiltrated all levels of human society and conducts itself in a way reminiscent of North Korea.

Screenshot for XCOM 2 on PlayStation 4

It presents a really compelling dynamic because there is always a feeling of being under pressure and a sense that, at any moment, the might of the enemy might be about to be unleashed to crush the rebellion. As previous fans will be aware, time ticks down in a semi realistic way, and events happen around the world that can be interacted with.

What this means in practice is that decisions have to constantly be made that can impact on future battle decisions. For example, the Avenger might pick up trace of a cache of supplies, which can be used to produce more medical kits or hire additional soldiers; however, the time taken on this endeavour will mean less time spent linking up with additional resistance groups, which can provide other kinds of more passive benefits or income streams.

XCOM 2 constantly throws other kinds of choices in the face of the player in the very substantial research tree. This allows new alien technologies to be developed for use on the field. However, again this is another compelling authentic choice, based on strategic priorities and playstyles with the ability to adapt; for example, researching more explicitly aggressive weapons for an all action approach, or deciding to craft more bespoke technologies for the stealth approach.

What stands out so much with XCOM 2 is that there is a real lack of any pointless hand-holding. This has its ups and downs. Being launched into the campaign and having transmissions and messages pop up across the screen can sometimes elicit a feeling of panic that the aliens are ready to invade at once without preparation. It also takes a bit of experimentation to fully appreciate the point of a lot of the skills and technology that so much precious resource is poured into.

Screenshot for XCOM 2 on PlayStation 4

The abovementioned experimentation is important, as well. The most obvious lack of any pandering comes in the form of combat, the turn-based style the series is so famous for. Even on the easiest difficulty the alien combatants, who come in many gradually more dangerous forms, have no hesitation in cutting the best of humanity down.

The game probably rewards stealth gameplay a lot more, and those favouring aggressive playstyles will find themselves in a lot of trouble, as one move too far into enemy territory without taking account of having adequate terrain protection will usually end in the funeral of a great soldier.

On the other hand, those who take time to survey the battlefield and combine the talents of their squad in a more conservative approach are able to take advantage of the immensely satisfying overwatch ability, which allows chains of ambushes to quickly wipe out the enemy before they can react.

The level of difficulty means that the enemy adapts to these tactics as the war effort gradually ramps up after the first few hours. XCOM 2 does a great job at forcing the player to switch things up.

What is most surprising is just how high the production values are. Maybe it is just an undeserved perception, but strategy games tend to come with the reputation of a focus on substance over style. There is plenty of style here.

Screenshot for XCOM 2 on PlayStation 4

There is an abundance of cut-scenes, which do an excellent job giving an insight into the way the ADVENT operates. Everything is voiced very professionally and this helps give each of the crew members of the Avenger their own personalities. The news reports that regularly show up from the perspective of the aliens also allow the audience to laugh at the propaganda attempt.

In addition, what Firaxis Games has done is implement a sort of procedural mission system when dealing with the side missions, so there are objectives like securing a VIP scientist and escorting him to the EVAC point, or picking up a cache of technology for the war effort. These objectives are never the same, nor are the layout of the maps themselves.

There are missions in big urban environments with enterable buildings, or, on the opposite spectrum, eerie forests with amble ambush spots. All of this is important as it prevents boredom in a genre that can sometimes devolve into repetition very quickly. That certainly doesn't happen here; rather, the biggest danger to not advancing the story is simply how hard it can be.

Screenshot for XCOM 2 on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

XCOM 2 delivers an excellent port to the PS4. It has been cleverly designed to take advantage of a gamepad and this alleviates many potential concerns. Below this lays an experience that is unrivalled when it comes to strategy titles, particularly on console. The constant feeling of 'backs against the wall,' with scant resources and war decisions to be made, conveys a constant feeling of tension, which only serves to enhance the story of guerrilla resistance. Of course, with the permanent death mechanic, the tales of battle with much loved soldiers are rich for sharing between friends as a badge of honour and craft a memorable experience, living long after the game is finished—which, of course, is not a short one, by any means, providing the substantial difficulty is not a turn-off.

Developer

Firaxis

Publisher

2K

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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