A few years ago, a legendary turn-based strategy game was resurrected thanks to 2K games and Firaxis Games. XCOM: Enemy Unknown saw tremendous success while being highly addicting and highly difficult. The original game, XCOM: UFO Defense, which released on PC and PlayStation back in the late 1990s, created an eerie atmosphere and anxiety around every corner. Your characters died a lot, and this continues to this day with XCOM 2. The sequel takes place twenty years after Enemy Unknown and the human race has lost to the aliens. You are tasked with managing and upgrading a resistance force to try and take back Earth.
XCOM 2 continues to live up to its name as the game is laughably unfair. The sequel has different difficulty levels, but even the easiest will still have you lose many a unit. You are able to create and edit characters with much more depth than in the previous version. Different gear and colors can add quite a bit of variety to your recruits. This version plays a bit different as you will be placed somewhere in the world and tasked with grabbing supply drops and conducting other missions. The supply drops allow you to upgrade your base, which in turn allows more engineers and scientists. This all revolves around upgrading your weapon technology. The incorporation of the world map is a throwback to the original XCOM: UFO Defense.
If you are not familiar with the XCOM franchise, it is a turn-based strategy game. It plays from a 3/4 above view and on a grid-based system. Cover is important to help you defend yourself. There is a hit percentage provided to targets within view, and you have to judge if you want to risk it or lay low. Critical hits exist in XCOM 2, and it makes the feeling all the more rewarding when taking down a difficult enemy. When you have a giant snake that reaches across the map to snag one of your soldiers, all you can really do is laugh. Your soldiers can become poisoned, as well. The game consists of a ton of strategy ranging from what class to upgrade your soldiers, what to focus on with your base, and then everything on the battlefield. It feels like a board game in motion. A black market exists to help sell items to earn cash and you also earn monthly income based on your performance.
While there are some cool looking enemies in the game, there are also a lot of generic soldiers. I feel like the enemies in the previous game were much better designed. XCOM 2 also runs on the Unreal 3.5 engine, which is mind-boggling. Yes, the game looks colorful and the enemy designs look good, but the soldier designs make the game feel dated. It may run smooth, and the environments may look decent from a distance with destructibility included, but why not use the Unreal 4 engine for the new systems? Especially for a game that is not that graphically intensive. There are also moments where the game will lock up for a second. There are a lot more CGI videos in this version which become annoying when you just want to get back into the action. Speaking of getting into the action, while a lot of the loading screen art looks cool, the load times are atrocious.
One thing that was great about the previous titles in the series was the soundtrack. It set a very eerie mood, then heated up when confrontation occurred. With XCOM 2, this does not appear to be the case. It has a complete military feel to it that takes away from the uniqueness of the previous titles. The voiceover work is not great, and the many choices of dialect from different countries does not sound too varied. The sound effects are done very well, with some of the enemies sounding down right scary. Soldiers will still go into panic mode in this game, as it is the only bit of emotion you will here out of these monotone military professionals.
XCOM 2 includes a very interesting multiplayer mode. It is basically a fantasy draft that you will take to the battlefield as you select different units with a point allocation. However, when attempting to join a match, I could not. This was on multiple occasions and unfortunately, there are no lobbies. You can create a match, search for a ranked match, or search for a quick match. All three resulted in nothing, so I could not judge the online playability. There isn’t even an option to invite someone to your match. It would still be cool to see cooperative missions in this game at some point where two teams have to take down enemies, but maybe in the next game in the series.
XCOM 2 is a solid sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown and provides some new aspects that make it fun. The gameplay is still addicting, and it is still laughably difficult. The whole game is based around beating a timer for the alien’s Avatar Project. The focus has to be to research the correct technology to keep up with the enemies, otherwise you will find your squads dead and quickly losing to the timer. The game, itself, has replay value simply due to the difficulty. It will always start you at different locations around the world when you start a new game and there are secondary missions that arise along the way. It’s just disappointing that the multiplayer was not more functional for me. Either way, XCOM 2 still has the core elements that will please the fans of the series.