Review: XCOM 2 (PS4)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC, Mac, Linux

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • Digital Deluxe Edition**
  • PS4
  • HDTV
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Title: XCOM 2
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (20.3 GB)
Release Date: September 27, 2016
Publisher: 2K
Developer: Firaxis Games
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), €49.99 (EU), £44.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

The turn-based tactical shooting XCOM games have been around since the mid 90’s with a Golden Minecart Award winning reboot appearing on the PlayStation 3 in 2012. Now a sequel has arrived on the PlayStation 4 and my short time with the first game means I know the basic mechanics, but little else.

Gameplay:
After the long initial load you are thrown straight into an enemy engagement which serves as a quick tutorial and a jumping off point for the story, which continues on sometime after the events of the previous game. Veterans of the series will feel right at home with XCOM 2 as almost everything looks and plays the same, albeit with a much improved look, but more on that later.

You still have the two-stage movement and firing setup as before. Although the fiddly and often, clumsy snap to cover system has been shown the door, which should please many console players. My one gripe with the controls is that the lightest graze to the touch pad ends your turn, something which could be agonizingly detrimental to your game if you are in the heat of battle or in a time sensitive mission with a limited amount of turns.

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You have to play the odds in each battle and use cover and flanking to your advantage. However, anything you can do, the enemy can too. There is a wide selection of opponents, new and old, each with some unique attacks and weaknesses. The same goes for your own team, especially as they gain new abilities and gear as you guide them down a specialized upgrade path.

You cannot change a character’s ability once you decide upon a new skill so remembering what will work well with the rest of the team is just as important as what benefits the individual. Being able to send a Gremlin drone to heal a teammate or provide a defensive boost could be more useful than an improved healing kit, for example.

… an undeniable amount of tension to even the smallest of skirmishes …
When you start a new game you are given the choice of playing in the Ironman mode, regardless of difficulty, this enables the game to save at every moment. Meaning you cannot call up a manual save to bring back the dead if you make a mistake. Deaths are permanent and there is no going back. This mode is how the older games were as standard and is not meant for the casual gamer.

Ironman mode adds an undeniable amount of tension to even the smallest of skirmishes as one wrong move and a character that you have groomed and cared for is gone and will never come back. You can recover their equipment if another team member carries their lifeless corpse to the extraction point, and this might be crucial if they have one-of-a-kind weaponry.

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I was a bit reckless in my early missions and lost several people who I had named Glenn and Dave, so I decided to load an earlier save. This did not solve all of my problems as the missions change each time and you might not be able to play through the same ones. Even the locations were different in my second attempt, which threw me a little. I still fared much better and only lost one person.

When you hear turn-based combat, many of you assume there is little action or thrill. That is not the case with XCOM 2 or its prequel, for that matter. Characters dive through windows, decimate structures with explosives, perform slow-motion sprints under a hail of gunfire, and loads more. It just happens in a fragmented way.

… be aware of the status of your squad …
The game is not just about the combat though. When you’re not on a mission, you will be organizing and improving your mobile base and its inhabitants. Employing engineers to build new rooms and equipment is critical once the researchers have discovered them from dissecting corpses and equipment you have salvaged from the battlefield.

All this strategic work is done by moving the camera from one room to another in a cutaway side view of the craft, similar to a Damien Hirst exhibit (more here), except this looks good and serves a purpose. You have to be aware of the status of your squad, researchers, and engineers, watch your monetary levels and plan accordingly. There is no point spending loads of resources on new gear if all of your soldiers are too wounded to fight.

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Playing on the PlayStation Vita using Remote Play works very well and the methodical turn-based combat is great on the small handheld. My only criticism is that I strain to read the already small text on the little display. Sadly, I expect this will be the only way to experience the game on the portable.

If you grabbed the add-on content packs you will be happy to hear the extra missions automatically blend in with the base game and appear at various points in the story. You can even delve into the options menu and adjust the likelihood of a new soldier appearing with the extra customization options.

The three add-ons available in the Reinforcement Pack amount to a worthwhile purchase for fans of the series and newcomers alike. Furthermore, if you do not wish to play the extra missions you can turn them off before beginning a new game and retain the new gear and customization options.

… an excellent variety to the locations …
Visuals:
XCOM 2 looks very similar to the PlayStation 3 iteration albeit with a bucket load of polish and detail. Everything from the squad travelling in the dropship to hide the mission loading and the simplified menu layout is still present, it just looks much better now.

When a character performs an action, the camera shifts to show it in a more cinematic view. While it works great most of the time, I did find that the view became obstructed by some scenery once or twice.

In addition, when a person or alien dies, some ragdoll physics cause them to react quite realistically to the explosion or barrage of bullets that sealed their fate. It works well the majority of the time but I have seen a few corpses caught on an object that sends them into an insane spasm.

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These are only minor criticisms and do little to tarnish the beauty of the futuristic battles. Explosions tear a gaping hole in a building, and some fires slowly spread for a few turns weakening the integrity of the damaged structure. I did not realise this until my favourite sniper fell through the roof to his death.

There is an excellent variety to the locations, be it a rundown camp, a Blade Runner-esque slum, or a glistening utopian plaza surrounded by majestic skyscrapers. Pretty much everything can be destroyed given enough effort and resources. Having trouble picking off a pesky alien hiding behind some petrol pumps? Just blow them up!

The various aliens that you will slowly encounter during the long campaign look gruesomely evil and maybe even a bit frightening when you first set eyes on them. The degree of detail on the battlefield is noteworthy as you are able to pick out many small details and textures that are not usually apparent in a game of this ilk.

… chilling and action packed …
Audio:
In the audio part of the options menu, you can opt to have the soldier’s speech match their nationality or you can just add a regional accent. It’s an excellent touch, adding a layer of authenticity to the experience. Again, much of the voice work sounds similar to the older game but this time round there seems to be more variety and depth.

When a teammate is killed, one of the squad might become panicked. They shout cries of fear and disbelief as they charge to another position without your control, and sometimes shoot wildly at the scum that killed their friend. The rest of the time, they will confirm commands, relay sightings, and remark on things going on around them.

The music is chilling and action packed dependent on what is going on. Weaponry and explosions deliver a suitable thump, glass shatters with a painful clarity, yells and chatter from both humans and aliens, and machines sound great.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component. At least that is how it feels as I failed to join a single multiplayer game. I created matches, attempted to quick join and anything else I could think of but all that happened was a long futile wait while staring at my squad.

A word of warning must be given here as it shows you all of the enemies that you will eventually encounter in the campaign. You might want to hold off until you have completed the campaign as it spoils some of the unsettling dread when you happen upon them as the fog of war fades away.

… a good entry point to the series …
Conclusion:
XCOM 2 has so much to like and plenty to keep you entertained. Fans of the series will be just as enamoured as they were with the reboot. Subtle enhancements and a much-improved graphical look make it feel like an old friend, a good-looking old friend where the last few years have been extremely kind.

Yet this old friend does not play well with others and cannot seem to make any acquaintances. Not really a big deal for me as I prefer it when it’s just the two of us. Wow, that metaphor got a little messy near the end, maybe I should have just written that the multiplayer seems to be broken but I prefer the single player experience anyway.

Newcomers to the XCOM universe will find it to be a good entry point to the series, just as long as they guess at a few obvious plot points, take their time to acclimatize to the gameplay mechanics, and not be afraid to start again once they get used to it all.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

** XCOM 2 Digital Deluxe Edition includes the full base game and the XCOM 2 Reinforcement pack.

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Written by Chazz Harrington

Chazz Harrington

You can find me on everything: PSN, Twitter, Wii U, Origin, Steam, etc using my universal ID: ChazzH69

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  • Joshua Simpkins

    Very good review and write up, Chazz! I knew this game wouldn’t disappoint! Especially after seeing how awesome the port of XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus was to PS Vita. I hope to see this game ported to Vita as well! Keep up the great work, bud. I appreciate you.

    • ChazzH69

      Thanks for reading it Joshua. I have not found the time to try the PS Vita port but I will soon. Saying that I still have about four reviews in the pipeline.

      • Joshua Simpkins

        Oh my! Yeah, I’d say you are busy enough. Hahaha! But yeah for sure, whenever you do get a chance, try out the Vita port of XCOM. It may not be quite as good as PC or console, but it is the full game experience in the palm of your hands! 🙂

  • Michael Hill

    Finally completed the game but only on the easy level. Time to get back in the Avenger and take it up a notch.

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