When XCOM 2 was first announced, along with the confirmation that it would be PC only, there was a large subset of players who cried foul, accusing 2k and Firaxis of betrayal with the typical fervor of the unrightously indignant. Further strengthening the divisions of platformism, the PC users were quick to circle the wagons with a rallying cry of “PC Master Race”, which proceeded to stoke the already ignited console player base with more fuel.
A smaller sub set of players found themselves sitting back and watching the fireworks of this explosive interaction, knowing full well that no matter what reason could be given for single platform release, that a publisher and developer with the experience of 2K and Firaxis, would not idly forgo platform parity. Many of us knew that whatever obstacle was blocking the way to a console release, would hopefully be overcome.
For those few, our patience has been rewarded. With the cataclysm that some perceived the single platform release long forgotten, (the angry gamer tends to have a very short attention span for any specific slight), Firaxis and 2k have finally delivered their latest title to the Xbox One and PlayStation fans of the series. The question of course is; was it worth the wait?
Having defeated the invading alien force in the original reboot XCOM, you now find yourself 20 years in the future, and the aliens have surprisingly taken over the majority of world governments, and are perceived as a benevolent and peaceful race that just wish to coexist with humans. The Advent, as they now call themselves, have rewritten history as so many conquerors do, to ensure that their exploits against the council and their XCOM agents shows them in the best light possible to the general population. So it is that the XCOM program has effectively gone underground, with only a handful of scattered fighters raising weapons to unseat the occupying force that is silently enslaving humanity.
It is as a group of these resistance fighters that the game opens, and a training mission is undertaken to explain skills new and old to the player. First up that is new to the series, is one of the abilities that underpins the very hit and run feel that the combat has now taken on. When you begin the majority of missions, your team will be actively hidden, allowing you to approach enemies undetected and set up coordinated ambushes that really gel with the the underdog resistance theme of the plot this time around. There is nothing more satisfying than coordinating a massive attack on an enemy squad and decimating them with well co-ordinated overwatch activation. This new mechanic is complemented by some of the new skills available to the different character classes and when playing on the higher difficulties, (or on IronMan mode which makes a welcome return), you will need to master the art of ambush in order to survive.
The structure outwith the main combat sections is of a similar build to the first reboot, but this time instead of a key base to upgrade and outfit, you will this time find yourself in command of a converted ship, effectively giving you ownership of a mobile base this time around. Thankfully, one of my biggest frustrations last time round has gone, and that is the maintaining of government happiness. Gone are the annoying council members reducing your budget as their faith in the XCOM programme dwindles. Sadly, this is because the rise of the Advent has forced the council to pledge allegiance and join forces with the aliens. All bar one. A single solitary hold out remains devoted to the XCOM cause, not believing the aliens propaganda and through his machinations organises your rescue from the aliens clutches. His hope is that with your release and recovery that humankind can begin its fight back from the brink by utilising your command experience and the mobile base to reorganise the scattered, disparate cells of the resistance into a cohesive fighting force to repel the alien invaders.
As you mobilise your forces, the Advent aren’t resting on their laurels, beginning work on Project Avatar an anti-XCOM development that you must sabotage their efforts at all costs as the completion of this project means failure of the Xcom resistance, ultimately resulting in the enslavement of humanity. As your reputation and forces grow, the choices you must make become more divisive. Do you rescue the scientists that could help you develop more progressive technology or assault the enemy base to prevent a particular avenue of research on Project Avatar going ahead? The nature of the combat, pitting you against a force with superior firepower and numbers, and the lose-lose decisions you must sometimes make for the benefit of the overall mission to remove the aliens, puts an intensity on each mission and choice that greatly increases the strategy and replayability of the title.
Sadly, some minor gripes do arise, and its mainly to do with how the game presents on the console. Weird texture popping occurs in certain levels that distract from the deep combat unfolding in front of you, and I am unsure if this is a problem solely on the version I played (on the PlayStation 4), but the frame rate was incredibly irregular, especially on maps with enhanced weather effects. Given the turned based nature of the title, both of these issues are something I am willing to overlook as their impact on the actual gameplay is limited.
The loading is also extremely prolonged in some levels, with anything up to 5 mins to reload a save, even within a few turns of the point at which you loaded. This becomes quite grating the further you progress as enemies put up a more sterling defence and can render your team a pile of smoking corpses in a matter of turns if you are not careful.
Overall, despite its flaws, XCOM 2 is a welcome addition to the library of your console of choice and will hold a special place in my heart. The refreshing pace of the sequel compared to the original reboot renewed my enjoyment of turn-based combat games, and I hope to see further titles in the series make an appearance in the future, hopefully without the backlash that welcomed the titles original announcement.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 8.5/10 Format: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided with a digital copy of XCOM 2 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of a week . For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.