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Xcom 2

Xcom 2

Firaxis are readying a PC-only return to the world of Xcom. Will their decision to ditch the consoles be vindicated?

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Xcom 2 promises to offer an atmospheric and intuitive strategic war, humanity against its new alien overlords, when the game lands next year. The turn-based strategy title, this time made solely for PC, will come with challenging levels and multiple game tweaking options, although the fun will be limited to the PC crowd and existing fans (and so those who enjoyed its predecessor on console can only wait patiently and hope it makes the jump across eventually).

A few years back Firaxis revived the famous Xcom strategy series to once again stand at the forefront of the turn-based strategy genre, with players once again battling against deadly aliens. A series spinoff was crafted by 2K Marin (with help from 2K Australia and 2K China) in the form of third-person shooter The Bureau: Xcom Declassified. Now a true sequel, Xcom 2, is on the way, and it'll be released in February of next year, and once again the series is back in the hands of Firaxis, with the studio taking us back to the strategic warfare for which the series is known. The fight against enemies from outer space has never looked or felt so good before.

The plot reminds us a little of cult classic television series, V. Aliens have won the battle against Xcom and have taken over the world (that time you beat the first game - not canon), but instead of enslaving humanity they offer peace, harmony and future tech to help mankind. However, despite being soundly beaten and nearly destroyed, the Xcom team sees through the alien scheming, people keep disappearing. This time the roles have switched and the resistance has to work to merely get a foothold on their own planet, fighting back against a society maintained by alien rulers.

According to associate producer Griffin Funk, no features were left out from the earlier Xcom game so that they could be included in this sequel. Despite Xcom 2 being built from scratch and with plenty of fresh ideas in mind, the basic turn-based warfare and base building has stayed the same. What has changed is the more detailed graphics, several mechanical improvements, a few gameplay tweaks and some new features, as well as early doors support for the modding community, the latter something Funk was extremely proud of.

The game includes new units such as a heavyweight grenadier, a melee focused ranger, and a tech specialist with a drone that can cause all sorts of headaches for the enemy. The player can also modify characters to a surprising degree, tinkering with builds and setting them to their liking. We played a few missions with the help of soldiers who reminded us a lot of Jason Vorhees and Snake Plissken. There are also new aliens that have been thrown into the mix. During our hands-on session we fought against mechs, human-alien hybrids, and giant sneaky snakes. Surprisingly the default grey aliens from Enemy Unknown were nowhere to be seen. So far at least.

In addition to the visual changes, your weapons can also be modified via optional upgrades, and you can even rename a gun to make the alien killing a dash more personal. Missions can be chosen more freely, and there's rescue, sabotage, recon and attack objectives to pick from. The player is also up against the general threat level posed by the aliens, portrayed in-game by a Doomsday clock that ticks down towards oblivion. You can buy time by succeeding in missions and by utilising additional strategies, but if you don't make the right choices, or if the game isn't going smoothly for humanity, your attempt to save the planet may be over sooner than you think.

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Those playing for the first time might be surprised by the game's difficulty, and maybe even overwhelmed by all the options you can choose from back at base. There you'll find huge variety of options to choose from, including laboratories, training rooms, factories; it's enough to make your head spin, even if you've played the series before. Even the easiest missions are not to be taken lightly; if you want to succeed you need to plan carefully and know your team's strengths and weaknesses. Luckily that means the replay value from the different missions is high, especially thanks to the procedural level generation, a feature that ensures the same missions look and feel fresh by rearranging the environment while keeping strategic targets intact. It also means the players won't get a head start fighting the aliens by memorising the environments.

The visuals in Xcom 2 were pleasantly detailed and very clear, even in the preview version. There's a lot of eye candy to be found in amongst the levels in the form of effects and so on, but the visual language is crystal clear; right from the first glimpse of the map it's clear who's an enemy, who's a civilian, where you should hide, and where - if you stray - you will definitely get killed. The soundtrack and seamless link between mission and cut-scene gives the game a really smooth narrative flow, and there's a thrilling atmosphere that looks like it'll keep you in its grip throughout.

Xcom 2 is clearly the work of an experienced team who knows what they're doing, all while respecting the wants and desires of their player-base. Firaxis promised that the game will be polished upon release, and we could see that even in our short time spent playing. According to Griffin Funk the feedback from Enemy Unknown acted as the foundation upon which the features in this sequel have been built.

Dropping the console platforms is still a pretty bold choice to be made in this day and age. Funk said that the decision was reached mainly because Firaxis has always had a strong background on PC, and that the platform is the best way of achieving the most polished end result, all the while supporting the modding community that in turn will support the game post-release.

What we saw at the preview event improves on the already smooth turn-based strategy in every area, and we're almost certain that strategists and Xcom fans alike will enjoy the end results.

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Xcom 2

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