XCOM 2 Review
XCOM 2 Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Firaxis Games
Pub: 2K Games
Release: February 5, 2016
Players: 1-2
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i Blood, Use of Tobacco, Violence
I'll Have Seconds, Please!
by Sean Engemann

There are undoubtedly games in your history that you look back upon with fondness; games that you remember being completely enamored with, soaking in every joyous minute. You may even have pulled yourself away from that biased initial impression, uncovered some flaws and pondered personal improvements, and yet still found those blemishes superfluous against the far superior assets the game delivered. Such was the case with myself and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a game that launched only a few years ago, and yet has become the standard by which all subsequent turn-based tactical game are measured. It’s near impossible to find a review of a similar game that fails to mention Firaxis’ magnum opus.

I dedicated countless hours in my attempts to repel the alien invasion, utilizing every strategic avenue in XCOM’s multifaceted design. Thus, upon hearing that its successor, XCOM 2, would retain much of the original’s gameplay, my initial thoughts were… uncertain. Holding true to its predecessor’s near-flawless mechanics was a relief, but could it spark any debate that XCOM 2 was little more than a glorified expansion? Thankfully, the answer is “No!” Not only does XCOM 2 improve the series’ staple design elements, but it expands the portfolio to add even more layers of strategy and choice.

The story pulls you in right from the action-packed tutorial. No matter the outcome of your previous campaign against the invasion, in XCOM 2 the alien ADVENT forces now occupy the globe, and after twenty years have brainwashed much of the human race into believing they have purified the world. Once again taking control as the Commander, your rabble resistance group aims to purge the world of the aliens. The supporting cast, who were well crafted in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, seem bland and stiff in comparison to the new team. The once straight-laced Central Officer Bradford is now a grizzled veteran who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Chief Science Officer Dr. Tygan rambles about complex terminology with fascination, and Chief Engineer Shen (daughter of Dr. Shen from the previous game) leaps at each new piece of equipment like a child would at a new toy.

Even the roster of soldiers feel more fleshed out, thanks to greater customization tools and the freedom to tailor each one to your liking. Gender and nationality can now be changed, and everything from hairstyles to weapon coloring has a robust variety to choose from. Just through experimentation I managed to have a soldier bearing a striking resemblance to Ragnar from the History Channel’s Vikings fight alongside a custom-made Joker from DC Comics. Paired with a vast playlist of voice accents and languages, you’ll care about each member you send on a mission, and feel the emotional sting should they fall in battle.

Everything looks and sounds highly polished. The many visual details and environmental animations bring the world to life, whether you’re on a mission in a deep jungle or a neon-filled metropolis. Though dispatching aliens lacks any graphic violence and gore, the diverse bestiary is both beautiful and unsettling, and blasting the life out of them is delivered with a satisfying punch. Along with the stellar voice work, the rest of the sound work, from the alien shrieks to the firing of the ship engines booms with emphasis. The musical score is worthy of a Hollywood action blockbuster, but the crescendoed orchestra also finds the perfect balance of subtlety during moments of calm or surreptitiousness.

There are some interesting new class designs, as well as a retooling of the classes of old. The Ranger, for example, replaces the Assault class, and can wield melee weapons to slice down any alien within dashing distance. The Heavy class is now the Grenadier, trading in the rocket launcher for a grenade launcher. The Specialist can focus on hacking terminals and robotic enemies as well as healing, the Sharpshooter has an improved selection of sniping and pistol skills, and the Psi Operative uses various psionic skills to buff and debilitate. Though the five classes available are a diminishment from the selection available in XCOM: Enemy Within, the extra individual upgrades and weapon attachments allows even more variants for a single class.

Your home base, now a retrofitted alien cargo ship that can wander the globe, still sports the essential research and engineering rooms, bridge, and armory. It also contains a block of debris-laden chambers that can be cleared out and turned into facilities to increase your power supply, develop better equipment, expand your global reach, and many other upgrades critical to a successful campaign. Gone are the days where simply scanning would reveal your next task. Now you must scrutinize the global map, deciding whether to make contact with other resistance cells to unlock territories and gain monthly supplies, investigate suspicious leads, check the black market, pass the time at base to heal faster or gain resources, and many other options. Every decision requires forethought, as the aliens are pursuing the Avatar Project - a sinister exploit that spells doom for your campaign should their progress continue unimpeded.

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