“To Fight Another Day”
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2k Games
Format: PC (reviewed)
Released: February 5, 2016
In XCOM 2, war comes at a great cost. Whether that be the lives of brave men and women, resources dedicated to discovery, or high-priced sacrifice in the face of defeat; little comes easy when leading the resistance. The table is set with a dire tone, picking up 20 years after the events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, adjusting to a timeline where XCOM lost the war against the aliens. At its best, XCOM 2 shows signs of devout dedication toward obtaining the status of one of the strongest offerings in its respective genre, however, at its worst XCOM 2 falters under the roof of fairness. Shaky performance on recommended specs, seemingly countless gameplay affecting bugs, and more interruptions, have an evident and wide-spreading repercussion on the overall experience, nonetheless, XCOM 2’s strengths manage to stand tall. Firaxis Games’ second entry in the XCOM reboot series carries the torch of its predecessor’s brutal turn-based strategy and white-knuckle tension, all while racing against time itself. Acting as commander to what’s left of the XCOM resistance, you’re bound to quickly become intimately acquainted with failure, on both small and large scales. At its core, XCOM 2 is all about time management and the opportunities worth taking to better the odds of victory in the grand scheme of battle. Time fades alongside the resistances’ capabilities to prevail, both of which XCOM 2 makes a point to never loan too much of. I was never comfortable with the conditions, not once, even when moving into the more advanced late game which allowed for a few breakthroughs at the expense of the aliens. Aside from a few rare winning streaks, I never felt confident in the resistances’ odds of success, for the pieces that had to align in order to allow for such strides, always seemed out of reach. This constant sense of self-aware incapability lends to a great tone, one which ensures the disparity of the situation keeps you on your toes. To say the endeavor was an uphill battle would be an understatement, for the opposing forces were often so strong that large sections of various playthroughs were spent tactically retreating or cleaning up consequential messes. This possible time-sink is a reminder of the importance to making the most of your time on the battlefield, for a mission gone wrong could easily result in a snowball that manifests into a hardened boulder crushing hours of labored progress.
Nevertheless, pushing through failure is simply part of the process. What kept me engaged was XCOM 2’s fantastic, extremely thought-provoking gameplay. From the robust base management, to in the field combat, XCOM 2 nails a wide variety of gameplay types. In terms of narrative, XCOM 2 takes a somewhat hands-off approach, focusing more on its vast set of rules which keep the experience fresh and unpredictable on a hourly basis. Guerrilla warfare and the nature loss in the face of greater forces is indeed the central theme at play within XCOM 2. As commander of the resistance, you’ll take charge in leading your desperate army into battle, while simultaneously dedicating resources toward adopting new technologies to aid them in the fight to take back Earth. One of the more satisfying gameplay loops of XCOM 2 is that of incorporating increasingly sophisticated technology and tactics into your campaign. As the fight rages, so does the potential to experiment with different approaches, creating a long-winded, yet compelling back and forth, between planning and execution. Mission variety only proliferates this satisfying endeavor, constantly flipping the script and adjusting the rules of engagement. Infiltrating alien bases in concealment, extracting essential goods, protecting high-value targets, the list goes on, for XCOM 2 refuses to grow stale by way of repetition. While every player’s technical experience will vary greatly on a case-by-case basis, mine was heavily weighed down by a plethora of inconveniences and interruptions. The likes of massive framerate drops, crashes, disappearing enemies, untriggered actions, freezes, and more minuscule intrusions, grew extraordinarily frustrating. This displeasing incompetence was only heightened by its actual effect on the gameplay, often resulting in unforeseen ramifications during crucial stages of already tedious missions. For a game so incredibly dependent upon thoughtful strategy and strict rules, these technical hiccups pack quite the punch. The times I came up short on salient missions thanks to a group of enemies that failed to appear in my immediate vicinity, verged on inexcusable. In the most catastrophic instance, my eight hour plus campaign came to an infuriating close when a group of powerful gun turrets took turns blasting the remainder of my squad down as they moved toward a pivotal extraction, having previously showed no signs of existence. I’d been defeated, however I struggled to swallow the loss, as I had the two which came before. The resistance had been crushed under unforeseeable circumstances I couldn’t stand for, sucking much of my motivation to begin again. XCOM 2 is indeed a challenging game, yet dealing with technical issues that spiked the difficulty to heights which dampened my enjoyment of the title, is a different story entirely.
In addition to the robustly packed single player offerings of XCOM 2, Firaxis has incorporated a promising PVP multiplayer section into the title. The transition of the excellent core mechanics driven by turn-based strategy, from the single to multiplayer portion of the game, is solid, but the landscapes in which they play out are poorly paced and at times broken. Here, head-to-head battles between player created squads, comprised of both XCOM and Advent troops, go at it in all-out war. There are flickers of entertainment to be found within the manic, yet precise encounters that unfold on the battlefield, though the glaring issues are more than enough to wholly discredit what the mode gets right. The timers intended to keep the pace of matches relatively snappy, are completely busted, effectively tarnishing what could have been, and what very well might still be, a great complement to the fully fledged single player segment, if patched down the line. Perhaps XCOM 2’s multiplayer’s biggest upside, is that of its flexibility in allowing players to experiment with the vast array of loadouts and class-based operators. Everything is unlocked from the get-go, so players won’t have to sink hours into R&D to give the more advanced technology a go, like they would in the main game. This reiterates one of XCOM 2’s biggest strengths; the overall character customization and its tangible transcendence to actual gameplay.Conclusion: XCOM 2 is a great game, hell, even a fantastic one, but its significantly prohibiting technical flaws and exceptions to certain gameplay rules ensure everyone can’t come to that overwhelming positive realization. While I can recognize the sheer brilliance behind some of XCOM 2’s aspects, I certainly can’t stand behind an opinion that disregards the trials and tribulations that plagued my multiple playthroughs. On one hand, XCOM 2 excels, resulting in some of the most memorable and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had with the genre, though on the other, XCOM 2 fails in presenting it’s excellent vision in a smooth, cohesive package. Much like the arduous fight for humanity portrayed with strong promise, XCOM 2 finds itself ever so slightly out of reach of definitive victory, instead settling for a wavering encompassment of both jubilating highs and defeating lows.
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