With increased political tensions across the globe, and a Cold War that never ended, the last thing anyone needs is an alien invasion. Thus is the backdrop for Xenonauts 2, a turn-based strategy that feels more like XCOM than any other game I’ve seen within the genre. While still in Early Access, there’s a deep tactical edge that allows you to get lost in the war you found yourself in, and despite it being unforgiving at times, you’re more than equipped with military options in your fight against both the aliens and a human threat known as the Cleaners.
You manage a secret multinational military organisation known as the Xenonauts tasked with ridding the world of a new alien threat. Despite the combat being filled with options, you’re given a deep tutorial that helps you to become familiar with the nuances of war. Spending your time between upgrading and improving the Xenonauts back at base, you’ll also be tasked with various objectives that often result in all-out warfare. It is in these battles that it becomes a tense and fulfilling experience where anything can happen, and one wrong decision can have dire circumstances.
You control your soldiers from an isometric viewpoint, where the map can be rotated and zoomed in and out of, offering different angles for you to see what is going on at any given time. Each soldier has a particular skillset, complete with a variety of weapons from snipers to shotguns. At first, the map is shadowed out in places, forcing you to explore the unknown and walk a fine line of risk and reward. You could see an abandoned house in front of you that seems empty, but as you approach, an alien can come out of nowhere and shoot you dead.
It’s imperative to make use of cover, plan every action with precision, and use your action points to move cautiously. Each soldier has a set amount each turn, and if you use all your action points to move, you won’t be able to fire a weapon, launch a grenade, or use something else in your arsenal. Everything costs AP including crouching, so you’re also forced to think about cover from fellow soldiers when exploring a seemingly quiet location. If your assault rifle can’t be used due to a lack of AP, a pistol can be fired, but they’re not going to do as much damage.
When you do engage in combat, you can see the route of an attack and how effective it will be before you action it. The environment is destructible, and sometimes it’s necessary to blow up barricades in order to get the shot on. Enemies are lurking everywhere, and you can be cut down at any point, making each turn as stressful as possible. It’s exhilarating as it is frustrating, but the more you research back at base and upgrade or unlock new equipment and skills, your next fight will be a little more bearable.
Through autopsies and recovery of alien technology, you’ll be able to use their own minds against them. It makes battle more complex and consuming, as hours pass and you realise just how much of a hold this game has on you. I failed a lot. I lost soldiers through death and panic, feeling as though I was losing the war. Yet despite these failures, I began to get better – began to understand what I was up against – and the gameplay loop started to feed my success.
There’s a lot to familiarise yourself with, but by playing through and reading the text that’s available, you begin to improve your base and it air force, leading to an empire of strongholds across the globe. Outside of missions (which are varied in what you do), you’ll have to take out UFOs in air combat, although these play out automatically, taking into account how strong your aerial assault is. It’s the boots on the ground elements of Xenonauts 2 which is where the most enjoyment to be had is, as that’s where you feel your tactical prowess is allowed to flourish.
Graphically, it’s relatively basic. There’re no bombastic cinematics or animations, yet the crispness of gameplay is enough to keep you enthralled in the visuals. Being Early Access, not all the text is completed, which is something that will grow as the developers add more content. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, and if anything, it means the plans going forward for Xenonauts 2 is at the forefront of Goldhawk Interactive’s mind. What is here currently is more than enough to give fans of turn-based titles plenty to do.
Xenonauts 2 is a rich strategy game that gives you plenty of options in combat. The missions where you are in charge of your soldiers are consistently evolving, forcing you to think on the fly and change your tactics with every turn. Whether you have to kill al enemies, find vital intelligence, or face the Cleaners, these fights are tough yet satisfying, and I enjoyed just how much there was to do in the heat of battle. It’ a shame that most of the maps feel familiar, but if you like the variety of its gameplay, it’s not going to pose too much of a problem.
Plenty of tactical options
Combat is thrilling
Consistently evolving gameplay
Maps feel familiar
Tough at times