As the sequel to the beloved spiritual successor of the original X-COM games, Xenonauts 2 has much to live up to. But judging from my hands-on with the early-access version, I daresay the game seems to hold up — at least in the early parts. Nine years in the making, this long-awaited sequel comes with a 3D engine that lets you rotate camera views, but keeps to the old-school sprite-like graphics.
- Classic gameplay that will offer a challenge
- Has modern quality-of-life improvements over the original X-COM game
- Fun to be had trying to figure out optimal approaches to enemies
But apart from the engine upgrade to give it parity with modern X-COM games, Xenonauts 2 is at its heart, more like the classic X-COM games than anything. Which does mean it can be confusing for new players, but thankfully developer Goldhawk Interactive, has added a small tutorial to get you up to speed. You're an organisation that's fighting against an alien invasion. You build bases, launch planes to shoot down UFOs, then send your soldiers over to capture them. It sounds simple, but there's a lot to do.
The real fun, of course, comes when your soldiers land, and start shooting at aliens. The game features an isometric view, and you take turns moving your soldiers. Unlike the original X-COM, you can customise your soldiers' loadouts to use shields, shotguns, or machine guns. Combat is RNG based, and can feel punishing even at normal levels. Of course, you can save and reload if the odds don't favour you. If you want to do this, I found loading times to be quite long. Perhaps the final version will have quicker loads. As with the original X-COM and Xenonauts, you have to research alien tech to make your soldiers more powerful, and take the fight to the aliens eventually.
While Xenonauts 2 is a sequel, it doesn't actually continue the storyline. Instead, it takes place in an alternate timeline where the Cold War is still taking place in 2009. Besides the aliens, you have to deal with the Cleaners — humans who are helping the aliens enslave humanity. You can take them out early in the game to focus on just the aliens, but they will offer a challenge to your troops that only have basic gear. My early access build doesn't yet have the complete campaign, so I can't tell you if it's going to be epic. But it's been fun so far, though I'm not sure how much of that is nostalgia.
Xenonauts 2 is very playable, and fun. It will be released on July 18 in Early Access mode. If you're hankering for old school X-COM action, this is sure to scratch that itch. Get it from Steam.
Note: Review copy provided by Hooded Horse, Xenonauts 2's publisher.