REVIEW: XENONAUTS / DEVELOPER: GOLDHAWK INTERACTIVE / PUBLISHER: GOLDHAWK INTERACTIVE / PLATFORMS: PC, OS X, LINUS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Initially created in answer to 2K Marin’s XCOM first person shooter, Xenonauts serves as a spiritual successor to the original UFO: Enemy Unknown. Retaining many design elements streamlined in Firaxis’ remake, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the game sees the return of mechanics fans of the original have been crying out for.
During the late 1970s, the Cold War is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a massive alien fleet. Resisting all attempts to repel them, their initial strike is suddenly brought low by an unknown interceptor. After many long years in silence, the clandestine Xenonauts organisation created to defend the world against alien attack reveals itself. Seeking the backing of both NATO and Russia, its handful of troops, scientists and engineers are all that stands between humanity and potential annihilation.
Much of the style and presentation of this game emulates UFO as closely as possible. While the interface has undergone a significant upgrade and certain processes have been programmed to take place automatically, it retains the complexity and level of detail of the original. Action points now allow for multiple overwatch stances, multiple bases can be created across the world, tailor-made to suit certain purposes, and your forces respond to UFO incursions in real-time. Atop of this, players are at far more of a disadvantage, unable to respond to most threats beyond radar range and with a far higher mortality rate among troops than in modern XCOM games.
What helps the game stand out from its predecessor is that it is more than a mere replication. Relying far too heavily upon previous trends from XCOM games, especially research, will bite a player hard and there is a general sense of a new twist being put on an old idea. The very fact that there is now a ticking clock with the aliens preparing for full-scale war adds a great sense of urgency to events, as does the growing budgetary limitations and problems thrown at the player. Plus, even when all this becomes far too familiar, the game actively supports a number of player made mods which drastically alter the battlefield.
However, Xenonauts isn’t perfect. Despite now having left Steam Early Access, the game still retains a number of bugs which range from odd graphical errors to leaving troops stranded on certain levels of buildings. What’s more, it doesn’t explain itself very well, requiring new players to read through and memorise a PDF explaining many elements such as the new dogfighting system. As a result it’s a harder title to learn than Enemy Unknown. Beyond this, there are very few failings.
While it might lack the flashy graphics and budget of Firaxis’ game, Xenonauts can easily hold its own against it. Offering complex mechanics, higher stakes and control over your choices, Xenonauts is easily one of the best turn-based tactical games of 2014 so far. Definitely give this one a look if you’re eager for a fantastic game to sink a hundred hours into. Xenonauts can be found on Steam and GOG.com.