When 2K’s Christoph Hartmann said that “strategy games are just not contemporary”, what he actually meant was “we can’t market and sell a strategy game on a console”. That was in defence of the abominable idea of turning X-Com into an FPS. Gentlemen, gentleladies, I am afraid that we may never see another strategy game in the X-Com series. One would think there were lessons to learn from Enforcer and Interceptor, but you would apparently be wrong.
But fear not! If you want an X-Com-alike that actually feels like X-Com, then have I got the title for you: Xenonauts, by Goldhawk Interactive.
Xenonauts hasn’t had that much press, and I can’t imagine why. It’s a remake of X-Com. That’s it. That’s what it is. If you’re anything like me, that phrase alone will conjure simultaneous joy and dread that it will diverge too much from the formula that made X-Com a classic. In this case, you can spare your eye-rolling: Xenonauts is X-Com.
It plays like X-Com.
At the start of the game, you select where you want to plonk your base. From there, you can build new base sections and remove old ones. From garages for land vehicles and hangars for your aircraft to general stores and living quarters – it’s all there and everything functions in the way you’d expect them to in an X-Com game. Thankfully, the interface is a bit friendlier than X-Com, so everything feels much smoother. There’s an at-a-glance screen that tells you all you need to know about the state of your troops. There’s a more detailed screen for equipping them and assigning them to transports. After a while, you’ll wind up shooting down a UFO, which you can then send your troop transport (a Chinook in the Alpha) to secure. From there, you go into the ground combat section of the game.
It feels like X-Com.
Combat is slow, tense, and brutal. Your soldiers are just as rubbish as the average X-Com operative. They will miss things they’re not carefully aiming at, they are restricted by the range of their weapons, and they will die in one or two hits. They are rubbish, just like in X-Com. Vehicles are slightly less fragile and have unparalleled destructive power, but present a huge target and will get in the way of your soldiers’ shots. While there isn’t much in the way of alien AI yet, the aliens are already masters of stealth tactics, sneaking up on your troops and taking cover when spotted or outnumbered. It’s incredibly easy to lose a mission if you make mistakes. This is a game where you have to think in order to survive. The survivability of your little dudes is increased by equipping them with armour or by moving them into cover (for which there is a full system in place). In essence, this means they’ll be able to survive three shots instead of one or two.
It is X-Com.
But not only is it X-Com – it does some things better than X-Com. You can adjust who starts where in your transport. There’s more of a human element to your soldiers: they have ages and previous experience. There really is the feeling of commanding a global organisation when your squad is made up of ex-Spetsnaz, marines, and SEALS. The story is interesting, and a link to it is here. More alien invasions need to happen during the Cold War. The artwork is gorgeous. The graphics are slick and attractive. The music is haunting and brilliant. Tapio Liukkonen, of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Magicka, and Overgrowth is doing the sound. There’s a strategic air-combat minigame.
All of this culminates into something I fully recommend pre-ordering. Xenonauts is available on Desura through their alpha-fund initiative and comes in standard and premium flavours, for £15 and £20 respectively. This is a discount on the final price upon release. Pre-ordering gives you access to the current and all future builds on Desura, as well as a Steam key should Xenonauts end up on Steam.
Buy it, it’s very good.