Turn-based strategy games are very much a niche genre on consoles, so it’s refreshing when a series like XCOM comes along. Developed by Firaxis, this brutal strategy game has a strong following in the PC community, however my first taste of the game came on Xbox 360 with the critically acclaimed XCOM Enemy Unknown. While it was a little rough around the edges, Enemy Unknown was a fantastic strategy experience, and I was keen to get my grubby mitts on the console release of the sequel, aptly named XCOM 2. DYEBG’s Aza Hudson has already delivered his verdict on the PC release, so I’ll simply give you the cliff notes of how it translates on console.
XCOM 2 opens in a much different manner to its predecessors, with humanity having ceded control to the godforsaken aliens we fought so hard against in Enemy Unknown. Professional xenophobe organisation XCOM are now only a small resistance cell, working in the shadows and employing guerrilla tactics to destabilise the alien government and devise a way to prise power from their powerful insectoid grasp. You take control of a mobile fortress known as the Avenger where you establish a base of operations from which you can launch your attacks. Time is of the essence, and important decisions must be made in terms of how you train your forces, what sort of research and technology you invest in and how you want to manage your scarce resources in order to take it to those alien bastards.
Like the PC version, XCOM is brutally difficult, even on Normal difficulty. The game will introduce you to the basics, but some of the more advanced tactics you’ll have to discover on your own. It’s adapt and overcome or fail and perish, and it is glorious. The turn-based gameplay is tense and the stakes are high, as when one of your squad mates die, there’s no respawning. I took to giving them names of friends and family, and when one of your favourites dies in the field it’s not something you take lightly. Being a turn-based strategy, not too much is lost when controlling the action with a controller; you have all the time in the world to decide what you want to do next (and it pays to take your time and err on the side of caution). The controls are a little unintuitive at first, but eventually you get the hang of it. Like the PC version the camera is quite finicky, and I often struggled to get it give me the best view of the battlefield so I could plan my next move.
Compared to Enemy Unknown the environments are now quite richly detailed and varied, although of course some concessions have been made and it’s not quite as crisp on console compared to PC. There’s a good use of lighting and colour that makes the goofy sci-fi scenery pop, something that you couldn’t really say of Enemy Unknown. The human characters’ facial details still have a creepy, pallid vibe to them, and the wooden animations and cold lifeless eyes only heighten this, but once you acclimatise to these oddities there’s an odd charm to it. One thing that is less than charming is the frame rate, which despite the seemingly low graphical fidelity still chugs and sputters frequently. There’s also plenty of clipping and shooting through walls, but it’s testament to the strong gameplay that these issues fade into the background and become much less noticeable the deeper down the strategy rabbit hole you go. It’s a bit harder to ignore the crazy long loading times though, and because you’ll probably be saving and reloading often given the difficulty of XCOM 2, prepare to be staring at a largely static screen for excruciatingly long stretches of time as you wait to get back into the action. Unlike a keyboard, the Dualshock controller (or Xbox controller) does not have a Caps Lock key (in a strange turn of events pressing this key drastically decreases load time on PC), so you’ll just have to grin and bear it.
While console players are fairly new to mods, XCOM has a very healthy modding community and you’ll miss out on a couple of quite useful ones playing on console. There’s some simple ones that allow you to have free rotation of the troublesome camera or improve the UI, right through to the more exotic ones such as turning your squad into Stormtroopers or giving your soldiers the voice of Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard. After a small period of doubt Sony have assured the masses that they are indeed open to mods on PS4 (for Fallout 4 and Skyrim at least), and XCOM 2 is definitely one title that could benefit from some user-friendly console mods.
Whatever platform you play it on, XCOM 2 is more or less the pinnacle of turn-based strategy action. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream in frustration and swear that the Gods have cursed you, but if you persist you will triumph and know that your victory was well earned. It’s like chess with statistics and guns, and it can’t come more highly recommended.