I am pretty sure that I qualify as an XCOM fan. I didn’t actually play the original XCOM games, but I did buy and play the 2012 Firaxis remake to death. My profile on steam says that I have played 35 hours of that game, and I went out and bought it again for iOS so that I could play it on my tablet, when I had a few minutes to spare. Although, that doesn’t actually work out in practice.
Regardless, When XCOM2 was announced I was already caught, hook line and sinker. I was so excited that I need to find something to play to get my XCOM fix until XCOM2 was released. This is when I stumbled into a little gem called Xenonauts. Xenonauts is a game that was developed as a response to the announcement of the shooter The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but before the announcement of the 2012 XCOM by Firaxis. Members of the XCOM community didn’t like the idea of XCOM being a shooter so they went out to develop a game that they thought properly represented what they liked about XCOM.
The Earth is being invaded by extraterrestrials and the player takes up the role as the commander of a task force whose sole mission is to fight back against this alien invasion. You will be in charge of setting up a global defence network that will shoot down enemy ships then send in ground forces clean up the crash sites and respond to attacks against civilians. I will try to keep comparisons to the 2012 XCOM to a minimum; however, sometimes they are unavoidable.
Xenonauts takes place in the late 70’s and early 80s and the style really fits. All of the technology that is at your disposal looks a little bit dated, by today’s standards. The music and the artwork make everything feel very menacing and imminent, like you are always responding to a catastrophe and dreading what will be happening next. All of the story is told to the player through the research logs. After a mission the player gives recovered items and prisoners to their science team, who will then give you a report of their findings. These reports not only contain important information about the items in question but also anecdotes about events or theories of the alien motivations.
Gameplay is broken up into two sections, the “Geoscape” and the “Combat View”. The Geoscape is essentially a map of the Earth, where you will need to build bases to establish your defence network. This is also where you will have to manage your finances, research and construction of all of the items at your disposal. After you have some bases on the map you will need to manage their facilities. A base will need to have a radar station to be able to detect UFOs while they are flying, a barracks to have troops, a workshop and a lab to research and build. Once a UFO is detected you will be able to send between 1-3 planes to shoot it down. If the UFO crashes over land then you will then need to send in your ground team to kill any survivors and recover alien technology.
The ground team consists of your soldiers, vehicles and drones. You can bring tanks into combat with you, or un-manned drones to help you fight any alien resistance at the crash site of the UFO. Once your team has been assembled and they are at the crash site the game will then switch to the combat mode where you get to control your squad of units.
If you have played XCOM then this will feel a little bit familiar to you, but it is still different enough to make it unique. In XCOM each player’s turn is broken up into 2 actions, the player can move and then shoot. In Xenonauts each unit has a pool of “Time Units”, and they can take as many actions as they want provided that they have enough Time Units. This distinction provides several tactical advantages, first you are able to shoot more than once, but it also allows you to move slower, revealing any dangers on the map and react to them faster, a very welcome improvement.
Perhaps I just have a soft spot for games with a 2d Isometric art style, but I really like the graphics in Xenonauts. The creature design in Xenonauts feel a little bit derivative of XCOM but it is actually supposed to be an homage. The sound effects, for guns firing, or people and things being shot, are all creepy and incredibly well done. The sound effects really mesh well with the music which does an incredible job of setting the mood and helps with the creepy, claustrophobic vibe that Xenonauts is trying to make you feel.
I have to come out and say that not only is Xenonauts an incredible video game in its own right but, I actually find it superior to the 2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I prefer most aspects of Xenonauts, but I especially prefer the game play. The mechanics of Xenoanuts make for a much more rewarding experience and allows you to make better decisions because you are not hamstrung by the 2 action limit of XCOM. I prefer this game to XCOM so much that my playtime on my Steam profile shows that I have spent double the amount of time in Xenoanuts than XCOM.
This game is currently $27.99 CAD on Steam and I will say that it is easily worth the full price, but if you want to wait for a sale to pick it up, that is cool too. But please, if you are a fan of XCOM you REALLY need to check out Xenonauts. You will not be disappointed.