Review: Xenonauts (PC): A Blast From The Past

Review: Xenonauts (PC): A Blast From The Past

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Xenonauts is a non-canon throwback to the classic XCOM: UFO Defense in aesthetic, difficulty, and execution. You find yourself as a commander of an international paramilitary organization during the Cold War, dedicated to repelling spacemen from beyond the stars. You choose a location to set up your HQ, build extra facilities, plan squad loadouts, hire and fire support staff, and manage research and development–to name just some of your new responsibilities. Your objective, as you can imagine, is to keep the aliens from conquering Earth. Each playthrough follows the same rough story and difficulty progression, but the circumstances and outcomes can vary dramatically depending how well you can react to everything the game throws at you.

I gotta hand it to Goldhawk Interactive: they certainly know their way around a strategy game. The level of depth is on-par with Total War and other grand strategy games, requiring you to make tough decisions and sometimes finding yourself having to choose the lesser of two evils. As you progress, you’ll be able to salvage alien technology for research and reverse engineering, allowing you to upgrade your troops and equipment. Despite your soldiers being absolute garbage in the beginning (to their credit, M16s weren’t too good against plasma rifles and you’d be a little nervous too fighting aliens for the first time), most enemies can be overcome through the use of defensive tactics, clever ambushes, and keeping behind cover.

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To start, a standard infantry dropship holds a squad of eight whose individual classes can be customized by you. You can set new default classes or create entirely new ones, keeping in mind each soldier’s strengths and weaknesses, ranging from HP, bravery, accuracy, and other attributes. As you upgrade equipment, it’d be wise to update your squadies’ loadouts, adapting to both new enemies as well as your new strategies to combat them. You’ll also gain access to new vehicles such as armored cars with mounted machine guns or high-speed interceptors that’ll give you quicker response times to UFO sightings (oh, and vehicles also have their own upgradeable hardpoints too).

While not as visually flashy as its cousin XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Xenonauts revels in a classic 1990s 2D isometric perspective ala Fallout 1 & 2 and Jagged Alliance. Graphical comparisons notwithstanding, the game’s extensive gameplay and macromanagement (you control multiple bases with hundreds of troops, compared to Enemy Unknown‘s handful of squads) more than make up for it–and, to the modders’ benefit, made it easier to add custom content to the game. Even Goldhawk welcomed this initiative, officially endorsing Xenonauts: Community Edition which contained popular fixes and modifications to the game that kept the true spirit and mechanics intact, while making it more player-friendly and implementing ideas not included in the game’s original launch. Of course, there are also mods available for the game as well, though if I’m honest, I’ve yet to investigate them at this point in time.

Though the sheer scope, steep learning curve, and turn-based nature might be a turn-off to some, Xenonauts‘ gameplay is exceptionally fluid once you get the hang of it and a welcome challenge to the seasoned strategist. For those who often feel turn-based strategy is too slow, the game’s combat is paced well and time passes by rather quickly on the 2x and 4x time settings on the strategic map. Sometimes slow is the way to go however, as the AI will ruthlessly take advantage of poorly planned orders. As mentioned before, you start out without knowing what you’re getting yourself and your troops into; you ought not to get attached to anyone in particular because one-shot kills are all too common early on, especially if you’re not paying attention.

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If you find yourself a little too overwhelmed with all of its nuances (granted, the game has its own in-game encyclopedia, but does not do much to help the uninitiated as far as getting them started is concerned), Enemy Unknown is a welcome alternative to get your feet wet in this sort of strategy game. The reason I make this suggestion is that I was once intimidated by this game at first but only after conquering the most Unknown of Enemies could I handle all the intricacies of global base management.

At the end of the day, Xenonauts is a must-have for fans of the alien defense and turn-based RPG disciplines. From its nostalgic visual and story appeal to its deep-yet-intuitive gameplay mechanics having you command multiple operations around the world, Goldhawk‘s game is a welcome and refreshing addition to the library of anyone who’s looking for a good challenge.

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Anthony Magestro

Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.