XCOM 2 review - the second UFO, or the enemy known
On the fingers of one hand, you can count the titles and series that have successfully resumed after years of break. Tomb Raider , Mortal Kombat ... and of course XCOM come to mind first. The latter, released under the Enemy Unknown subtitle in 2012, may not have been exactly what the old teasers who broke their teeth in the original series expected, but overall the strategy turned out to be a great proposition for tactical gamers. Contrary to appearances, we will not experience this in too many contemporary productions. Individual top-shelf titles today focus on turn-based struggles, and when we add to the "requirements" also managing a small team and the need to carefully plan the next moves, the list shrinks indecently. The XCOM series is not more competitive today, but this is not why it won the hearts of players. The success was determined by the quality, addictive gameplay and exactly what in the case of the Civilization series - the irresistible desire to play "one more turn". The latest installment again focuses on this formula, while trying to develop it ... although it does it in a very, very safe way.
Twenty years have passed since the events we saw in XCOM: Enemy Unknown , but from the very first moments we spent with the game, we know that two decades were not particularly successful for humanity. Despite the heroic actions of our staff in previous installments, the aliens returned to Earth and, what is worse, they won, but in a completely different way than one might expect. Instead of dominating us militarily, they offered "peace" and gave access to modern technology, which humanity, ignorant of the consequences, gladly accepted. Blinded by the vision of prosperity, the citizens decided to give up their freedom and meekly go under the yoke of aliens whose interests on the planet are guarded by the Speaker, the puppet government and the military units of ADVENT. The vision is extremely grim, but as always in such stories there is a light of hope - all over the world, individual units rebel against enslavement, and the remnants of the XCOM organization slowly rise from their knees, thus preparing to reclaim Earth.
We start the game with a rescue mission, in which our goal is ... a commander from the previous installment of the series. In the first few minutes, we take the leader out of the alien facility, and after restoring it to "usable" condition, we go to work. Due to the fact that this time we are not so much defending ourselves against invaders as trying to chase them away, the narrative is a bit different ... but only on the surface. Re-impersonating the role of the commander is of course a nice bow to the fans of the previous games, but the longer we play, the more often we find out that the creators are stuck in the fictional trap of the previously proposed convention. We face aliens, after a while the plot turns and a new, mysterious theme appears, and we solve all problems with a bold attack on the enemy's main center. Without going into details, let me just say that the pattern of the story is, with some exceptions, almost a copy of what we saw previously . To make matters worse, the deja vu impression accompanied me while playing, not only when I listened to the next dialogues.
After all, when launching any part of the series, no one expects a Hollywood script and narrative worthy of an Oscar. In XCOM 2, the most important thing is the gameplay itself, and this one again turns out to be absolutely amazing. Depending on the mission and the level of development of our organization, we lead a team of three to six soldiers, each of whom can develop within one of five classes. Grenadier, specialist, hunter and sharpshooter can also choose from two specialization paths, which greatly differentiate the style of playing with a given character. For example, the mentioned shooter can become a sniper, a pistol master or a mix of the advantages of both development trees . In practice, it works perfectly and really allows us to match our players to the challenges posed by the game. In addition, there is also a psi agent, this time functioning as a separate type of soldier, which can be developed in a slightly different, but no less intriguing way. In-depth variants of creating heroes also extend to their appearance, although a much more interesting option is the ability to modify weapons and the use of permanent "stimulants". By adding scopes, new holders or using chips, we are able to additionally improve, for example, the accuracy of our warrior or equip him with a bonus, passive ability. If you've always dreamed of creating a small army of real individuals, you'll feel like you're in heaven.
The third major novelty in the game, i.e. stealth, also requires some "taming". For most of the missions, our team starts maneuvers in hiding and stays in it until it fires a shot or is noticed by enemies. This option is quite interesting and to a large extent it resembles setting up units before the battle, known for example from the Heroes of Might and Magic series. Here it is, of course, much more extensive, which allows you to perfectly prepare for the first fight, in which we will destroy a group of enemies we meet, without suffering any losses. It works great and deepens the tactical layer of the game, but at the same time I have to cool down the enthusiasm of all the home-grown Cichociemni. It is practically impossible to complete the mission without any fight - and I have tried to do so many times. Even if we stay hidden 90% of the time, we still have to fire or we will be spotted in the final part of the mission. Then all enemy units that we bypassed are lashing our way from the entire map, and I wish you good luck in defending yourself against the onslaught of twenty enemies at the same time. There is usually not much time for stalking, because in some missions we have to stay within its quite narrow range - for example, we get eight turns to complete the task, so sometimes you have to fly forward at an alarming pace. Of course, XCOM 2 is all about shooting, but the creators could have solved the stealth mechanics a bit better, although it is still fun to use.
Fighting duels in turn-based mode is one thing, but as you know, XCOM is also a strategic game on a slightly larger scale. Due to the fact that this time we are reflecting the Earth and not defending it, achieving the goals looks a bit different than before. Instead of being stationed in a base from which we observe the situation in the world, this time we are fully mobile and regularly move from one end of the map to the other. We are responsible not only for regaining new regions from aliens, but also for supporting resistance centers, gathering resources, visiting the black market and attacking, for example, ADVENT's transport convoys. The whole thing is supplemented with building special towers in individual regions, which increase income, as well as dealing with so-called dark events. The latter are important because if we start to ignore them, the enemies we encounter will receive bonuses that make life difficult for us - for example, poisoning projectiles. Moreover, some of them accelerate the implementation of the mysterious Avatar project - if the aliens manage to carry it out, the campaign will end in failure. This additional factor has a very positive effect on the gameplay and we never have the feeling of "pointless" that sometimes accompanied us in previous editions. The specter of failure is constantly hanging over us, and this makes planning the next trips and actions not only more fun, but also forces us to think more intensively.
Speaking of the place where duels are played, one must also mention one of the biggest and at the same time the best changes that XCOM 2 has had . The creators, as part of the gameplay diversity, put a lot of emphasis on the randomness of the maps on which we conduct our activities. What does it mean? Approaching the same mission each time throws us into a different looking area with different enemy configurations. The scenery also changes, and it is selected from a pool of several archetypes, such as the jungle or snow-covered tundra. I had the opportunity to complete the game only once, but even when loading the saves from before a single mission, it was possible to notice significant changes, and this leads to an obvious conclusion - XCOM 2 for everyone will be a completely individual experience that can be repeated without weariness. Of course, there are also mods that were not available before the premiere, but in the future they will probably deepen the so-called "replayability" and lead to further visual modifications.
In this slightly far-fetched way we finally reach the issue of the audiovisual setting of the title. The soundtrack, the sounds of the shots and the voices of the characters are made correctly, and although they do not stand out, you can listen to them without any problem. The matter is a bit more complex when we start looking at the textures that the creators decided to implement in their production. The character and opponent models look nicer and more detailed than before, but at the same time you can still see that they are "the same XCOM ". On the one hand, you can at times be delighted with attention to detail, smoke rising from the barrels, grass torn by gusts of wind and new, really impressive effects, but on the other - it is associated with the extremely irritating work of the camera. If the crazy prospect has annoyed you before, stock up on a decent supply of tranquilizers before playing XCOM 2 , because this time it's even worse. Strange shots, funny-looking poses, freeze-ups, random spins, and other problems that everyone who plays Enemy Unknown or Enemy Within knows are back, and they are redoubled. Of course, it doesn't ruin the fun and you can swallow somehow, but I got the impression that the creators did not draw absolutely any conclusions from the previous lessons.