PHOENIX POINT – Game Review
When it comes to strategy games, XCOM: UFO Defense will forever be the cream of the crop. Even when XCOM got its modern update, the results were that of strategy game greatness. Now, stepping up to the plate to smooth over the rough edges comes Phoenix Point. Lead by Julian Gollop, creator of XCOM: UFO Defense, Phoenix Point takes the tried and true formula we all know and love and truly evolves it. The real question is, does that make Phoenix Point the best of the best?
For those unfamiliar with the XCOM recipe that Phoenix Point stands upon, here is the quick and dirty explanation. XCOM took a squad centric turn based strategy game and applied it to an alien invasion. You acted as the commander of a UN style military force and managed their finances, their research, and the deployment of their forces. Your outnumbered forces would be spread thin around the world as you took on alien forces and reverse engineered their technology. You would also build up your base to train, upgrade, cure, and outfit your soldiers as well as other important facilities.
Phoenix Point takes this award winning framework and builds its own new story and mechanics around it. Instead of an invasion from above, the threat comes from below! A new disease is unleashed from the depths of the ocean that infects and mutates humankind. Those that remain are forced to fight off the mutations in a similar fashion to XCOM. You will also build your forces and your base to venture all over the globe and prevent human extinction. Battles, once again, occur in the same turn based strategy seen in the previous XCOM games. There are special attacks, cover, line of sight, and the infamous “overwatch” feature. Veterans of XCOM will be instantly at home when dropped into their first fight. As you progress, though, there are quite a few additional tactics and changes.
One of the biggest differences vets will notice is the game’s slightly different dynamic in the global view. In this view, you (of course) see the world and all of the points of interest that you have revealed. The three different factions all have their bases/cities that you can visit. At each, depending on your relationship with them and the ‘status’ of the base, you can buy things, recruit soldiers, and steal things to help your journey. Also, you’ll be able to discover new bases that you can station soldiers and equipment at. Lastly, you’ll notice the spread of the ‘mutant mist’ which essentially kills all of humanity if it reaches 100%.
In combat, the biggest difference is probably the elimination of the dreaded point blank misses. Thankfully, your soldiers will finally unload on your foes when positioned right next to them. Of course, your foes will have the opportunity to do the same. Another big difference is the ability to destroy weapons and body parts which disable a character’s special abilities and ability to attack. As with the point blank feature, this goes both ways so carrying two weapons is essential. There are other slight differences but these are the biggest in my view.
Phoenix Point also does a good job of varying enemy types and tactics based upon what your team has been using and doing in the past. This keeps the difficulty high throughout the game which is always a key feature in strategy games. Of those enemy types are bosses that take up multiple tiles. These foes are a sight to behold and a bear to take down. These bosses are even randomly generated as the different limbs can be different kinds of parts (some of which will do different things). This makes for a higher replayability as encounters will be different in each playthrough. As you can imagine, I’m certain that Snapshot Games will have all kinds of updates and patches that add and refine the existing content as well before we even reach the DLC.
All of that said, probably the biggest difference is the story. Since the threat is no longer from above, Phoenix Point uses the mystery of the undiscovered reaches of the Earth to fill out the main threat to humanity. The idea of a mutating mist that corrupts both ocean life as well as humans means that what you encounter will always be different. I’m certain this idea will be expanded upon in other updates and DLC as well as the possibilities are endless. As you play the game, the threat heightens as well since the three factions all call for your help against the other factions. Since they don’t play well together, you will have an additional threat from the factions based upon your actions.
This all sounds very exciting, right? Well, despite the additions and the replayability, Phoenix Point kind of has a bit of a slow start. Since the framework of this game isn’t new, it still feels like a fancy XCOM mod or sequel. Even then, these differences don’t put on such a ‘WOW factor’ that it made me want to put down my favorite action or RPG game. The look and effects ingame are good but none really have that amazing quality that really excited me. Don’t get me wrong, the fun is definitely there. Still, Phoenix Point just seems to lack that ‘IT’ factor that places it in the ‘Game of the Year’ discussion. Instead, it is a good game that could evolve into greatness with some patches and content additions.
Until then, Phoenix Point will still find a more than welcome spot in any XCOM vets’ library.