Xenonauts 2 Review – UFO Defense Rebooted

Xenonauts 2 Review

Somewhere in the multiverse, is a reality where your favorite game was made by a completely different developer. The changes might be subtle or dramatic, but this game took a different path to release. It feels different, plays different. Would you welcome the opportunity or is your favorite perfect as it is? Xenonauts 2 lets you live in that parallel world, and it’s not a bad place to land!

A History of Invasions

XCOM 2 came out in 2016. It’s closer to its 10th birthday than its first. And the XCOM 2 you have sitting in your Steam library is a sequel to the XCOM reboot, which came out in 2012. That reboot retooled and streamlined X-COM: UFO Defense, which first saw release in 1994. I played quite a bit of original X-COM. I’m not ready to declare the original better than the very playable reboot, but it has a certain complexity that’s been lost in modern gaming.

Enter: Xenonauts 2. Which is of course a sequel to Xenonauts, which came out in 2014. The point of Xenonauts was to recapture the parts of X-COM that were cut in the reboot. That means more base-building, equipment management, and fighter jet dogfights. The first Xenonauts rescued all that cut content, but there was one way it could not compete with reboot XCOM: the interface. The UI in the first Xenonauts is (marginally) better than what we were cooking up in 1994, but that’s a pretty tough sell.

Overhauled In Drydock

So how does the sequel stack up? Beautifully! (At least, in this regard). Xenonauts 2 is easy to play. Hell, it’s easy to get lost in, making sure your soldier have just the right robot support and weapons loadouts. This isn’t accomplished with graphical horsepower and gorgeous information. Xenonauts 2 has a crisp clean look that’s easy to parse, easy to play.

Here is an example of a subtle yet game changing feature: you can preview your shots. XCOM 2 will give you a percentage number, but if you say, position yourself against a wall at a lower elevation, your soldier may not have line of sight. Xenonauts 2 lets you hold shift, plot your soldier’s route step by step, and look at a shot preview in their ending spot. Every obstacle, including your other soldiers, are highlighted. Little icons explain each object and how they are effecting your aim. The same goes for weapon range- the target line turns from green to red as it gets farther out from its target.

Could you imagine anything so simple? It makes a huge difference. Less guesswork means more fun, and also more guilt when one of your beloved guys is perma-killed. Of course, it’s hard to get as invested in your Xenonauts soldiers as you do with XCOM. I have over a hundred mods installed, lots of them cosmetic, giving me options to design little outfits for every one of my soldiers. I give them all names. In a campaign in XCOM 2, I acutely feel each and every death.

The Usual Goon Squad

Xenonauts 2 lets you rename your soldiers. But you cannot change what they look like. You can’t change their country of origin, or their voice. I didn’t anticipate missing those customization options, but the personal touch does wonders for player investment.

On the flip side, Xenonauts 2 has destructible environments. Sure you could blow a hole in a wall. But you can also order your guys to fire blindly at a wall, hoping to catch a bad guy on the other end. Even if you miss, you can now use the bullet holes to peep what may be lurking in the next room. Or you can blow up enough load-bearing terrain to bring your foes crashing down. The destructible environment is definitely the coolest and most modern-feeling feature.

The Truth Is Out There

But then, you’ll be blowing up the same maps over and over again. There are minor changes, but you will basically be doing the same missions in the same towns and office buildings and military facilities. If you plan to play the campaign over and over, you’ll even have the enemy placement memorized. In a procedural generated story like this, the repeated elements can feel like a grind.

Even coming short of perfection, you nerds are going to love Xenonauts 2. It lacks the bombast and superpowers of reboot-era XCOM, but it more than compensates with logistical complexity. It may not be sexy, but Xenonauts 2 is a well-designed strategy game, thoughtfully made by a team who knows the genre. And if you are a youngster who missed the 90s? Here’s an approachable piece of video game history given form. Figuring out how to run an old DOS game is a headache. Xenonauts 2 in out and ready for your orders commander.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***

The Good

  • Granular strategy
  • Old-school attention to detail
  • Modern polish

The Bad

  • Repetitive maps
  • Not many customization options