Editor’s Note: It’s definitely worth mentioning that I performed this review using a PS4 copy of the game. All of my criticisms and difficulties are potentially a result of platform, as I haven’t played this particular entry on PC.
The XCOM franchise is one of the most beloved across any genre of video game. Spanning decades, it’s unique twist on strategy, action, and unit-management have been hallmarks of the series. With the exception of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, each game has a strong focus on grid based movement and ordering your troops into tactically superior formations. But how does this latest entry into a storied lineage stack up? Unfortunately, not so well.
The development team behind this game are also the same minds that are responsible for the Civilization series of games, which is another long beloved and long lived series of games. That kind of pedigree doesn’t come easily, and XCOM fans are no exception; this series has an incredibly devoted following.
I’ve played my previous forays into the XCOM universe have been via my gaming PC, so everything was set to Ultra and, at the time, was very much a bleeding edge machine. So, I guess it should come as no surprise that my expectations for the console version were much higher than perhaps they should’ve been. But we’ll get into that; let’s first discuss the mechanics and setting of the game.
The main premise of an XCOM is as follows: Alien forces threaten to enslave or destroy earth and it’s up to you, as the Commander, to stop them. You do this by developing a relatively small unit of top-tier soldiers with which you engage the alien menace. Troops can be recruited, which you’ll do often as death can be a relatively common occurrence, depending on your level of skill and attention when playing through the campaign.
Additionally, your base has a number of facilities that you can use to develop equipment, research alien tech and corpses, and upgrade existing loadouts for your troops. This bit of orchestration is the single most important thing that will guide you to success; having that extra sturdy body armor or improved weapon means that you’ll gain an edge in basically every encounter. If you fail to upgrade your equipment at every opportunity, you probably won’t fair very well in liberating Earth.
The overworld of the game itself takes the form of a giant map that you view from the Bridge of your mobile fortress, and you can choose when, where and how to intercept threats provided to you from global intelligence and rebellion networks. This requires you to reach out to cells of rebels located around the world, and choosing to ignore this vital support network often makes it impossible to move forward. You’ll need all the help you can get to achieve your goals and return the Earth to humans.
Perhaps the largest source of frustration and one of the other hallmarks of an XCOM game is the absurd adherence to pure RNG. No matter how solid the chance to hit is, you can always, always miss. Even at 100%. What do the devs have to say about that?
I can appreciate their sense of humor, and I understand the system at play here, but it’s annoying nearly to the point of obnoxious.
Having owned a high-end PC for a long time, I can definitely understand that they will outperform consoles at almost any turn. However, if you endeavor to bring a game like this to consoles, then you must practice the diligence required to ensure that it runs properly on the new hardware. In my experience, this simply wasn’t the case.
From nearly constant instances of screen tearing, to sub 30 FPS performance and heavy pixelation, playing this game was an exercise in patience. I’ve played the XCOM games of the past and I’m familiar with what they can achieve. The core systems at work here are as great as they’ve ever been, perhaps even better in many cases. Everything plays precisely as it should with regards to controls and mechanics. Why, then, do my characters insist on clipping their weapons through entirely solid objects? Why do they run unhindered through certain environment objects, and get caught by Overwatch on things that absolutely should provide cover? Why is the chase camera for moving cover-to-cover so jarring? The list goes on, but suffice to say the issue here is performance. Visually the game isn’t anything to write home about, and this severely impacts my opinion of it.
If I were to suspend my judgment and further it based solely on mechanics and story, this game would easily score a 9 or better (if I used a scoring system). However, given the poor to middling performance of this game, coupled with the sloppy execution of certain systems, my opinion of this game isn’t very high.
Having said that, I will end on this note. If you have a PC, I would recommend that you play this and earlier XCOM games as soon as you can; you’ll not regret the purchase and it’s some of the most fun you can have in a tactical setting. If you’re on PS4, however, go ahead and give this a miss. If there is some kind of patch in the future that fixes these glaring issues, then I will update this page accordingly.