Phoenix Point, the spiritual successor to X-COM, is finally here – was it worth the wait? We played this PC-only game through the Epic store, for which it’ll be an exclusive for the duration of a year.
Let’s face this – this is an industry where “from the people behind so and so” is an often heard claim. It doesn’t always mean much because it could very well be a group of people who handled animation or sound engineering for a big game where they don’t actually have any experience directing the entire development of a game, but Phoenix Point was different. Julian Gollop was one of the driving forces behind the XCOM franchise, and although his current studio Snapshot Games has made other games before, this was the first one to be actively marketed as a spiritual successor to the legendary series (which now resides with 2K Games).
Phoenix Points trades in the alien invasion theme of the XCOM games, only it doesn’t really. There’s a virus of alien origins rampaging through the world, causing mutations on a massive scale and wiping out nearly all of humanity. So while you’re fighting creatures with origins on earth, they now come as freakish mutations and can have deadly claws or the supernatural ability to take control of the minds of your soldiers.
You’re leading a unit of the Phoenix Project, a former global organization that’s fallen into disorder after the cataclysmic events that took place. Broken up, only a few fragments remain, and they’ve chosen radically different approaches to dealing with the global threat that is facing them. There are three main ways of thinking in Phoenix Point, and you’ll find yourself aligning with them through your choices and actions. There’s the traditional military response, there’s the idea that humankind should assimilate with these aliens and absorb the powers of their deadly mist that’s covering the globe, and there’s a way of thinking that puts technology first. Familiar tropes that inevitably come into conflict with each other.
This, of course, happens in the narrative of Phoenix Point as well – putting a strain on your allegiance to one faction or even putting you on the frontline of a war between two of them. Stuck in the middle are the game’s “Havens”, the last remaining places where people can live safely. Discovering and reaching them is a crucial part of the game, which also gets you access to the resources you’ll need to keep upgrading and growing your unit. They are, however, also part of the geopolitical struggle between these Phoenix Point factions – and sacrifices can feel necessary as a result.
The narrative (and gameplay) grows more and more complex as the game goes on, as you’ll have multiple small teams to manage as they explore and encounter conflict that needs to be played out through mechanics that resemble what X-COM veterans are already familiar with. Taking cover and spending action points to move and shoot through a turn-based system are the basics of the game, but here too things get more complex as time goes on. Characters on your squad(s) can be individually upgraded with new weapons and abilities – some of which can come from research (or salvage work) through other factions of even the alien mist. This, alongside a very diverse (and constantly evolving) cast of enemies, creates a huge amount of diversity, complexity and challenge – one where you’re constantly managing multiple things at once.
But although the core mechanics for the game are truly excellent, it’s still rough around the edges. They got the game out just before the holidays, but there are a number of bugs that show us that the game needed a bit more development time. Some of these involve awkward camera angles that block your view, abilities not working when they should or mission triggers failing to activate. Nothing that a reload of a recent save didn’t fix, but frustrating nonetheless.
For me personally, this is a reason to wait a few weeks and pick things up again there, because underneath those bugs there’s a great game waiting for me – one that will receive a lot of post-launch content as well. But if you’re more tolerant of bugs and love games like X-COM then there’s no reason at all to wait any longer – Phoenix Point is here and it’s going to be excellent.