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Phoenix Point

Posted by GG Goblin On December - 17 - 2019

And they came from out of the sea.

Any fan of strategy games will have heard of the XCOM games, and most of those fans will have played them. The XCOM games by Firaxis are among the best strategy titles available on PC, and have even transitioned successfully over to console, which is no mean feat for a strategy game. However, the games that we now know as XCOM started out some time ago under the watchful eyes of Julian Gollop. XCOM and XCOM 2 have nothing to do with Gollop, other than being the evolution of those early ideas, but that doesn’t mean that Gollop left behind the XCOM ideas. Snapshot Games, Gollop’s development company, launched a KickStarter campaign for a new game that would further evolve the XCOM-style strategy which, unsurprisingly, was incredibly successful. This leads now to the game, Phoenix Point, being on the shelves of the Epic Games Store. Forget about aliens, it’s the fish we have to worry about.


Phoenix Point does a lot of things right, which is no real surprise considering the many similarities between this and the excellent XCOM 2. One of the things that Phoenix Point does really well is weave a story. While XCOM was all about the alien invasion, Phoenix Point keeps the threat much closer to home. Global warming has lead to permafrost being somewhat less permanent, which has lead to the Pandoravirus being unleashed and spreading throughout the world’s oceans. The Pandoravirus firstly compels humans to walk into the ocean, at which point it forces them to undergo strange and horrifying mutations, later having them return from the ocean to fight the remaining humans, of which there are not many. The initial outbreak of the virus has decimated the planet and left only a few havens for survivors and three factions vying for power and survival. Then there is the Phoenix Project, an organisation that has recently fallen on hard times but still wants to stand strong and defeat this Lovecraftian threat from the sea. So now, with the virus spreading across land through a red mist in an attempt to wipe out humanity once and for all and finally claim the planet, the Phoenix Project will have to ally with some, if not all, of the other factions and fight back.

The story here is interesting, and only gets more interesting as the game progresses and the player researches the enemy, the other factions, and even the history of their own organisation. The other three factions very much fall into obvious moulds, with one faction being very much against the mutant invaders, one faction happy to live alongside them, and the final faction pretty much wanting to become them. The player will find that these three factions will often disagree and even become hostile with each other, and helping one faction could lead to falling out of favour with another. The factions are a balancing act and it would be very easy to end up at war with at least one of the factions. Because of their different ideologies, each faction will offer something different to the player, along with all of the resources and new recruits that the Phoenix Project may need. Players will be aided in their research by the friendly factions, leading to new equipment and the like. For example, being allied with New Jericho can lead to some very nice futuristic weapons, while the Disciples of Anu can open the joys of mutating your own troops. It really does come down to the player and the direction they want to take their forces in.


But then, the player doesn’t have to try and play nice with the other factions. Starting from the Phoenix Point base, the player can scan the area using satellite uplinks to find points of interest or settlements, along with enemy encounters. The factions can throw up various missions for the player and completing them can lead to an improvement in their relationship. But they are not required, and the player can always steal tech from a faction they are not getting on with if they choose, although encounters against faction opponents will be that bit more difficult than regular encounters.

All of this takes place on an impressive world map, and the player will over time come across new bases that they can build up as they see fit. The actual base building is quite simple, with various rooms to provide different benefits, such as satellite uplinks to expand the search area, labs for research or med bays for treating injured soldiers. There are resources to think about in Phoenix Point, and balancing those can be as tricky as balancing the faction relationships. Also, there is more limitation on the new recruits than the XCOM games, leading to much more care needing to be taken as permadeath is still a thing. There is nothing worse than losing a well developed agent and having to field an undermanned squad.


Which brings us to the combat. The management side of the game has a few quirks but will mostly be familiar to veterans of the genre. The same can be said for the turn-based combat which again carries over quite a few mechanics, while throwing in the odd new idea. Taking turns, finding cover, assigning soldiers to overwatch, all of this remains the same. However, each soldier now has multiple action points and different actions will cost a different amount. This gives rise to more tactical freedom, as a soldier can pop out of cover, take a shot, and then return to cover in one turn. The cover is also different in that it is much less defined, forcing players to be even more careful with their soldier placement. The biggest change comes from the free aim system. This puts the shot in the first-person view and allows the player to pick off specific areas of an enemy, potentially removing their ability to move or return fire. This also allows the player to fire at places where they think the enemy is, or into cover that could be destroyed. The downside is that the enemy also has this ability. Throw in an expanded inventory system, the chance for any soldier to use any weapon but with a disadvantage if they don’t have proficiency, and vehicles that can be used in tactical combat, and you have some really nice new ideas on a proven formula.

Compared with the launch of XCOM 2, Phoenix Point has arrived on our PCs with relatively few problems. Despite this, the game doesn’t feel as polished as its inspiration. Visually, the game does what it needs to do, but is nothing special. The game seems to run very smoothly and has far less by way of bugs or glitches than many PC games.


Phoenix Point is a very well made game, and an excellent example of the turn-based strategy genre, which is no real surprise considering how similar the game is to XCOM 2. However, look close enough and there are plenty of changes that have been made to the formula, and most of those changes are for the better. Right now, the game feels less polished, but is still great to play. XCOM fans should stop looking to the skies and start looking to the oceans, while also spending far too much time playing Phoenix Point.




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