Xenonauts

So, time to use a weird analogy where I compare alien-fighting turn-based strategy games to cars.

The original X-COM is a quirky old British sports car. Yes, it’s unreliable and the dashboard looks like it was designed for some bizarre species, but it has an undeniable feeling of fun, with the strange suspension part of the thrill.

The new XCOM is a modern performance car. Still a premium, somewhat niche product, and definitely smoothed out compared to the old classic, but keeps enough of the “feel” to be both practical and exciting.

Xenonauts, the X-COM spiritual sequel, is an econobox without power windows. It’s still a car, and it’s ultimately filling the car roles, but it’s dull and tedious.

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Xenonauts ultimately isn’t a bad game, just as how a basic point-a-to-point-b econobox that’s reliable and has good enough cargo room and mileage ultimately isn’t a bad car. But it’s just… bland. I was “spoiled” by the new XCOM using the same basic concept in a “Streamlined” fashion. This is just the original X-COM with the worst excesses polished off.

There’s two problems with this mechanical approach. The first is that enough issues remain from the old X-COM-the two worst being garbage-tier rookies and a clunky “time units” system for determining what you can do in a turn-that the gameplay experience can drag. The second is that the very polish drags away a lot of the goofy charm of the original X-COM, where you start with rookies who exist as grenade tossers and stun-rod zappers and plan to lose half of them in every fight, and end with super-psychics who never have to leave their starting positions. Instead, it’s just-bland. Harder and blander.

And the visual design has to win some kind of award for being “bland”. It’s a combination of “as close as we can get to the original X-COM without legal trouble, but without anything silly” and “generic military base”. I generally don’t care about graphics, but this was still a big issue. The only good thing is the excellent music.

It’s playable, and something true X-COM style fans can enjoy as a part of the experience. But it’s just bland.

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