X-COM has mutated into something new
It’s a merging of ideas both old and new, to create something distinct
It’s a suicide mission, but not in the way I was hoping. I’m in control of four New Jericho soldiers who have been infected with an alien virus. They’re heading into battle one last time, on a mission to dispatch the mutants now occupying a New Jericho base. Our job is to secure the location and rescue any survivors. It’s not going well. PhoenixPoint is the next game from X-COM:UFODefense creator Julian Gollop. It’s a return to X-COM’s brand of turn-based tactics and high-level strategy. But this is an evolution of the genre, incorporating elements introduced by Firaxis’s recent XCOM series (the one without the hyphen). It’s a merging of ideas both old and new, to create something distinct, with its own quirks and complexities.
Take character movement. Visually, it’s similar to the recent XCOM games, with a blue area for where your soldier can move and take an action, and a larger, orange outline showing the zone you can relocate to at the cost of an action. But underneath this display is a system reminiscent of the original X-COM’s time units that offers more flexibility in your approach.
You can move incrementally, for instance. Where XCOM gives you one move order and one action per turn, PhoenixPoint lets you move one tile at a time, and still take an action. Also, your movement zones are different depending on which weapon you have equipped. Switching to a handgun will give you a larger movement radius than a heavier assault rifle. It’s a system that bridges the broad tactical interactions of the older X-COM with the less fiddly interaction and UI enhancements of the new XCOM.
What remains consistent—across X-COM, XCOM and PhoenixPoint— is the difficulty. Things start badly for me when mutated human-crab hybrids march up to my party, using massive shield claws to protect themselves from damage. PhoenixPoint features locational damage and armor, but my team is on a bridge, unable to effectively flank. When I finally dispatch the crabmen, an assault trooper is dead, and my sniper is injured.
At least I have a secret weapon in the form of my heavy assault trooper. He’s wearing a rocket booster that grants him improved movement, and lets him jump to high cover. I perch him on a tower, looking down on the mutants. I’m a genius.
Unfortunately, the mutants have some tricks of their own. And sending in a ginormous spider-crab lady with a ludicrous health pool is a better trick than anything I can produce. These boss mutants are individual characters, and they can follow you throughout your campaign. This one walks straight into the tower my heavy is camped in, demolishing it. He dies.
In addition to the battles, PhoenixPoint will also feature an X-COM style Geoscape strategy layer. This is where you’ll make high-level decisions for the Phoenix Project, as you attempt to overcome the mutant threat. You’ll use the Geoscape to hunt alien buildings and gather resources, but also seek out other factions. New Jericho, which I’m playing as in this demo, is one such faction—a militaristic competitor to the Phoenix Project.
Each faction has its own classes. Many of New Jericho’s traits, for instance, are focused on military tech. If you recruit a soldier for one of these factions, you can include that class into your own group.
My mission ends with my final trooper running from the boss into an ambush. It’s over, but, based on my doomed session, I’m eager to see more. PhoenixPoint is filled with ideas that offer a considered alternative to the recent XCOM games.
Snipers can target and disable specific body parts.
The Geoscape is where you plan future missions.