Phoenix Point review: More Enemy Unknown than XCOM 2
Phoenix Point feels like the sequel we never got for the original UFO: Enemy Unknown experience, bringing with it a host of upgrades and tweaks.
And I know what you’re thinking, surely XCOM 2 is the sequel we got and everyone is very happy with?
While XCOM 2 has the namesake and is a great game in its own right, Phoenix Point treads the path that UFO: Enemy Unknown started back in 1994.
The slow-burn of building a base, exploring the map and beating difficult missions is what makes Phoenix Point tick.
Perhaps the only thing missing is the sheer brute factor and the ton of weaponry layering that made Enemy Unknown such an unforgiving, yet rewarding experience.
There’s still plenty here for turn-based fans to enjoy but there’s certainly room for more to make it better.
As with UFO: Enemy Unknown, Phoenix Point is an organisation that has become the last line of defence for humanity.
As the Commander of this outfit, you will need to rebuild the organisation, slowly spreading your influence across the globe.
This is done by assembling teams of soldiers, who battle the enemy through both optional and story mission events.
Gamers will need to master two different modes; the Geoscape world map and the battle screen.
The World map is where you maintain and retake bases across the globe, each location requiring labs for research and barracks for soldiers.
They will need to be powered and new structures built if you are to keep up with your rivals.
Battle Monsters, unlock research and build new weapons until you can throw enough shrimp on the barbie to win. It’s a compelling formula that fans will understand.
But for those newcomers out there, the game doesn’t provide much in the way of instructions past the tutorial.
You will need to find out for yourself how to get things working in many areas, which may prove frustrating for some.
But making your first game a test-run should make it possible to get a lot further when round two comes calling.
You will get plenty of time to work out which Pandorans are the most deadly, with plenty of early missions available.
While doing so, you will face-off against an ever-growing threat, with a Doomsday Clock telling you how many more per cent you can go before the Earth is lost.
The stories are different but Pheonix Point follows the familiar trope of an external threat transforming the world and humanity into slaves, or sometimes worse.
Instead of looking up to the stars, you must watch the coasts of the world’s ocean for the Pandoravirus, which looks set to engulf all.
Your main enemies are humans and animals that have been transformed and twisted into monsters that come in a variety of challenging forms.
Some can turn invisible, while others are brutes that can protect themselves with shields and shoot from afar.
You will spend the early part of the game facing off against a combination of around five types, which slowly expands as you move further through the story.
And whilst in Enemy Unknown you stood alone, backed by the governments of the world, Phoenix Point has a number of other human factions.
This feels like a natural evolution from EU, providing new allies and enemies to fight, over the vicious crab-people.
New Jericho is looking to purify the world from the virus, the Synedrion can coexist, and the Disciples of Anu have something a lot more controversial in mind.
You must win support from these different factions, upgrading your relationship as the game progresses.
The big incentive behind this is that your allies will open up new research paths for you to explore, something that will prove essential.
Each faction has settlements all across the world and you can gain favour by completing missions for them, or lose it by raiding them.
Your human rivals can be your most challenging for a lot of the game and pulling off the perfect heist is no mean feat.
It’s well worth exploring this part of the game thoroughly purely based on it being the newest addition.
The reason I keep talking about UFO: Enemy Unknown so much is because Phoenix Point perfectly mirrors the gameplay and rhythm.
You must capture enemies to complete important research projects and you will have to destroy enemy bases around the world to help stem their flow.
You also have to work against the clock and make sure you don’t fall behind, or risk never being able to overcome future obstacles.
And there’s no reason to be shy over why the games are so similar as they have both been created by the same person, Julian Gollop.
Phoenix Point is the spiritual successor to EU and if that isn’t something that you think will interest you, you can probably skip it.
But for those who are happy with the old-school take on turn-based battles, this should be your cup of tea. The combat itself takes a little getting used to but should be easy enough to follow after your first few hours with the game.
Your early game arsenal is limited to boring bullets and explosions, meaning you have to be ready to take a few punches. Keeping your squad healthy and levelling them up to unlock new skills is a big part of Phoenix Point and means you need to keep them alive.
While Phoenix Point isn’t quite as brutal as the games that came before it, there’s still plenty of opportunities for missions to go bad.
Your squad only has a certain amount of moves they can perform during a round, meaning you have to choose whether to take risks or not. Moving from cover to cover is important but you can still find yourself on the receiving end of a few nasty surprises.
Each character has a level of willpower, a secondary points system, which can unlock new abilities. Using these will spend willpower and if things get a little too hot, your squad could start to panic.
Losing soldiers to panic or death can be a catastrophe and it can all boil down to your own luck. Seeing your squad taking shots and missing a target is annoying and can leave you on the receiving end of some harsh outcomes.
Your squad will be made up of four classes – heavy, assault, sniper, and melee, and they will slowly get better as they gain more experience.
The combat maps have different layouts for the most part, although I did start to run into a few I had played before. Players have a lot of freedom to decide how they will go about winning the missions, with high vantage points and heavy fire usually a winning combo.
While the design feels a little lacklustre, being able to blow up nearly everything object on the map makes up for it. Something that Enemy Unknown will remember is when they discovered they could bring a tank onto the battlefield.
This is an option in Phoenix Point, although you will need to remove half your squad to make way for the Elite unit. It will also suck some of the EXP that could be going to your soldiers, so it’s another exercise in player choice that proves successful.
While this all sounds very familiar, there have been a few changes made to combat that some fans will find welcome news.
Phoenix Point relies on a system less about percentage chance and more about bullet trajectories. With two rings governing your chances, there’s a lot less chance of missing every shot you take.
However, stats and range still come into play and you could still fluff your shot if these aren’t taken into consideration.
The other new thing is being able to zoom in and hit a precise piece of the enemy. This is a great new options and makes it possible to disable weapons and shields when taking on tougher units.
Progressing through the game and raiding bases will bring you into combat with much tougher foes, and this is when being able to pick your target proves exciting. There’s a lot of pleasure to be taken from destroying a weapon being used on you, and this becomes very important as you take on enemies with stronger armour.
But there are also problems within the Phoenix Point progression system that can grind you down. The early game has a successful mix of tough and easy encounters, during which time you learn the ropes.
Being surprised by new Pandorans and scenarios keeps things fresh, and your outlook on the Geoscape is easy to keep an eye on. But heading into the mid-game, Phoenix Point starts to show some issues that will can lead to problems.
There comes a point where you stop discovering new creatures and scenarios and start taking on the same beasts, equipped with stronger armour. While these enemies still come in a variety of different loadouts, this part of the game can feel played out. Then there’s the issue with the Geoscape, which slowly become more and more confusing as time goes on.
It fills up with bases and missions, with the layout keeping tabs on your main objectives. But it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed by all the information and the amount of side-mission choice you have.
It boils down to choosing what you focus on, rather than having a calm handle on everything that’s going on. Heading further towards the finale, and the rewards start to flow back in, with your squad now kitted with everything they need for the final push.
Phoenix Point has a lot more in common with the original Enemy Unknown game then it does with XCOM 2, and that fact will have a large impact on how much you enjoy it.
The combat feels rewarding due to the number of options that are open to you and your squad but there are times when armour and tougher enemies make the game feel unbalanced.
The map design can sometimes look a little dreary but offers a ton of options when it comes to setting up your team and blowing up your enemies. The Geoscape slowly becomes more confusing, especially when heading towards the end, with an increase in certain mission making things feel a little grindy.
There are rewards to be found in Phoenix Point and the game will continue to see more content and balance changes made by the team. And with big releases being planned for consoles in the future, there’s good reason to believe that things will change.
REVIEW SCORE – 3.5
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