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Hands On Phoenix Point – The Next Game From X-COM's Creator

On point

Crowdfunding is always a bit of a crapshoot. Some absolute delights have been born from Kickstarter and its peers, but so many others have ended up as terrible piles of horse manure – cough Mighty No. 9 cough. It’s with those thoughts, I tentatively approached Phoenix Point, an XCOM style turn based strategy brought to us by the creator of the original X-COM (when it still had a hyphen), Julian Gollop.

Delving into the third backer beta, you start on the Geoscape, which is a map overview of the planet and various locations you can visit. From your starting location, your ship, the Manticore, is able to fly to any of the unknown locations within reach in a bid to explore, gather materials or get involved with local skirmishes.

Some of the locations will be home to various factions who you can maintain a positive or negative status with, depending whether or not you decide to help them. As you travel to between places, your remaining fuel is represented by a ring that slowly closes in on your ship, the further you travel. If locations are a little out of reach you can actually build fuel supply points for a cost, enabling you to explore further without the need to return to base. You do have to be careful though, as running out of fuel will cost you more resources to get you back up and running again.

Eventually, your travels will bring you across scavenging sites or zones under attack that need your help. It’s here that you can bring your trusty troopers into the fray and help repel the alien forces, either to save the locals, or to grab every last supply possible for yourself. One feature I found that was pretty neat, was that some settlements were actually able to defend themselves and didn’t always require you to come to the rescue. It’s left up to your judgment.

The maps will feel instantly familiar to fans of the XCOM series, with your heroes starting out surrounded by alien-filled fog of war. Each character has their own class and loadout, giving you versatility on the battlefield as you go about destroying alien scum. I used a guy with an assault rifle, a support specialist who could lay down turrets, a heavy machine gunner, and a sniper, each with fairly simple skills to learn.

Each turn, characters have actions points represented as a percentage, which are eaten away as you perform the various actions. In XCOM games, you are always able to move and perform an action, or use a double move to cover twice the distance. In Phoenix Point, the amount of action points you have remaining depends on where you decide to move to, meaning you can actually make some pretty tight decisions about how to spend your turn. A typical turn could see you spend 25% to move to nearby cover, 50% to take a shot at an enemy and another 25% to move again into cover.

Another refreshing addition is the ability to zoom in and target specific parts, as in Fallout’s VATS system. Each body part you hover across will tell you how much likely damage you will do and how much is possible, once again adding to the tight decision making that you will need to make. An alien may look impossible to hit, but a quick zoom could reveal some golden opportunities you might have missed. For instance, I often found aliens sticking shields up, blocking any possible damage, but once I’d zoomed in I was actually able to clip the alien’s back leg, destroying it and its chance of appearing in the sequel. You can of course just opt for standard shots without zooming in if you want to get through those turns quicker, but I found more success and greater damage output when I focused my attacks.

How you do in battle will determine what happens with the procedurally generated alien menace. When the aliens win battles, they may mutate to use captured weapons, but if they are consistently getting defeated, they will evolved into a greater threat to counter your tactics. It should keep the game fresh as you work your way towards the end goal.

Now, I love XCOM and I love strategy games so, to me, this should be an instant day one purchase. It’s difficult right now to be too harsh a critic – the game is in super early access after all – but I couldn’t help but think that I’d rather just be playing XCOM for a more finished and polished experience. Phoenix Point still needs a few more features to be added and more time in the oven, but there’s enough interesting ingredients to pique my interest. Given the time that it needs, Phoenix Point could be a classic turn-based strategy game.

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