Review – Phoenix Point

From the original creators of the XCOM franchise, Phoenix Point is a brand new IP. Directed by the legend himself Julian Gollop, this is his grand return to the strategy genre.

It’s going to be impossible to not draw comparisons to recent Firaxis XCOM, so I’m not even going to resist. The comparisons are uncanny; almost every aspect of this game can be mistaken as a true to form XCOM game and that’s a good thing.  If you’ve played Enemy Unknown or its followup, you will know what to expect and this actually makes Phoenix Point much easier to get into. A great turn-based tactics game that wears its legacy on its sleeves, but also tries a few things to keep the genre moving forward with some mixed results.

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Enemy designs are unique.

Set in the future, Earth has been wiped out by a global infection of the Pandoravirus, which was discovered just as the ice caps started to melt due to global warming. You play as a leader in the Phoenix Project to repel the Pandoravirus and prevent humanity’s extinction.

To make things more difficult; three factions have emerged since the Pandorans and all have different goals. We’ve got the Synderion, who are aligned with creating a new utopia with a desire to prevent humanity’s past mistakes. New Jericho, who will destroy anyone who doesn’t align with their views. Then finally there is Disciplines of Anu, a religious order who welcome the virus and in many ways believe it’s key to humanity’s evolution. In gameplay each of these factions have their own weapons and armour that you can get hold of either by diplomacy or other means. It’s completely up to you who to side with, but it’s more than black and white. Humanity is near extinction and you can’t simply leave other factions to die.

Starting the game you will be dropped into the Geoscape. A world map where you will be doing all of your operations and making all of your decisions from here.  You will be managing everything from your resources to soldiers and relationships with the games other factions. It works rather well with an admittedly ugly UI that might seem a bit cluttered at first, but is relatively easy to get the hang of.

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Free aiming adds an additional layer of strategy.

When you are ready you can jump from node to node on the map to scan it and start missions. All whilst the Mist is starting to cover everything in red and the Pandoran infestation starts to take over more of the planet. Once the infection count reaches 100%, it’s game over. Completing missions and saving civilians will stop the infection from growing, whilst destroying nests can be risky but will lower the percentage. As you expand your reach more missions will open up and the harder the game will become.

The Pandoran threat will often attack outposts and faction settlements and it’s up to you if you want to defend them. Each attack is a potential blow to humanity. About 5-6 hours into the game I realised the importance of having multiple Manticore Jets to transport troops around. An attack started at a settlement that was just way too far away for me to get to in time. This is one of the things that Phoenix Point organically teaches you. As a whole, it does a decent job of teaching you about the micro-management features. Customising your soldiers is deep and rewarding, allowing you to use skills from other soldier classes and allowing you to have soldiers with a wider range of skills. Though the base building is disappointing in its simplicity.

Combat is a familiar exercise for any turn-based strategy player. You control a group of up to eight soldiers from an isometric view. Moving through the randomly generated grid based world and selecting your targets based on your soldiers positioning and line of sight. Phoenix Point evolves this a little bit with the ability to free aim and target particular body parts, with a circle that indicates where your shots will potentially land. It’s a neat twist on the percentage based accuracy. At first free aiming isn’t really important, but will quickly become a useful strategy, as you can disable certain enemy actions or destroy their weapons completely.

Even though all the pieces are there, I somehow couldn’t enjoy Phoenix Point consistently. Each of the games maps are randomly generated and all feel identical, whilst the overly repetitive missions can get tiresome during longer play sessions. Part of the problem is that everything that Phoenix Point does right, XCOM 2 does better. There’s still a very good foundation here and one that should hopefully improve over time, but right now, I can’t see myself playing any more.

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The set-up is interesting.

Phoenix Point is a little bit of a mixed bag visually with most of the tile sets looking dull and unimpressive with a few exceptions, namely in the faction specific tile sets. I was however a big fan of the stylish cutscenes with their unique art style, even if they were obviously like that to save on the budget. Also, the Pandoran infected enemies have this striking look that makes them stand out.

Sound on the other hand falls between bad and just mediorce, with everything sounding worse than it should. Weapons sound like they don’t have any real impact or power, whilst the lack of chatter just makes the missions feel dull. 

I wanted to like Phoenix Point more than I did. It’s still a very good game that has a few great ideas, but for me it doesn’t quite reach the bar set by XCOM 2. However, I really hope Phoenix Point is here to stay and grow.

 

Graphics: 7.0

Unique enemy designs and a decent variety in locations are pleasing but the overall quality can be lacking.

Gameplay: 8.0

Phoenix Point is turn-based goodness with strong ideas.

Sound: 5.5

Underwhelming sound design that should have been so much better.

Fun Factor: 6.5

A fun turn-based tactics game that took some risks, not all of which worked well.

Final Verdict: 7.0

Phoenix Point is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Phoenix Point was provided by the publisher.

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