Reviews: Xenonauts

Great, at least at first...

Xenonauts is, at first glance, a faithful reproduction of the original X-Com, with enough unique features to stand on its own merits. My first playthrough was great fun, and I'd recommend Xenonauts to anyone who wants about twenty hours worth of nostalgic X-Com squad-based warfare with all the little issues that plagued the first game carefully ironed out.

However, then I started a new game on Veteran and started noticing the problems. The first one is that the game lacks variety. There are only a few maps that you'll see many, many times during a prolonged game, and there simply isn't enough to differentiate the aliens besides unique sprites and basic special abilities like 'regenerates' or 'psionics'.

Speaking of psionics, humans can't use them any longer. The only thing you can do is train Bravery (the hardest stat in the game to raise) and hope the guy with the rocket launcher doesn't suddenly go feral on you. There are also only six weapon types, ordered into four tiers of advancement. The only difference between tiers is damage, nothing else. In X-Com, Lasers had infinite ammunition, but were inferior in terms of raw power to plasma weapons. Not so here, it's just better stats and a new sprite. Meanwhile, awesome weapons like the Blaster Launcher and are gone completely. Apart from a few new armor options and the addition of a riot shield for entry teams, Xenonauts is flatly inferior to X-Com in terms of weapon and item variety.

Another problem the game has is its difficulty. I first played the game on Easy, which was exactly that. Then I restarted on Veteran, and suddenly the game was extremely challenging. The problem was it was challenging for all the wrong reasons. For starters, aliens don't get much smarter, they just get cheaper. As the game progresses, every enemy gets tougher, and I mean a LOT tougher. By the mid-point, two point-blank blasts from the plasma carbine were required to kill the game's equivalent to Sectoids, while my own troops (Majors and Colonels I might add) were in near-endgame armor and still dying in one or two hits from basic enemy weapons. Enemies were also insultingly accurate, landing perfect shots from halfway across the map. This is plain bad design, and made the later missions feel like slogging through quicksand. In X-Com, even a raw recruit could potentially kill Mutons in a single shot if they were very lucky. In Xenonauts, that simply doesn't happen.

In conclusion, Xenonauts is a decent remake that falls apart when played at a certain level. My initial playthrough was well worth the 15$ I paid on Go G, but on the second one I began to see the flaws. The game has an almost perfect interface that allows you to plan your turns and manage your TU's much better than in X-Com, but the mechanics underpinning it all are badly in need of expansion and refinement. Overall, I'd give it a 6 out of 10; a good effort, but the flaws severely affect the overall quality of the product.
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