Back in February this year we reviewed XCOM 2 on PC, giving the game an 8.5 and calling it a solid sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown despite some technical issues. Fast forward to the present day and console gamers now have their chance to step back into the role of the commander and lead Earth’s resistance against our new alien masters. The uniquely named Blind Squirrel Entertainment have taken on the job of porting Firaxis’ original game. This is a job they are intimately familiar with, having done the same for the original XCOM, as well as a host of other titles. Our impressions of the PlayStation 4 version of XCOM2 aims to answer the question on console gamer’s lips; does the port live up to the original release, and have those niggling technical worries been ironed out?
Let’s get this out of the way first, I love to customize my soldiers. I’m not sure why, as this only increases the psychological torture I experience when they are ripped apart by aliens, but that’s how it is. The version of XCOM 2 that is under review here comes with the Anarchy’s Children, Shen’s Last Gift, and Alien Hunters DLC packs. I mention this because these packs only come with certain editions of the game, and add significant elements to the base game. These elements have informed my opinion on the game, so let’s begin with a breakdown of what adds what. Anarchy’s Children massively increases the customization options available, as you can see above, but has no effect on gameplay. Shen’s Last Gift adds in the Mech class and one of the more enjoyable story missions.
The Alien Hunters DLC is by far my least favorite addition. It adds in some new, unique, weapons and items as well as a back-referencing mission, which is fine. However, it also adds three rather powerful alien ‘rulers’ into the mix. These enemies are tough, creative, hard to combat, and will give experienced players a new challenge to dive into. My concern is that for new players, the early-game balance can be absolutely ruined by the random appearance of these brutes. It’s possible for these tank-like armored behemoths to show up when you have only a few soldiers and basic equipment and utterly devastate your squad.
There is no getting the drop on these rulers, either. They react to every move or action your soldiers make with a turn of their own. This wouldn’t be so bad if the designers hadn’t made the odd decision to include these enemies whether you enable the DLC story content or not. It would be wrong to be overly critical of this, however. One of the standout features of the XCOM series is it’s unpredictability, forcing you to overcome the various adversities it throws in your way, and this is just another example of that.
Overcoming adversity is one thing, but you shouldn’t have to overcome the rampant technical issues and bugs that come with this version of XCOM 2. These are less forgivable, especially when you consider that some of these issues were present in the original release of the game. Most of what I encountered are glitches rather than out-and-out bugs, though those are present too, but what is there is still prevalent enough to seriously get in the way of your enjoyment.
The first thing you will notice is the loading times, the endless loading times. Both dropping in and leaving a mission involves a loading screen that I frequently found myself waiting between 1-2 minutes for, and they occur frequently. In one particular 12 hour session, I spent at least an hour waiting for the game to load. While it starts out okay, this gets worse as the missions become longer and more complex.
Frame rate drops are also a frequent occurrence whenever terrain is deformed by explosives, or when enemy AI is making decisions. Outside of missions, you’ll see screen tearing, frame skips, and sound errors in cut-scenes. These minor issues don’t affect gameplay, and are fairly tolerable, but there’s worse too. The more significant bugs I encountered included turns ending but not switching to the enemy turn – forcing an autosave reload, in mission cut-scenes ending with a hung black screen (exiting to the PS4 menu and re-entering the game seems to solve this), and a bizarre bug where revived soldiers would stay in the death animation, causing all sorts of graphical errors when giving them orders.
I would hope that the most stand-out bugs can be patched out over time. Given the demands of the original PC title in terms of RAM usage and the fact these issues existed in the base game though, I would bet against the frame rate issues and loading times ever being significantly improved.
So you may be thinking at this point that the game is a lost cause, but that’s just not the case. The excellent turn-based strategy game still exists underneath these issues. XCOM 2 manages to provide a deeply tactical and strategic experience that is sorely lacking on consoles. For the emotional experience that comes from seeing the successes and failures of your soldiers and the emergent stories that come out in your missions, there’s nothing quite like XCOM.
The game itself shows a good level of progression from its predecessor, XCOM: Enemy Within. There are several minor tweaks and some major departures to the campaign mode that feel organic to the story and setting of the game. This time around, you’re leading a resistance, so you have to build up from a single initial starting point. Your base is mobile, but you have to physically move it to any continent where you want to perform missions, pick up supplies, recruit staff, and so on. The way this plays out will change how you manage time as a resource throughout the campaign.
Enemies are more varied, more capable, and smarter than before. There are a ton of interesting enemy designs, especially with the DLC packs installed. Another bonus is that these enemies are both tactically and visually distinct. This goes for XCOM‘s soldiers, equipment and customization options too. There’s more to the game than I’ve described here, the strong voice acting and sound design, enjoyable and challenging core campaign mechanics, hacking, stealth, and tough decisions mentioned in our PC review are still just as impressive on console.
As for how the console version handles, the control scheme has been redesigned well, mapping single button presses for things like overwatch and reload functions. Switching to hotspots like missions and resistance contacts on the world map only requires a simple press of a shoulder button, and the menus are clear and easy to navigate. It also retains the intuitive, but finicky, analog stick movement orders and area of effect aiming from the original reboot of the franchise.
Separate to the campaign mode is the game’s online multiplayer. In this mode; you’ll build squads, up to a point limit, from a pool of human and alien troops and face them off against other players. Your points are limited in ranked and quick matches, though you can set up custom matches if you want to go crazy, and mixing and matching the best squad and equipment to get the victory is it’s own kind of fun. Having said that, from my limited experience, the ranked lobby seems to be a lot more active than the quick lobby – which I sat in for 10 minutes without a game. Some of the graphical glitches, understandably, persist from the main game too. It’s a nice and functional addition which provides some needed variation on the base gameplay.
As it stands; XCOM 2 is the best tactical, turn-based, squad shooter, sci-fi strategy game on PS4. Right up there with … uh, nothing … anyway, moving on. Having said that, this port needs some serious attention before it will live up to its full potential. If you like XCOM and you only game on consoles, you will likely love this game despite its flaws. If you are prepared to put up with some frustration, you will be well rewarded for your patience. If you have the option of playing on PC though, for now, it seems to be the superior experience.
XCOM 2 was played on PlayStation 4 with a copy of the Digital Deluxe Edition provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One.