A strange mutation is affecting the ecosystem. Strange monsters arise from the depths and, little by little, the problem is reaching a global scale. In this XCOM-style game, the problem does not come from outer space, but from the deepest waters. Phoenix Point analysis.
As I was playing Phoenix Point, I didn’t believe what was happening. I did not understand how this great approach that was so refreshing and profound was, little by little, losing the majesty as the hours passed. Phoenix Point collects the foundations of the popular XCOM of 2012 and is also created by Jullian Gollop himself, author of the original game of 94 and here known as UFO: Enemy Unknown. But, despite the great letter of introduction, the final result is a good attempt, less intense and intuitive than it seems at first.
The best way to explain what I’ve seen at Phoenix Point is with the popular Magic card games: The Gathering and Hearthstone. At first, everything seemed to point to this being the hardcore version of an XCOM. Snapshot Games brings great ideas. Not only the monsters mutated by a change in the environment pose a threat, but humanity itself needs to define the future of the species and, therefore, has been divided into three factions with conflicting interests. Some want extreme order, like Nueva Jericó, while Synedrion seeks to abandon the old formulas and merge high technology with radical environmentalism. Others, like the Disciples of Anu, they take refuge in new religions, worshiping an alien god. The approach is more than attractive, adding also small decisions that define the synergy with each of these factions.
Snapshot Games brings great ideas.
Not only that, in its playable facet, it has great ideas. The classic and useful function of Guard, which allows counterattacking any enemy that gets too close, here needs to be done through a cone of vision, so you have to be more specific with the place you want to watch. Soldiers can be injured in multiple ways, too. You can shoot and be shot in limbs, head, and torso, with very different effects such as being stunned, bleeding or directly, unable to take a weapon. There are vehicles in combat and you can get on them.
The shifts are more complex, with four actions that can be distributed as we want, allowing more complex decisions beyond moving and firing. The aim is free, to be able to choose which area of the enemy’s body we want to punish depending on the weapon we have, avoiding shields and hard areas in the process. We even have to use our aim to eliminate an enemy bug that, if you embrace it, has one of our allies. Sounds good, right? It doesn’t sound good, it sounds awesome. The ideas of Phoenix Point bring the same complexity that the Magic were to Hearthstone. What is the problem, then? That the game has a lack of polishing, leveling, and presentation that detracts from all these good features.
The factions are very wasted. It is difficult to maintain good continuity and progression in campaigns of approximately 20 hours, while the decisions we have to make end up being too Manichean, without being able to correctly monitor our affiliation with each of them or benefit organically from their technologies. The game, despite the many tutorials, wreaks havoc to teach you some of the principles of these factions and you end up having to learn the rest through trial and error that would not be a problem if it were not so little stimulating. The menus do not help, with a poor presentation and that hinder very simple options, while the construction of the base begins in a very archaic way, with a very poor menu, which is not until the most advanced moments in which we are expanding our Phoenix Points throughout the map, where it becomes useful to pay attention to it. Somehow, Phoenix Point manages to create very striking concepts and present them in the least attractive way possible.
Terror of the depths
But even with these unpleasant surprises, Phoenix Point would be somewhat more enjoyable if all those great ideas he presented had been executed correctly on the battlefield. In the fray, we have one of lime and one of sand. Physics fail, either due to slight movements of the illogical animations or unforeseen events on stage. At close range, your weapon goes through an opponent and shoots through it. The vehicle can be achieved very early in the adventure and is able to unbalance the first fights by itself since it is a living tank that fires rockets. When the mission is to rescue civilians, the vehicle directly breaks the challenge, since you just have to make them enter under your breastplate and cross the stage breaking everything in our path until you reach the extraction point.
The free aiming, however, is the magic of this game. Once you begin to understand it – which, again, the tutorial does not help to do – you discover the many possibilities it has. Not only is it about aiming at the head and avoiding the enemy’s armor, but you can use a large number of strategic options as appropriate. You can play as XCOM and look for the flank, but it also opens up the possibility of hitting an enemy through a building through small open spaces. You can also shoot the heavy weapon of an opponent, which leaves him completely incapacitated, while some of these have special properties which should be deactivated. The newts, for example, carry a camouflage device and help disable it to prevent them from hiding after the first attack. To the terrible sirens, a truly fearsome bug capable of mentally controlling your allies, with a lot of life and glued, it is convenient to shoot them in the head to eliminate their mental power.
Free aiming is also the best way to see the physics of the game. Although the whole scenario seems to be made of cardboard, it is surprising how many resources you can use in your favor thanks to this function. From shooting the explosive classic near an enemy to breaking the wall of a building to create a new access point, it is very striking all that these destructible scenarios can give, even if they are not many times that you can really take advantage. In general, battles offer more possibilities than an XCOM, but in turn, they may even seem less tense. And it is difficult to explain why until you play a few hours since it is a cluster of small things, ranging from bugs and visual problems to alack of balance between the fights, with some really easy enemies and others that at times seem almost indestructible. In the end, one ends his games with the strange feeling that there is a lot of potential here, but that, even with more options available, the intensity to which we are accustomed in the genre has not been achieved.
Technically, Phoenix Point complies both visually and additively, with procedurally generated scenarios and with enough variety depending on the environment and the faction we visit on land. Of course, the game comes with numerous technical problems that denote a lack of dangerous polishing. In some moments I have had problems with the units and their behavior in combat, while there are also other types of bugs that generate situations that may require a previous charge. Speaking of loads, on a traditional hard drive, some of them are also long. Very long.
Phoenix Point meets both the visual and the auditory
Phoenix Point has had a great idea. Take the XCOM experience to more complex and deep terrain. But it is clear that the Snapshot Games team has played with a limited budget, which has not allowed it to execute some of them as they were raised on the paper. I hope, however, that with a little more polishing and future deliveries they can take this project to a better port because this is an alternative and more intricate course than that of Firaxis’s work is the perfect alternative and I want to see more of this aspect. Every fan of turn-based strategy and the classic franchise should take a look at Phoenix Point, since here lies the formula to keep moving forward.
Phoenix Point is a very good vision of the XCOM-style turn-based strategy, which deepens its possibilities thanks to free targeting, different factions and more tactical creativity in the fighting. All this, unfortunately, is weighed down by a less deep structure than it seems in some areas, not very intuitive and with less intensity in the fighting.
- Deeper and more complex than an XCOM
- Very interesting ideas, such as free targeting and physical fighting
- The different factions represent an attractive playing field
- A very poor execution, with multiple bugs and errors
- Very unintuitive, despite the many tutorials, there is a lot that you have to learn “by bad”
- Despite its depth, the fighting is not as intense as we might expect