Xenonauts 2 by Goldhawk Interactive is the upcoming sequel to the 2014 tactical turn-based strategy game, once again heavily inspired by the genre made popular by the XCOM saga. Going for a clean and straightforward approach where unnecessary graphical flourishes are replaced by effective and readable information, your war against the alien invasion is going to be a complex and punishing one.
Terror From the Sky
The preview build that we played introduced us to the alternate world of Xenonauts 2 in an intricate way, as our military organization tries to push back the global extraterrestrial threat. Outnumbered and outgunned, the war is going to require major focus and cooperation between the various sectors involved, as the starting weaponry and gear isn’t going to cut it in the long run.
You start by placing your first base, taking into consideration the radar range of this facility. Any UFOs coming into that area are potential prey for your interceptors, and this is the first step in your mission of protecting Earth. Before deploying the combat team on the crash site, you must wait for the radar to detect an UFO, and then you can launch the aircraft to shoot it down. There’s the option to auto-resolve the battle, but in the final build there will be an element of air combat tactics that we’re yet to learn about.
Whenever successful, you should be able to send a combat team for a dangerous tactical mission or accept the generous bounty from the government to leave it up to them; however, the latter will remove the crash site and any potential findings, both technological and anatomical, will be lost. This option is useful when you are waiting for a new batch of recruits to arrive, or for engineering to complete research on more advanced weapon types to ramp up your game. Maybe you are a little strapped on cash and could do with the check from the suits above.
With a squad of highly trained soldiers eager to dive into any mission, many of them are likely to succumb to a laser shot or two from their first alien encounters, the technology gap impossible to ignore. Casualties will be a thing, each fallen soldier neatly remembered in a memorial list of sorts, and each veteran earning a medal that boosts some of their traits. New recruits are called into action to replace the casualties, with varying statistics that include health, time units (your movement points), accuracy, and the like.
Tactical missions unfold exactly as you would expect from a classic XCOM-inspired game. The squad is deployed from the ship and each soldier has a limited number of time unit points per turn. These are used for all action types, from moving to shooting, vaulting, opening doors, crouching, and even looting corpses. One wrong move and you turn into a sitting duck, easy prey for the alien forces and the Cleaners, a mysterious agency with shady and deadly intentions that conspires against humanity.
Line of sight plays a major role in conflict, as you advance and check each corner, opening doors in the hopes of not coming face to face with a deadly alien. Crashing windows is a recurrent strategy, one that ends up being a tad clumsy as one soldier breaks a window right next to another, that a brother in arms shattered seconds ago; but in the end, this can be attributed to slightly distinct soldier paths. Being able to act on a unit while the current one is still moving is a nice touch, speeding up our execution whenever we want to.
To create a grittier battlefield, aspects such as friendly fire are part of it. Since shot accuracy is crucial and we don’t always have a clear line of fire, the occasional hit on a fellow soldier is bound to happen. The more traumatic side of conflict is also considered, with some soldiers prone to panicking, going berserk, or fleeing to the dropship, consequently wasting precious time unit points.
On the other hand, aliens aren’t just sitting around, waiting for you to show up. They actively scour the battlefield, use higher areas to their advantage, and search for soldiers or civilians who may be too dumb to flee. There were some weird AI actions, such as a friendly unit that broke a window to get inside the facility where several allied troops stood, then instantly jumped back again to return to the same location where it started its turn.
The squad isn’t just striving to take out aliens too; although that’s an important part of the deal, tactical missions often task you with other types of engagement. Recovering intel from computers or saving civilians from alien tubes are other objectives, and escaping to the dropship when in possession of the crucial items is your best bet, avoiding additional losses.
A successful mission results in recovered alien tech, something that your research team is bound to enjoy. Scientists will pick one of various options and after a few days of investigation, the outcome is often encouraging. From learning more about alien species from the corpses, to engineering some advanced weaponry and armor with alien tech, this is going to get your squad better prepared for a war that started uneven. However, new enemy foes will appear, with even more devastating weaponry and tactics, such as a creature with a camo ability.
Classic Alien Warfare
From this experience, it’s hard to say that Xenonauts 2 brings anything remarkably new or surprising; it feels like a good old take on the turn-based tactical genre, ticking all the boxes that are going to please fans, offering a solid gameplay loop where evolution does not equal a walk in the park. The management and tactical mechanics are well-rounded, perfectly complementary, and dropping into the bulk of the action can be a massive time-sink, as you carefully strategize and explore each unknown corner of the map. Hopefully some hints of awkward AI reactions are ironed out before launch, as every mistake in the battlefield is likely to result in death.
If you’re eager for a punishing tactical experience where death looms around every corner, even at the hands of a shortsighted fellow soldier, this is one to keep an eye out for – again emphasizing the tough challenge, as this isn’t one for the meek. Just as we would expect an alien invasion to be: ruthless, gritty, and tactically demanding.
MP1st was given access to a preview build of Xenonauts 2 for our hands-on session. Xenonauts 2 enters early access on July 18, 2023 for PC.