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legit1337

Xenonauts, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, A Final Review

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Hello everyone. Just a disclaimer, this post is going to be VERY long. It contains an in depth and lengthy review of every aspect of Xenonauts. If this does not interest you, stop reading now and save yourself the time.

Some of you already know me from previous threads. Whether you have agreed or disagreed with some of my arguments in the past, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading this post. What follows is my opinions on pretty much every detail of xenonauts. I haven't been around since the VERY beginning of Xenonauts development, but I've been a forum member for almost two years, and followed the game almost a year before that, take this how you will. After reading please feel free to post any comments you may have in this thread.

My opinions are broken down into three main categories:

The Good: The aspects of the game that I find superb.

The Bad: The aspects of the game that I feel could have been implemented better, but are not entirely without merit.

The Ugly: The aspects of the game that I feel are entirely unacceptable and without any sort of positive qualities.

Topics within the categories are in no particular order.

Without further delay, here is my thoughts on Xenonauts as a whole.

THE GOOD

-Weapon Balance

The weapons in Xenonauts are pretty balanced when weighed against each other. Every weapon has a clearly defined role, and all are useful in some way. The earlier weapons have more polish in this regard then some of the later ones, but that is to be expected when most of the playtesting was done in the early game.

-The Fidelity

The game looks like x-com. It feels like x-com. It plays like x-com. It takes the very essence of what x-com was as a game and attempts to improve on it with mixed results. What matters is the effort. This is a true spiritual successor, not a watered down genre-lite bastardization for the lowest-common-denominator masses, like every other game that claims to be "like x-com", including the reboot.

-Developer Feedback

Goldhawk cares, they really do. The developers talk openly with their fans on the forums, even sometimes going as far getting into arguments with them. This is a refreshing change of pace for those of us that are used to never seeing a single developer post on game forums, or cookie cutter responses carefully worded to be as vague as possible. Bravo.

-The AI

With a few exceptions, the AI for Xenonauts is absolutely incredible. Goldhawk's AI coder is amazing whoever he is. The computer responses to player actions match or BEAT even comparable AAA titles on the market.

-The Lore

The setting is interesting and the backstory is fairly well written. The large amount of info in the xenopedia on almost every aspect of the game is impressive. The alien aggressors feel properly 3 dimensional, and the pseudoscience that justifies the technology in the game is both comprehensible and somewhat plausible.

-Air Combat

The weakest point of the original x-com has been improved significantly. The air combat in Xenonauts is a fun minigame that adds greatly to the formula of the original game. It is simple, yet has depth and requires some thinking, but not too much that it overshadows other more important aspects of the game such as ground combat and base management.

THE BAD

-Mechanics That Are Poorly Fleshed Out

The medal system for starters. How about the country surrender mechanic? Fighting inside crashed/landed UFOs? What about alien armors? What do you mean aliens have infinite ammo and never have to reload? Some game mechanics feel oversimplified, or just plain unfinished. It is a shame, because as a gamer I see the potential for more complexity and depth that just did not materialize for various reasons. Some excusable, others not.

-The Atmosphere/Art Assets

While not terrible, the atmosphere generated by Xenonauts is firmly in the "meh" territory. I do not get the creepy, fatalistic vibe that I got from the original x-com, or the tense horror from terror from the deep. The musical scores are bland and unremarkable. The art style gets the job done, but does not wow me. Needs more faces for the soldiers please, I want to feel like I'm leading real people, not clones. I remember one playthrough where literally half of my team were dudes with the same face.

-Gameplay Pacing

Ground missions start to feel repetitive after awhile, unlike x-com where the ground game is always fresh no matter how long you play. The limited map pool of Xenonauts does not help this. I am constantly playing the same maps over and over again (some even back-to-back). I would have liked to have seen at least 4 times as many maps in the base game, preferably five or six. Yes I am serious. When you don't have a randomized map generator you sort of need a large map pool.

THE UGLY

-The Engine

Seriously. Absolute, utter garbage. It has been nothing but a problem since day 1. You can thank this steaming pile of crap for: wonky grenade throwing arcs, glass props not counting as cover until broken, hovering aliens, height not giving an advantage to shooting, prop issues, and so many other bugs that would be too numerous to list out. The developers have had to work around the engine the entire development cycle, and many of the bugs still currently in the game can be traced back to engine limitations and quirks.

-Cut Content

What happened to the flamethrower? Alien morale? Additional aircraft? A lot of promised features were not included in the final version of the game. Some were cut because they were clunky, or didn't fit the feel of the game, debateably a valid reason. Others however, like alien morale were left out because the devs didn't feel like balancing it. I understand that goldhawk is an "indie studio *tm", but no consumer wants to hear "Yea about that thing we promised you, we could put that into the product, but that sounds like a lot of work... so we are just going to leave it out". The one rule of owning a business is be VERY CAREFUL what you promise your customers. They expect you to follow through on it.

-The Bugs

Every piece of software has its bugs. No matter how careful Q/A is, they will miss something. This is understandable. Things get patched, but most times a few bugs make it into the release version, or a couple of minor issues are just left in the game because the trouble it would cause to fix them simply isn't worth the effort. What is not understandable however, is the fact that the "finished" version of Xenonauts is absolutely riddled with bugs. From small things like scrollbars not working, to larger ones such as vehicles respawning from the dead and UFOs only being able to fire one weapon at a time, Xenonauts has it all. The sheer amount of them is atrocious, even for a game published by a supposedly "indie" developer. Entire sections of menus in the game are completely nonfunctional (like the kill and mission counter for vehicles). For gods sake the game wasn't even beatable due to showstoppers until v1.04, FOUR release versions after the supposedly "finished" product. What is worse is the apparently lackadaisical view the developers seem to have about fixing these bugs now that the game is "released". Back in beta these bugs would have been squashed in no time, but now the the release version is out the emphasis seems to be to "make the game playable" and not much beyond that.

EDIT: Stopping here for now. Need to do other things. Will update the original post later.

EDIT2: Added more, will post more later.

Edited by legit1337

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Seems pretty aggressive, tone it down a bit and people will see this as some constrictive criticism instead of just ignoring your points.

Where? The only place where I get anything close to "agressive" is in "The Engine" and "The Bugs" entries. Even then, both the devs and pretty much all of the players completely agree with me about the engine, and are even more vehement in it's criticism then I was in my first post.

In none of my arguments do I curse or insult anyone, I just give my honest thoughts on certain aspects of the game, and the examples I bring up to support my points are all FACTUAL. This review is for people who want an unbiased opinion about the strength and weaknesses of Xenonauts as a game, I don't sugar coat any of my views. If you have a different opinion to mine on any of the above points, feel free to post and elaborate.

Edited by legit1337

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Seems pretty aggressive, tone it down a bit and people will see this as some constrictive criticism instead of just ignoring your points.

There's nothing wrong with this. He stated things he likes and dislikes, as well as thing he feels should have been addressed before release. He's not saying anything like "devs, your game is rubbish if it doesn't have xyz". This should be an example of how you post criticisms, if anything.

Every player hates the original programmer for the rubbish engine Xeno was built in, btw. So, I'm certain that everybody agrees with his view on the engine and would repeat his reasons word for word.

Edited by ViewThePhenom

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Pretty well thought out list, I think.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with Xenonauts. :)

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I thought it was fair. Sometimes criticisms, no matter how politely said, will always seem aggressive when written without the verbal option.

There are some weirdness` with the battle map. I must have blown up my own men several times because it`s very hard to tell if you have a clear throw and when you throw the nade lands at my men`s feet. I only every throw grenades when i have a clear space now. In this, an arrow system showing if my nade can actually make it past that wall would be helpful. I notice too that sometimes the wall does not show my men up or dropped items, even when up close- makes me want to turn the view, but I can`t.

He`s right about faces too, however, as for faces and maps there are great mods that extend these greatly, like SKITSO`S! Perhaps they will be incorporated in a patch as part of the game -they should be. I really hope they will be.

Love the jet-to- ufo take downs with the realistic comms, best of all the Xcoms especially the new one which had a very disasppointing boring mechanic.

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UFOs only being able to fire one weapon at a time.

For what it's worth, this is 'fixed' in the community edition build.

(Actually, as it turned out it was supposed to be a feature! That is, it was designed to avoid UFOs expending excessive amounts of ammunition on a target. Only, in practice, it meant that UFOs would reduce the intensity of their attack just when it would be most useful for them.)

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I think these are reasonable criticisms, backed up by plenty of evidence. legit, question for you. Has Xenonauts turned you off any further offerings from Goldhawk?

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EDIT - actually, no, I wrote a fairly annoyed post here but you just intended this post as a summary of the views you've held over the last two years and I shouldn't be getting annoyed over that.

I still totally disagree with you on the specifics of the last two points and I still think you are totally misrepresenting the facts around the minor issues you appear to have become fixated on, of course. But I can't be bothered to restate my arguments yet again (and you'd never change your mind on the lack of alien morale and the broken scrollbar / kill counters being utterly unforgivable crimes anyway, whatever the circumstances might be).

The majority of the post is perfectly valid positive and negative observations, though.

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I'm not even arguing that the game doesn't have bugs in it. You just really love banging your drum about the alien morale system and the scrollbar / kill counters not working, don't you? Does anyone else think they are major issues? Or is it still just you?

Alien morale would have been nice, but as far as scroll bar/kill counters go, I've never missed those to be honest...

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Seems pretty aggressive, tone it down a bit and people will see this as some constrictive criticism instead of just ignoring your points.

I agree that the "cut content" and "the bugs" section are pretty aggessive and not particularly objectively written. Otherwise overall decent review. (although to call it unbiased is silly, obviously it is based on your personal bias as all reviews are... that is not a bad thing though)..

EDIT - relates to original review, not the quote...just agreeing with the quote...

Edited by Russonc
typo fix

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My view of the alien morale system is it would be counter productive and I don't see it as important feature missing at all. As for the vehicle mission/kill counter, wasn't that addressed in X:CE? Though I do agree while I didn't have a big issue with it as I rarely used vehicles anyway, it was quite obvious in the release version.

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Aliens have no morale? Oh. That's a shame. I thought they did, and suppression was more effective after the previous one because morale didn't renegerate back, etc.

Really a shame.

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Suppression does work like that, it's a separate system to morale. Aliens just don't throw down their guns and run away if you shoot them or kill other aliens on the team.

Anyway, I've edited my previous post now because some of the anger was unwarranted.

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I think these are reasonable criticisms, backed up by plenty of evidence. legit, question for you. Has Xenonauts turned you off any further offerings from Goldhawk?

Not at all! Im preordering the next project if I am interested enough. The flaws xenonauts has are massively outweighed by its better points.

EDIT - actually, no, I wrote a fairly annoyed post here but you just intended this post as a summary of the views you've held over the last two years and I shouldn't be getting annoyed over that.

I still totally disagree with you on the specifics of the last two points and I still think you are totally misrepresenting the facts around the minor issues you appear to have become fixated on, of course. But I can't be bothered to restate my arguments yet again (and you'd never change your mind on the lack of alien morale and the broken scrollbar / kill counters being utterly unforgivable crimes anyway, whatever the circumstances might be).

The majority of the post is perfectly valid positive and negative observations, though.

Don't worry about it. I understand the game is your baby. Please dont take any of the last sections as personal insults, they are just how I feel as an customer, and an outsider to the game development process. My views very well could be totally baseless in this regard, but im formulating my opinion based on the information I have. I have the utmost respect for you personally, as well as your staff.

I agree that the "cut content" and "the bugs" section are pretty aggessive and not particularly objectively written. Otherwise overall decent review. (although to call it unbiased is silly, obviously it is based on your personal bias as all reviews are... that is not a bad thing though)..

Every single example I listed in support of my arguments is a fact. If you disagree with my interpretation or opinions of these facts, I would love to hear another opinion. Sorry but this is about is unbiased as opinion peices get.

Edited by legit1337

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Fair enough - I would just observe you can be a bit hyperbolic at times, which can be frustrating to read as a developer.

For instance, it was perfectly possible to complete the game prior to V1.07 unless you happened to damage the final door enough to render it inoperable. Lots of people completed the game at V1.0 and even before that.

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Really? Was there not a bug that made the game CTD if the ending conditions were met? Also, I remember seeing stuff about the alien leader being unkillable and other bugs.

Yes I realise I cant get a bit hyperbolic at times. Its just how I convey vehement opinion.

EDIT: I was mistaken, it was v1.04 that fixed the crash on victory screen, not v1.07, I got it mixed up with the fix to the doors. I will amend my first post.

Edited by legit1337

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I agree with the concepts of the points falling under "Ugly", although not entirely their contents.

Expectation management is a fickle thing, and quality management is a difficult process anywhere, in IT doubly so.

And yes, some of it could've been done better. But I'd like to take a minute to acknowledge that this is Goldhawk Interactive's first title, and as such is very much a learning process. I think the efforts that have gone into this game from Chris and the team have been nothing less than herculean. But it is something to consider for the next project.

It should also be noted that from the development side most of us finally took a bit of a break after the release.

I myself have been on a single week of holiday since I started working on Xenonauts.

This is one of the reasons why bugfixing appeared to slow down a bit after release 1.07.

Aside from that, most of what falls under "Bad" I see as personal preference. I personally really like the music (which given the hours spent listening to it is quite the accomplishment.), and same goes for the overall artstyle. Yes, the map pack could've been bigger, but I think we got a bit spoiled by Skitso's impressive work and help. The rest are things to consider for a potential X:II or for the community edition (on which some of us still occasionally work!).

And, obviously, my thanks for the high praise on the AI.

All in all, I like to thank you for voicing your opinion; now and in the past.

I myself prefer fans vocal rather than silent and have enjoyed reading the community's feedback on the forum and occasional PM.

While I didn't reply to all of them (or even frequently), do know that I (and more so Chris and the others) did read them.

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Now, if only you used your experience on creating another x-com game and not some random squad-based tactics... Aquanauts sounds like a good title...

It's just that while Xenonauts are good they still don't surpass the original game in all parts (in some parts it did, for example, i liked xenonauts setting better, cold war is better than random fictional 90s, air combat is much better, etc.). So the game that would be better than it would set new standarts of quality for many many years to come.

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-The Atmosphere/Art Assets

While not terrible, the atmosphere generated by Xenonauts is firmly in the "meh" territory. I do not get the creepy, fatalistic vibe that I got from the original x-com, or the tense horror from terror from the deep. The musical scores are bland and unremarkable. The art style gets the job done, but does not wow me. Needs more faces for the soldiers please, I want to feel like I'm leading real people, not clones. I remember one playthrough where literally half of my team were dudes with the same face..

I'm a little surprised by this comment. What were you expecting? In the OG you couldn't even make out faces because the resolution was so low. I'm not sure, given the scale, that much facial detail would even be possible in Xenonauts at least on the battlefield characters. The music was also incredibly simplistic in the OG due to limitations of hardware at the time. Comparatively, it's like some guy with one string bass vs. an entire symphony orchestra. I think the feeling of horror and dread may have been more visceral for you because you were younger and the screens were so murky that much was left to the imagination. Edited by StellarRat

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I'm a little surprised by this comment. What were you expecting? In the OG you couldn't even make out faces because the resolution was so low. I'm not sure, given the scale, that much facial detail would even be possible in Xenonauts at least on the battlefield characters. The music was also incredibly simplistic in the OG due to limitations of hardware at the time. Comparatively, it's like some guy with one string bass vs. an entire symphony orchestra. I think the feeling of horror and dread may have been more visceral for you because you were younger and the screens were so murky that much was left to the imagination.

On your two points.

I first played x-com ufo defense when I was 19. I would honestly say the 8 bit synthesized music of that game conveyed the atmosphere better than the music of xenonauts.

On your second point, even as old as xcom was, it still had multiple faces for soldiers, albeit only a few. As a modern title, I expect xenonauts to surpass this quite handily, and it really doesnt. There is only a handful of soldier faces that are really used.

Edited by legit1337

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As always some interesting points legit.

Also as usual I don't necessarily agree with all of them but well put and thanks for posting them up for people to discuss.

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I'll be honest, I think the music in the OG is fantastic. At one point, I got into the habit of playing the geoscape music on loop while doing other stuff.

That's not to say that I have a problem with the music in Xenonauts, and I actually think it's a better fit overall. But I wouldn't say there's anything memorable about it.

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Personally, I think the amount and severity of bugs in this game on release are about on par with several recent AAA releases... but that's not exactly saying much. :V

I absolutely loved the game, but also think there's a lot of things that were done poorly or could have been done better and made the game a lot more awesome (things definitely get repetitious and bland, and I know I was personally looking forward to a bit more mission variety to shake things up like the escort/abduction missions that were discussed at one point), but a lot of that is why I'm really looking forward to Goldhawk's next game, where they take the team they've built and the lessons they've learned and apply them from day one. :D

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