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Lord of Dread

Finished Xenonauts 1 - Here are my thoughts.

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Firstly, I just want to say thank you to Goldhawk for making this game. I want to make this one of my favourite franchises, and I love and respect the work and dedication needed to make this game happen. That being said, with my first and probably only completion coming a few days ago (despite being an original kickstarter backer), I feel a review may or may not be helpful, because I'm not so sure I'll be coming back for the sequel now.

This was my steam review:

' This is a very conditional recommendation.

If you found the rebooted XCOM games a bit dumbed down; the complete removal of any business sim elements, the 2 actions per turn thing, only one base with very limited strategic options, then Xenonauts might be for you.

It's basically the original X-COM UFO Defence/Enemy Unknown, but with less exploits, less bugs, and a fresh setting. It does this extremely well. It updates what needed to be updated, made the setting more grounded, has a good and modern UI and QoL features etc. When its firing on full cylinders, it really does scratch that classic strategy itch in a way most modern games don't come close to doing, because they are too scared to respect the player's intelligence and allow them to form their own strategies without being explicitly told how to do it first. The QoL features are fantastic, the medal system and constant stat upgrades independent of rank are great. On paper it does everything right, so why do I still feel somewhat underwhelmed?

A lot of this comes down to the nature of this game. This was a kickstarter that began life well before we knew an XCOM reboot was coming IIRC or at least before we knew XCOM would actually be decent. I was a backer from very early on. This game was the holy grail, something to carry the X-COM torch and be faithful to the original. It took me years to get through this game because I found it got repetitive (I'll come onto that), so by the time I finished it, I've played a lot of XCOM 1, 2 and Long war 2. This may colour my perception somewhat, but I think I still would have felt the same even if they didn't exist. The point is that the 'faults' of this game are exacerbated massively by XCOM's existence because of what XCOM got so right that Xenonauts doesn't.

This thing I speak of is presentation. It's by far the biggest fault of the game IMO but it was by design. Many kickstarters and open source X-COM like projects came and died over the years, this is one of the only ones that actually survived AFAIK. This is because they didn't over reach. It's all 2D sprite work not too disimilar from OG X-COM (obviously much higher quality and resolution). This allowed such a sprawling game to be accessible on many systems, but more importantly made it manageable for the devs and retained the spirit of the original. Which was by design. The thing is, its just very flat. I love the realistic aesthetic and weapons, love the setting, its all better than X-COM in that regard, but the animation is so lifeless, there's so little detail, you can't even tell your soldiers apart. Again, by design. But I feel like it needed to be more in that regard, and the devs seem to be aware of this judging by the sequel.

It's a modern version of a very old school game, done well. For the amount of time you play a game like this though, the flat presentation makes it get stale. Toward the end of the game I found myself avoiding ground missions because they take so long, play out pretty much the same every time (clearing ships gets to be a chore) and were kinda dull affairs once you've done a bunch of them. The other mission types werent so bad but they took even longer.

This game was great proof that gold hawk can make a game like this, but for the sequel I really hope they take some presentation queues from the new XCOM reboots. Don't dumb down or water down any of the old school game mechanics, build on it, jazz it up, give us more cinematic stuff, more personalised stuff etc. If Goldhawk can make a game as customisable, personalised and cinematic as XCOM but with the tactical and strategic depth of xenonauts, then that game will be legendary and able to directly compete with rebooted XCOM. Throw in mod support via steam workshop, a squad system like long war 2, a darkness system more like the original X-COM and some more horror/terror elements to make it creepy AF (something all the X-COM's had but is sorely missing from XCOM) and you would have something I could recommend to everyone with a brain.

As it stands though, I can't really recommend this one to anyone other than people who love the original X-COM game and wonder what a more modern version of that specific gameplay would be like.

Edit: after checking in on xenonauts 2 and seeing that either they are sticking to the same engine or using similar assets, its pretty clear that the level of cinematics and graphical fidelity I thought they were going for is absent although I coiuld have sworn there was an early mission showed off with something in 3d that looked like it was running on unreal. I could forgive that with one change; atmosphere. The bright clean colour palete should be left behind. A dark grungy colour palette  is the only way I can personally see this being redeemed. That hidden movement screen? Add some desperate wounded soldiers barely getting away from an unseen or barely seen monster. A lighting system (or fake it like in X-COM). Make alien noises more terrifying, make movements and speed unsettling, make soldiers verbally loose their . Bloodstains around the place. Mutilations lying around. Make the aliens menacing incomprehensible monsters rather than just enemy combatants. This franchise desperately needs something to elevate the presentation because if its more or less the same game but you can rotate the camera now, it saddens me to say it but I doubt I'll really be on board for that.'

 

I'll still obviously see how the game is when it lands, but after seeing some footage of a recent demo I just feel a bit sad.

 

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I didn't like this demo either, although I really like this game. In the demo, the soldiers were equipped with various types of weapons that are not useful in the early stages of the game. It is made on a map that has not been tested by players and contains bugs. This Demo does not reveal the potential of the whole game, so it is not worth evaluating the game only by this Demo. Wait for open testing and you will be pleasantly surprised.

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On 2/22/2021 at 4:59 PM, Lord of Dread said:

Edit: after checking in on xenonauts 2 and seeing that either they are sticking to the same engine or using similar assets, its pretty clear that the level of cinematics and graphical fidelity I thought they were going for is absent although I coiuld have sworn there was an early mission showed off with something in 3d that looked like it was running on unreal. I could forgive that with one change; atmosphere. The bright clean colour palete should be left behind. A dark grungy colour palette  is the only way I can personally see this being redeemed. That hidden movement screen? Add some desperate wounded soldiers barely getting away from an unseen or barely seen monster. A lighting system (or fake it like in X-COM). Make alien noises more terrifying, make movements and speed unsettling, make soldiers verbally loose their . Bloodstains around the place. Mutilations lying around. Make the aliens menacing incomprehensible monsters rather than just enemy combatants. This franchise desperately needs something to elevate the presentation because if its more or less the same game but you can rotate the camera now, it saddens me to say it but I doubt I'll really be on board for that.'

 

I'll still obviously see how the game is when it lands, but after seeing some footage of a recent demo I just feel a bit sad.

 

I am 100% behind this part... The bright color palette and lack of real time shadows despite using a 3D engine means that Xenonauts 2 currently feels and looks like a polished Xenonauts 1 mod.

It is really sad... because in its current stage Xenonauts 2 would have worked perhaps in 2016 at most. I mean the original fallout games look way more gory, realistic and with better lightning despite being 2D.

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