New game is familiar, yet different

By Josh Hawkins // (TNS)

Platform: Microsoft Studios, macOS, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Snapshot Games
Developer: Snapshot Games
Rating: E, for Everyone

Upon the surface, it’s clear that Phoenix Point is based heavily off the formula that Jullian Gollop helped to create in the original XCOM series from the 1990s. However, time has been the development team’s ally here, and as you dig deeper into the game, the new concepts and ideas that really help set Phoenix Point apart from other XCOM-likes starts to show.

You’ll still find the same juicy, strategic gameplay that has always been such a vital part of the genre. However, on top of this you’ll find new mechanics, like the ability to aim freely at your enemies, and even destructible environments that allow you to change up the terrain if needed to get to a hard-hitting enemy.

It’s this ability to manually aim that really helps Phoenix Point shine, though. Being able to target an enemy’s weapon arm, effectively removing their weapon if the hits are successful, really helps change things up from other games utilizing the XCOM formula. It’s a very welcome change, and while the hit detection can be a bit off sometimes, it felt good most of the time that I used it.

Think ahead, then think ahead even further

When it comes to strategy, the XCOM games have always been great about making players think ahead and try to deliberate what move their opponents are going to make next. With Phoenix Point, this need to think ahead has become even more vital. The insane variety of enemy types and mutations make each turn a constant train of suspense that often left me feeling exhausted and ready for a break after each match.

Everything you see in the world is important in Phoenix Point. Your current height, the height of enemies, the amount of cover you have, etc. It all plays a massive part in how successful your hits will be, and even how exposed your squad will be as you make your way through each level. It’s a great little tactical addition that we’ve seen expressed in previous XCOM formula games, but Phoenix Point really seems to nail it on the head.

Of course, all this greatness does come with some caveats. Hitboxes can be extremely wonky at times, with soldiers often shooting into metal railings or even boxes or other cover when they clearly should be shooting past it.

The future of humanity rests in your hands …

Perhaps one of my favorite things about Phoenix Point, though, is the game’s loose ties to Lovecraftian horror. In Phoenix Point, a group of mutated creatures have emerged from the ocean, threatening the very existence of humanity as an entity. It’s a nice change from the standard aliens that we’ve seen in recent XCOM experiences, and a nice throwback to the XCOM games of old.

A triumphant successor to the XCOM series

All in all, Phoenix Point is a triumphant return to the XCOM formula for Julian Gollop, and one of the best strategy games we’ve seen come out of the XCOM-like genre in a while. If you’re been looking for a new turn-based strategy game to sink your teeth into, then you’ll find plenty of meat waiting for you with Phoenix Point. Once the developers iron out the bugs, and sort through some of the other issues, Phoenix Point will be everything that you could ever want out of a strategy game.

Phoenix Point expands upon the XCOM formula brilliantly, offering a fantastic campaign that leaves you twisting and turning. Despite a bit of a slog through the middle section of the game, there’s a lot to love here, and Snapshot Games has every right to be proud of the work that they’ve put in to bring this wonderful end-of-the-year delight to life.