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XCOM 2 review

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In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I discovered a tell.

Very occasionally, when you go to take a shot with one of your soldiers, you’re treated to a little cinematic camerawork. This being an XCOM game, half the time that means watching your rookie shoot through a wall, or point their gun in some impossible direction. But that doesn’t matter! If you see that extra bit of camerawork, you know you’ll hit your target. You know you’ll be doing damage. More than that, you know you’ve landed the kill as well. In a game of so very many uncertainties, such moments of guaranteed success are to be treasured.

XCOM 2 appears to offer the same thing, visual glitches and all. You’ll line up a shot with one of those dreaded 45 per cent chances to hit, and feel immediate relief as the camera pans round your soldier in slow motion. But here, in this game, that isn’t actually telling you anything at all. Despite the build up, your shot might go on to hit, kill, or completely miss its target. If it’s the latter, it’s a punchline that’s been more than three years in the making. This, it turns out, is a sequel that truly understands how people played its predecessor. XCOM has finally recognised its biggest problem: us.

This time around, Firaxis wants us to shine: to take risks, to react smartly but also swiftly – and sometimes, to crack terribly under pressure. The very best examples of this can be found in the way that players are encouraged to move. Whereas Enemy Unknown usually had us terrified to do anything other than tiptoe forwards and overwatch (an ability that prompts soldiers to shoot at enemies that appear during the alien’s turn), XCOM 2 thinks you should be a little more adventurous than that. For a start, most missions have some kind of timer to worry about. Rescue/retrieve/destroy the objective in a limited number of turns, or risk failing the mission and losing your reward. Harsher still are the missions that ask you to reach an extraction point with your team within that very same time limit, or watch as your soldiers are left behind. Yeah. I know. It’s brutal.