As Time Goes By – Phoenix Point

An unfortunate trend in this day and age is the release of broken and buggy games. It seems there isn’t a month that goes by without at least one anticipated title being released in a busted state. But all is not lost and with the wonder of the internet, a great game is often only some time and a patch away. This is where “As Time Goes By” comes in. We look at these once broken games a few months (or years) on and let you know if they are now worth your time, helping you decide once and for all if the game is finally something to be purchased or a title to be forgotten forever.

As Time Goes By - Phoenix Point

Xcom. It is perhaps the defining title for turn-based strategic combat games and with good reason. Throughout its history, it has provided players with the best the genre has to offer, capturing thousands of hours from strategic gamers everywhere. I am one of those gamers that have been sucked into its addictive gameplay, dedicating many many hours of my time to conquering the alien menace.  But with the Xcom team at Firaxis currently working on Marvel’s Midnight Sons, I am pretty sure it is going to be a while before we see Xcom 3. So with that in mind, I went looking for something to fill my need for turn-based shenanigans. Enter Phoenix Point, a game that takes on the might of Xcom with more than a few aces up its sleeve. 

For those that don’t know Phoenix Point has one big bonus when it comes to competing with 2K’s Xcom. It was developed by a team led by Jullian Gollop, one of the masterminds behind the original mid-90s Xcom titles. You can see Jullian’s pedigree behind every little detail in the game too. It is important to note Phoenix Point isn’t content in simply being an Xcom clone. It wants to innovate and move the genre forward. This desire for innovation, along with the fact that it was a kickstarted title with a small budget, led to an initial release that was a little unpolished and scattered. The core gameplay was there, but there were certain things that needed some extra time in the oven. Now with the release of the Behemoth Edition, those elements have gotten the extra time and I am pleased to say the game has reached its full potential. 

The biggest changes implemented to the turn-based formula come about in combat with a couple of additions that really mix things up. The first of those is the free aim option. This allows players to manually aim their shots at a certain body part on the targeted alien. Players can use this to shoot around obstacles, shields and cover as well as cripple limbs and destroy alien weapons. This precision aiming then leads into the next shakeup, stacking damage. Many of the enemies in Phoenix Point have huge health bars and initially seem impossible to take down. To combat this, focusing fire on different body parts can cause bleeding, which then can be stacked by doing the same again on a different body part. This means the alien takes damage every turn, quickly whittling away their health bar. It is another layer of strategy that helps Phoenix Point stand apart from Xcom.

But what have been the big improvements since the initial release? Well first off everything is much more stable. Upon its initial release, there were quite a few bugs and quirks that needed ironing out. Crashes, graphical pop-in and mission bugs were common but thankfully that is all now a thing of the past. In fact, the game looks much better all-round, with everything having been given an extra spit shine in recent patches. I still did come across the (very) occasional animation glitch, but to be fair it was no more than what can be found in just about any game these days. 

Since the game came out, it has had a steady flow of DLC and that has all been bundled into one handy pack with the release of the Behemoth edition on consoles. This DLC is all worthwhile, adding a host of new enemies, mission types and weaponry to proceedings. The only issue I can think of here is for first-timers all of this additional content (which is seamlessly integrated into the main campaign) is incredibly daunting. It was very similar in Xcom 2 with the War of the Chosen expansion. These additional bits and pieces are intended for seasoned professionals, not bright-eyed rookies and could scare people off. Luckily you can turn them all off and just play the base game for your first time through, avoiding the confusion in the process. 

In the end, Phoenix Point still isn’t quite as good as Xcom 2, but then it was never going to be. Built on what I imagine was a tiny fraction of Xcom’s budget, Phoenix Point still manages to improve and evolve the traditional combat of the genre and only falls down in areas like presentation and customisation. That said, in my humble opinion, Phoenix Point is easily in second spot on the list of best turn-based strategy combat games available today and a couple of years of updates and additions have only further cemented that. Phoenix Point is the perfect salve for the wound that is waiting for Xcom 3 and is sure to keep strategy gamers engaged for dozens of hours. What’s more, the game is available on both PC and Xbox Gamepass so it should now have access to a much larger audience. If you have a hankering for that Xcom buzz but have had enough of 2K’s offering, Phoenix Point is the perfect remedy. 

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