I'm pretty bad at XCOM, even though I bought a PS3 partially because XCOM: EU was the current free PS Plus game of that month and my current PC was incapable of playing the game. XCOM's newer titles encapsulate so many great things I love to see in tactical games: cover fire, overwatch, classes of soldiers, heartpounding permadeath, stealth segments, and blowing up buildings just to get to your adversaries.
From a gameplay perspective, XCOM is my dream date--even if it brings a bouquet of tough-as-nails challenges and anxious failstates with it. One thing I really hated about the previous installment was how annoying it was to build up your base and maintain approval of all those whiny countries. With EU/EW, you could easily get to a point halfway where you know you're completely fucked, and heading into a very unwinnable in-game year of strife. With XCOM 2, these logjams and more have been rendered into more agreeable terms: a singular doomsday counter that can be continuously brought down, and can still be pushed back at the brink of Armageddon. XCOM 2 basically makes it possible to reach even the endgame state faster if you know what to do--and have the skill to pilot a team of suicidal fuckers into the fire.
XCOM 2 goes about its gameplay a bit differently for one reason: the aliens have already won. Humanity, for once, has become the aggressor, the terrorist, the resistance. Missions are more about invasions and stealthy recons as opposed to area defense or patrols. The turf belongs to the x-rays now, and you'll often be pressed to quickly take down a target or disable a thing before the enemy sends in an insurmountable fleet of backup. Even in normal VIP rescues or base infiltrations, the aliens will call down for support a few turns in advance to warn you to get your ass back to evac. Unlike the previous outing, you can't just turtle with overwatch forever; you'll have to haul out and take insane risks to win the day.
Instead of catering to needy countries all day, you'll be piloting your mobile fortress aroudn the globe gathering Intel for contacts, supplies for monies, and taking various missions which range from retaliation strikes to full-blown blacksite destruction. As the game goes on, a doomsday scenario called the Advent Project will gain pips on its meter, but you'll have constant chances to subtract from the countdown level and hold it off as you continue storyline-driven tasks. This is far more relaxed than the previous game's fail state, although it's still a stressful value to keep track of.
The typical classes like "grenadier" or "sniper" have been redone into broader roles that actually give you a few new options for character growth. You could easily take the Sharpshooter class into typical sniper territory, or go the gunslinger route for free pistol takedowns or standoffs. You can turn the Ranger into a lithe executioner with an uber powerful sword attack, or a stealth-driven shotgun flanker. I also love the new Specialist drone driver, who can heal from a distance, shield comrades, and deliver guaranteed shock damage from afar. There's also the semi-hidden Psi Ops class, which is basically "Mewtwo with a rifle."
I could go on about other little improvements and character options this new XCOM provides, but if you've seen the previous game then you already have a good sense of how the baseline will be with this one. The real kicker is how open XCOM 2 is for modding and editing, which has made all the difference in my playthrough. Not only can you import tons of great premade soldiers into the character pool (as well as create your own), but tinkering with things like the Advent clock's threshold or the amount of troops you can bring on missions is remarkably fun. I've enjoyed my time with this iteration of XCOM moreso purely because I can relax the failstate the clock or bring 10 fully loaded squaddies into a fiery fray. It's not for everyone, but the ability to morph the rules to be easier or harder to your heart's content and develop easy edits that Steam can subscribe to is wonderful. It makes sense that this is currently only a PC release, at least for me; I can't imagine going back to playing with every cosmetic or hard-coded element strictly on the default. And, I won't lie--the bigger squad numbers and longer Advent calendar (pun intended) make for a better experience for me. I'm sure if the opposite is your cup of tea, it's just as easy to change througH either the Workshop options or the easy .ini edits.
XCOM 2 isn't without its flaws, though. Aside from the natural "that's XCOM, baby" hard luck chances of fucking up in combat, the overall performance of the game can sometimes suffer. I'm running on moderate settings and I usually get about 4o FPS, but sometimes things will chug at 20FPS if there's a shitload of flames and particles exploding around. It's not incredibly bad for me, though--it'd be more of an issue if this wasn't a tactical strategy game, and this is coming from someone who thought 25 FPS for Witcher 3 on PS4 was the worst thing imaginable. There are also moments where the animation will fuck up a bit, freeze for a few seconds to register, or offer baffling pauses between attacks for the sake of nothing. These bugs didn't happen at a horribly consistent rate during my first playthrough, though--and I have to admit that the game runs much better now that some patches have been pushed through. There's also a "Zip Mode" to hasten things up if you're getting impatient in a big firefight.
In terms of physics, I'm still confused about how many times I've been able to shoot through smaller walls or corners, or get grappled by an Enemy from a weird angle. The cover and construction of most objects stays consistent, but there have always been very strange moments wherein I can shoot through a ceiling to get an enemy. Maybe that's intended with a magnet gun; who knows.
Despite the performance problems here and there, XCOM 2 has been a huge step up from the initial reboot of EU/EW. Turtle gameplay has been mostly replaced with frenetic rushdowns, boorish upkeep for 15 countries is swapped with a "manage at your own leisure/danger" armageddon countdown, and the overall map diversity has greatly improved. I suppose it helps that it's also a bit easier for me since I'm not the best at constant micromanagement--having a few more squaddies available definitely helps things feel less stressful, though the challenge and rate of enemy reinforcements always keeps your nerves shot. As the invading force here, it's always going to be a slightly uphill battle, especially against blacksite bases and installations.
I especially have loved the new and improved customization for soldiers, allowing me to add everything from Wolverine and Geralt to Deadpool and Tommy Wiseau to my character pool. The best thing about this is thanks to a recent patch that allows you to only draw recruits from this pool (until it runs out, at which point default randoms would start appearing), allowing you to wage your own kind of war with whatever weirdos you dreamed up. It's within this fun dollhouse option that makes me want to leap back into XCOM2 again immediately after finishing it.
Having beaten XCOM2 for the first time, my opinion on it remains the same as it was even 30 hours or so in: it's a majestic work of tactical strategy, still the top of its class when it comes to this type of grid-based combat. It wasn't always the smoothest ride, and the difficulty can still quash you--but the customization, mods, and overall ease of choice you're going to get in XCOM2 has ensured it can truly work for everyone. That is a rare and a commendable thing, even when the dirt and grime of certain performance and RNG issues threaten to tarnish the luster. There's something for everybody, even in a world of totalitarian alien overlords. See you for the 2016 election!
SUPERHOT, in a few ways, reminds me of dearly departed P.T.--it started as a small yet fascinating alpha level concept that held infinite promise, if given the chance to accentuate on its style and substance. Unlike the unfortunate end to the best Playable Trailer of all time, SUPERHOT went on to garner a generous Kickstarter cycle and eventually see a full release. The game focuses on a kind of bullettime premise: nothing moves unless you do, effectively turning each scenario into a kind of sadistic John Woo puzzle. With everything stemming from this solitary yet unique take on slo-mo action, the game manages to bring forth an intensely satisfying experience and subvert expectation, all at the speed of snail.
From the second SUPERHOT boots up, it presents itself as part of an odd metagame; you're on a crappy computer interface, complete with whirring and clacking drivers, miscellaneous apps and blips stuffed into a few folders, and even a primitive "hacker's channel" that looks like it was pulled from the 90s. The main game begins once you have a faux-chat with one of your "friends," who patches you into a super-secret .exe called Superhot. From there, you are beamed into a wild mix of Videodrome, VR, Matrix effects, and possible cybercrime. The overall story, while nothing completely groundbreaking, is incredibly entertaining for how it makes you feel like you're playing something forbidden. More than once, SUPERHOT will poke and prod at your immersion to ensure you don't forget that this is a game within a game computer interface.
Although you're probably familiar with how bullet-time works thanks to landmark games like Max Payne, the first-person gameplay of SUPERHOT has more in common with Hotline Miami--if Hotline Miami only let you see what was in front of you, and the concept of time was stretched to a crawl. Moving slowly and deliberately enables you to see muzzle flashes at their base instant, dodge the red-accented bullet trails, and predict trajectory of both the glassy Red enemies and their weapons. Time only moves as fast as you do, promoting that patience isn't just a virtue--it's your means for survival. However, going the route of daredevil--especially in time trials--is valid, providing that your swifter punctuated moments can be backed up with a bullet. Faster actions like jumping or throwing objects can be useful, and it's especially cool how everything you can utilize is outlined in black as opposed to the crimson hues of incoming bullets and enemies against the icy white backgrounds. There's no other way to describe throwing a pool ball at a shotgun goon, distracting him long enough to skirt across the bar to slice him with a katana while easily dodging an auto rifle's salvo in time to impale him on the thrown sword other than "fucking awesome." The engine allows for so many solutions just based off the simple "hit, pick up, throw, move, jump" ethos, and the ease of access ensures you'll be disarming and destroying Red troopers in no time.
You'll need to master your powers quickly, as the 30-odd levels in the main story will take you to some snazzy setpieces and hardcore situations. One of my favorites in particular was a short yet bitterly sweet stage wherein you spawn in a cramped elevator with three guns pointed at your head. Even if you get past the goons, the elevator dings open, and a man with a shotgun is waiting to spray you with a cone of pellets. Another was a recreation of the foyer battle from Matrix Reloaded, complete with sword baddies. You're going to notice some elaborate homages to cinema, and more than a bit of inspiration from Cronenberg classic Videodrome. After each massacre, the scene replays at normal speed to show you just how incredible your run truly was. Even nicer is the option to save a replay and upload it to a dedicated offsite known as Killstagram, enabling you to share your wildest runs with others.
After the psychotic 2 to 3 hour storyline has finished, Endless Mode, Challenge, and Freeplay for Story unlock. Endless is just that; fight impossible odds for as long as you can across a variety of arenas. Challenge Mode is a bit more fun, giving you modifiers across a huge set of missions. Can you complete story mode while just being able to use the katana? How about only melee, or at only regular speed? The lifeblood of SH lies within continuously challenging yourself with speed runs, crazier stunts, and new ways to tackle tasks you probably saw were improbable.
It's difficult to quantify why I felt SUPERHOT was so crisp, complete, and excellent even when I was just an hour into the game. It's an experience trimmed free of bloat and excess fat, presenting a lean and limber fight while throwing in a fun metatextual package around the product. It's not very often that the content for something is JUST right without wearing out its welcome or leaving you wanting more. In the case of SUPERHOT, I do actually want more, and I expect the continued challenges I unlock plus the free updates the developers have promised will continue to satiate me for a decent roll of time. In the same way people felt about tiny yet illustrious jewels like Hotline Miami, Gone Home, or Frog Fractions, SUPERHOT is a stellar example of marrying style and substance in an especially deadly and addictive way. It's one of those instances wherein you remember that this medium is quite young, and can still hold very pleasant surprises.
Amazing and topical!