The original X-COM series (Enemy Unknown, Terror from the Deep, and even Apocalypse) were among the most-immersive, deeply-strategic, and thematically-beautiful games of the 1990s. 2012’s reboot was fun, but it failed to capture the sophistication and complexity of the original: it lacked the ability to perform micro-customisation upon your soldiers (Want a strong guy whose job is just to carry ammo for everybody else? That’s fine!), bases (“Science” base at a secret location, surrounded by interceptor bases? No problem!), or mission strategy (Plan to fight a retreat back to the dropship, dragging the bodies of the stunned aliens with you for later research, losing the battle but advancing the war? Go on then!). And it suffered, for it.
Xenonauts, however, takes the genre back where it belongs: gritty, strategic, and with every game completely unique. More-impressively, it does so in a world that’s subtly-different from that of the original series: starting deep in the Cold War, and with aliens whose motivation and strategy is innovative and new, even to fans of the original series.
It’s not perfect: you’ll read science reports that make reference to weapons you haven’t yet invented, because you’re doing things in the “wrong” order… but at least the game lets you do things in the order that makes most-sense to you! I’d have enjoyed being able to use alien psionics against them, as you can in the original series (and even in the reboot), but (unless I simply missed out on the appropriate research opportunities), that’s sadly absent. And there are a few bugs, although I didn’t come across any game-breaking ones.
But what Xenonauts is is one of the best strategy games I’ve seen in recent years. Whether you loved the original X-COM series, or the reboot, or didn’t play either… it’s got something for you to enjoy. Go play it, Commander.