I Was Wrong About Xenonauts
By Brad Jones
For me, X-COM: UFO Defense is one of the best video games ever made. It’s one of the few games that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone—even though I know that it’s many archaic intricacies are likely to put off most new players. Unfortunately, it plays like a game that was made for an audience of hardcore PC gamers in 1994, and it is quite the bitter pill to swallow today as a result.
However, the enduring cult following of X-COM meant that it wasn’t going to languish as a beloved but almost forgotten franchise forever. Several projects hoping to continue the game’s legacy began popping up a few years ago. Of course, you’ll have heard of the blockbuster adaptation by Firaxis, the developers behind Civilization. Their XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a great game in its own right, bringing the spirit of the original kicking and screaming into the present day. It was widely praised, with good reason, but necessary changes were made that meant it wasn’t the same X-COM that many remembered, even if it was something great—but it wasn’t the only effort to bring back X-COM.
Xenonauts has been, from the beginning of its development in 2009, a faithful renewal of the original X-COM experience. However, I have to confess that in all the excitement over Enemy Unknown, I wrote off Xenonauts. There were several contributing factor. Early builds of Xenonauts looked a little bit ramshackle to me. I had been disappointed by an iOS effort called Aliens vs. Humans that seemed to be a similar effort to renew X-COM. The Firaxis game seemed as much as I could ask for. However, having now played Xenonauts, I can honestly say that I am delighted to have been so wrong about this game. It is a really remarkable effort.
Booting up Xenonauts for the first time, I was gob smacked by the production values. X-COM had its campy charms, but every inch of Xenonauts is decked out with beautiful art and smart design choices. The sometimes impenetrable UI of the original is a sticking point, and the team behind Xenonauts should be applauded for somehow transforming it into a smooth and intuitive experience. A prime example of this is the option to reserve some of your action points for a turn in order to be able to fire off a shot during the enemy’s movements. In the original, this was controlled by a series of buttons with icons on them that could sort of, kind of, nearly get across the different types of shots should you be in possession of the Rosetta Stone. In Xenonauts there is a neat slider with the names of each shot on separate notches. It’s elegant and it works.
This isn’t just X-COM with a few UI tweaks and a fresh coat of paint, though. Small changes have been made throughout the game, deftly improving and updating the experience without changing what’s at its core too much. It’s like seeing your favourite book translated to film by someone who clearly has the same appreciation for the work as yourself; every effort is made to ensure that the adaptation works perfectly in that new format, but everything you really loved about the original remains just as you remember it.
So if, like me, Xenonauts dropped off your radar for a while, it’s time to swallow your pride and admit that you too were wrong. This is a gift to every X-COM fan. And, if you can’t count yourself as an X-COM fan just yet, there is simply no better way to get into classic X-COM than Xenonauts.
Game : Xenonauts
Developer : Goldhawk Interactive
Platforms : Win / Mac / Linux
Current Status : Early Access