It’s not even 6 am in the morning when I sit down in front of the computer with a steaming mug of coffee. Reloading the XCOM 2 mission I messed up last night from a fresh start-of-mission-save, I am determined to get it right this time.
My husband and 5-year old tip-toe into a still dark room an hour later. Unable to see my screen, they look at the light of the screen reflected on my face. “What’s Mummy doing?”, my daughter asks. “Playing a game”, comes the answer. “It doesn’t look like she’s playing, she’s just sitting there staring at something.” I smile and pause to answer the big question coming: “Mummy, how do you play this game? It sure looks interesting.”
She still hasn’t seen my screen. She’s five and have no idea what XCOM is yet. She doesn’t know about strategy games. All she has seen of XCOM 2 is me. I haven’t finished playing it and yet I already know that this is one of those rare games that comes around every few years. The game I will play and replay. Having so much fun with it that I would be up before the alarm goes off instead of the usual denial of day, having to be dragged out of bed with the pillow still clutched over my head, mumbling just five more minutes.
XCOM 2 is brilliant. It’s incredibly fun. I started plotting the next play through already before I had finished the first, seeing all the possible avenues and wanting to go down them all. I never understood why anyone would play a game multiple times for different story endings, but for a different strategic experience? Sign me up! It’s a brutal fight that demands decisive, bold action and mistakes cost lives and critical resources I rarely can afford to lose. Just the way a strategy game should play out.
Included in the box: The full base game with integrated access to Steam Workshop.
A Digital Deluxe Edition is also available that includes the full base game, XCOM 2 Reinforcement Pack, and the digital soundtrack. The XCOM 2 Reinforcement Pack is available for £15.99 and includes three themed DLC packs that will be released during 2016.
About 2K (publisher) and Firaxis (developer)
2K is a subsidiary of by Take-Two Interactive Software with headquarters based in California. It has several well-known franchises, including XCOM, Civilization, Borderlands and Bioshock.
Firaxis Games was founded in 1996 and is based in Maryland. It is also a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive Software and most famous for developing Sid Meier’s Civilization series.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
XCOM 2 is a turn-based strategy game that can be played in short stints or marathon sessions. It is possible to pause or save at any point and easy to pick up at a later point. It plays equally well with or without audio, facilitating game play in a room shared with others without donning a headset and the game’s design is user friendly.
There is a tutorial at the start, multiple difficulty settings and many customization options that make it equally welcoming to newcomers to the series, genre or gaming in general whilst offering a challenge for veterans. It can be played in variable light settings and work well on any screen size and due to flexible input, work well with various in-put devices, including mouse, keyboard and controllers.
It is currently available Windows, Linux and Mac OSX, but the minimum game specification requires a mid-range or higher spec computer – see specification below for more details.
The user interface and menu uses bright colours, standard and larger size text size and format, clear icons against a high contrast background. Colour use is helpful, but colour alone is not used as an indicator. Vital information is displayed prominently, interactive elements and pathways are highlighted and cues are clear and simple. These accessible features support mild-moderate visual issues, colour-blindness and photophobia (light sensitivity).
Subtitles are available through the Options menu before launching the game, but during the opening cut scene in particular, overwrite text on the screen that make it difficult to read.
XCOM 2 does not convey any essential information as audio only. Audio cues have a visual counterpart and multiple audio sliders make it possible to increase the volume of essential information and decrease ambient sound. I played a significant portion of the game without any sound and it played just as well without sound as with it.
Game controls include keyboard, mouse, keyboard + mouse and controller support and all key bindings can be customized for the game’s keyboard shortcut keys. There are no timed events, no repeated key presses and as a turn-based strategy game, timing is irrelevant as the game is essentially played on pause then execute with a cut-scene at the end of the each turn.
Aim is percentage-based, movement tile-based and then firing and moving is carried out automatically. Interactive elements are stationary, including within the menu system and all controls work throughout the whole game, including the menu. It can be played with one hand or both and windowed mode makes it easy to play with adaptive technology. These features make it a highly accessible game for anyone with dexterity issues.
The language is complex and contains jargon, text is timed and require a certain reading speed level and essential information is conveyed with text alone.
There are reminders of current objectives, highly visible count-down timers and navigation is mainly tile-based movement toward and objective in missions and paging through the simulated command vessel that also functions as an extensive graphical menu.
Information is represented as audio, text and graphically where possible. Basic numeracy skills are essential and the primary game mechanic is making strategic and logistical decisions based on multiple sets of information gathered as the game progresses.
It is a cerebral game that tests a player’s planning, organization and decision making skills, which raises the bar of entry for the level of cognitive skills required, but also presents an opportunity to hone and practice transferable mental skills.
XCOM 2 has been designed with many accessible features which are strengthened by the native accessibility of strategy turn-based games.
The user interface is efficient, well designed, comfortable and intuitive to use with a mouse, keyboard or mouse-keyboard combination. It does not require much exertion to play and there is no repeated button presses or timed events. The most effort is moving around the map by moving the mouse to the screen’s edges.
The game does have some performance issues, long loading screens and the occasional glitchy camera angles. Firaxis is patching it regularly and working on solving user issues, in particular the game is running poorly for some even though their PC comfortable meets the spec requirements.
For the time being – try pressing Caps lock, see Eurogamer for details, to fix the load screen issue. Have a look at Alec Meer’s tips on maximizing performance over at Rock, Paper Shotgun and finally, accept some frame rate drops and stuttering.
Environment & People
Take-Two Interactive Software is a multi-national company with almost 3,000 employees in multiple countries. It has not published information about it’s impact on the environment or corporate social responsibility.
XCOM 2 is retailing at the standard market price for a PC-based game. It is good value for money, but those looking for a deal or budget option will have to wait some time for the retail price to drop and regular discount deals to pop up.
It has been extremely well reviewed, offers dozens of hours of gameplay, including high replayability and it’s focus on strategy and tough decision making makes it both rewarding and potentially a great way to practice decision making skills when placed on the spot.
It is a cost-effective choice and worth the time, effort and dedication needed to complete it.
Operating System: Windows, Linux and Mac OSX
Rating: PEGI 16, ESRB T (13 and up)
Optimised for right-handed and left-handed users
Target gender: All
A computer that meet the system requirements outlined below. Initial installation requires a one-time Internet connection for Steam authentication; software installations required (included with the game) include Steam Client, Microsoft Visual C++2012 and 2013 Runtime Libraries and Microsoft DirectX.
Operating System: Windows® 7, 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E4700 2.6 GHz or AMD Phenom 9950 Quad Core 2.6 GHz (minimum) – 3GHz Quad Core (recommended)
Memory: 4-8 GB RAM
Graphics: 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770, 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 (minimum) – 2GB ATI Radeon HD 7970, 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 or better
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 45 GB available space
Sound Card: DirectX compatible sound card
XCOM 2 is a strategy game built with the player in mind. It anticipated my strategic decisions, took into account my honed XCOM habits and encouraged me to do better. Much of the game happens inbetween button presses whilst making strategic and logistical decisions. It is simple enough to play without feeling like you need to read a thick manual or hold a degree, but have enough depth and scope to make it challenging to win.
Combined with the emotional investment I quickly developed for the soldiers I customized, named and trained up over time, it succeeds in creating tension and anticipation with a single red countdown timer because I have invested valuable assets, including the lives of my soldiers, in a game where the outcome remains uncertain to the end.
A near perfect game. Highly recommended.
The review is based on XCOM 2 (digital download) played on a Windows PC. This article was first published on 11 February 2016.