Xenonauts 2 starts its crowdfunding drive with a demo

Xenonauts 2

Kickstarter is always a risk, but so is X-Com. Even a 99% shot has a chance to miss, but you go for it anyway, and I’d say that Xenonauts 2 is in with a pretty dang good chance of being a solid squad tactics game. The fact that it’s halfway to its £50,000 funding goal within two hours of appearing on Kickstarter suggests that their audience agrees, and if you’re still not convinced, there’s a single-mission playable demo to poke around, hosted on GOG.

For the most part, Xenonauts 2 looks like more of the same, but better. The general flow of combat – a replication of the original Gollop Bros’ X-Com: Enemy Unknown – remains unchanged, although this time everything’s in fully rotatable 3D. From the looks of the Kickstarter pitch below, the other main differences will be in the strategic layer of the game, with the base construction side of things taking a few notes from Firaxis’ modern XCom (no hyphen, see?) games.

After a quick playthrough of the demo, I can confirm that this is definitely headed in the right direction. The design on the aliens has been tuned up, giving the basic grunt enemies you encounter an almost-but-not-quite Sectoid look to them. Despite their classically goofy appearance they’re still an immense threat, with a single plasma shot capable of killing a rookie outright, while your own troops really need to pour on the gunfire to score a kill. Often difficult in the demo, as they’re a squad of rookies that can’t hit the broad side of a UFO.

Xenonauts 2 is a refreshed take on the original game’s concept, retreading the same rough story with a few new twists. The cold war setting returns, so your initial encounters with the aliens will see you mostly equipped with 1960s to ’80s standard infantry gear and armour poorly suited to dealing with an extraterrestrial invasion. Running your base also sounds a little more complex than in XCom, with supplies needing to be ordered to keep the troops fed, but with deliveries preventing you from immediately launching sorties. Just one more plate to spin, eh?

Xenonauts 2 is on Kickstarter now, and £18 will get you a copy of the game when it’s done, estimated at sometime around November. There’s also a playable demo here.

21 Comments

  1. mattevansc3 says:

    That rookie concept puts me off. It’s perhaps the single most annoying X-COM concept and one I’d gladly see the back of.

    It makes the early game a frustrating drudge of luck over strategy. Put five people behind cover, all shooting the same target in the hope you score two or more hits.

    The challenge is meant to be the poor equipment vs advanced tech and superior biological troops. Putting so much focus on getting “experienced” troops makes wipes more damaging, which then limits playstyles. Let’s not forget that these rookies are meant to be some of the best the world has to offer.

    • HiroTheProtagonist says:

      The issue is: how do you make it challenging then? If you can arguably field a team of clutch shots from the start, then it practically doesn’t matter that your equipment is poor, since you can just stack fire on a target like before and camp cover. The idea is that you work on getting a few good men together, then rotate them for less-experienced men when they’ve gotten a bit tasty in a fight. There is a certain “you’re playing it wrong” to it, since most people just lean on their A-team without even thinking about developing any kind of B-team.

      Either way, Xenonauts was pretty good, though I don’t see why they need a Kickstarter for the sequel when the first one was fairly successful.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        There’s quite a lot you can do. There’s squad limitations, time limits, extra/bonus objectives, more unique enemy types, enemies that make better use of terrain, map design, etc.

        As much as XCOM streamlined the mechanics too much the various bomb defusal and save X civilians forced you to split your squad and firepower. There’s an XCOM lite game on the Win10 store that throws in escort missions, rescue the hostages and defend your position maps. The UFO:Ax retained the body target option.

        Something as simple as having all scout ships go off like a nuke after so many turns so that their tech can’t be recovered would change the whole mission dynamic.

      • Premium User Badge

        Malarious says:

        Well, supposedly they’ve been working on Xenonauts 2 for 3 years, and Xenonauts 1 wasn’t like, *massively* successful… so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were running low on funds by now. But 50,000 pounds doesn’t seem like enough to finish the game. (That’s maybe enough to hire one developer for a year?) It could be enough to secure a loan that will let them finish the game, though. And if they’re just trying to make payroll until the game’s in a state they can release on Early Access, well, 50,000 pounds makes a bit more sense, but it’s still not offering that much breathing room.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      I quite like the rookie concept, if only because it teaches you to be careful and plan moves as best as you can. If it was only about equipment, you’d probably have a lot more space for error, and more simplified encounters. That’s what happens in XCOM when your soldiers start getting good and you begin to have comparable equipment to the aliens anyway – you start playing riskier moves because the balance is relatively tipped in your favor. Rookie losses are catastrophic because it’s an uphill battle, while vet losses are catastrophic because you’re thrown off the top of the hill. I don’t know, it’s an interesting discussion anyway IMO.

    • aircool says:

      I played the original UFO a lot. I even had two different demo’s of the game that I played a lot before the game was released. It is one of my favourite games and until the reboot, I played it a lot.

      But I seem to be playing a different game to others who remember the game being great because it killed your rookies. To be honest, that was one of the most annoying aspects of the game, along with trying to find the last damned alien on a map.

      UFO was never a punishing game, it just always gave you the impression that you were losing the game, even whilst you were winning. That’s what made it good.

    • shde2e says:

      The permadeath combined with the inherent RNG has made me ragequit these games more than a few times. I still like them, but if the game could tone down on either side (preferably the rng), I would enjoy them a lot more.

      Also, it seems like this game is going to add in more resource management, and not the enjoyable kind. Having to constantly micromanage supplies sounds like a right chore that would mostly serve to provide an annoying money-drain and get in the way of the actually interesting parts.

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      I share your frustration at watching a crack team of ostensibly elite soldiers screw up yet another exercise in basic marksmanship(because apparently neither intensive target drills nor killing humans with guns provide any useful experience); but I think that the rookie problem is really a sub-problem of a more basic exercise in circle-squaring suspension of disbelief for XCOM and friends:

      As a theme and premise the atmosphere is fantastic: spooky alien invasion, plenty of room for a diverse roster of enemies, super tense UFO breaching, getting all Area 51 on your specimens and samples and obtaining fun alien toys; generally lots of blast doors and secret underground military bases. Delightful.

      What it doesn’t do is make a whole lot of sense, either according to the “Why would you do that?” standard or the “teetering between ‘how can I possibly lose?’ and ‘how can I possibly win?’ for no real reason” scale.

      If (as is required for at least early to mid game xcom to be playable) the xenos aren’t fundamentally immune to prosaic human weaponry in some way, it’s deeply unclear why “found international organization to deploy teeny squads” would be the logical response, or why everyone would be whining to said organization all the damn time: plenty of totally unexceptional cities have SWAT teams substantially more dangerous than early to mid game XCOM; and they are similarly outgunned by every scraggly militia with a couple of technicals and enough battered AKs for their conscripts. The comparison with a real military force is even more lopsided: XCOM is maybe platoon strength; and without much in the way of artillery, armor, air support, etc.

      Unless you want your XCOM to just be a skin over some RTS or CIV type game you send small squads because that’s how it works; but finding a coherent justification for doing so, in-universe, is harder.

      Similarly, making victory either assured or impossible is terrible gameplay, so you don’t do that; but in-universe things get tricky:

      On the “how can we lose?” side, see ‘comparison with real military force’, along with the fact that potential human extinction will probably keep willingness to fight high for a while, and the fact that alien ability to traverse interstellar distances appears to be able to do so only in handy bite-size chunks that then obligingly fly close enough to the ground that we can kill them and take their stuff.

      On the “how can we possibly win?” side; you’ve got an adversary capable of traversing interstellar space who could just refuse to come within range and spitefully plasma bomb population centers from orbit, use their genetic prowess to cook up the occasional bioweapon, sneak crysallids into every corner of the biosphere that nobody is paying close attention to, turn out to have an application of Elerium that negates inertia and renders projectiles irrelevant, etc. Nothing requires(or even makes seem particularly reasonable) a ‘conduct small, well contained, strikes periodically’ strategy.

      If you are willing to suspend all that disbelief embracing a mechanic that encourages you to be careful about safeguarding your small tactical squad members and rewards you with gradually increased versatility and new options for doing so is a perfectly sound gameplay decision; and certainly not the most glaring oddity that you are overlooking because small squad tactical shooting aliens is loads of fun.

      • Schiraman says:

        Excellent points, though I wouldn’t be adverse to an X-COM variant that actually put some effort into plugging those plot-holes.

        Perhaps make the UFOs dimension-jumping atmospheric vehicles rather than spacecraft, with their ability to raid Earth dependant on a limited number of ‘dimensional rifts’ or somesuch? That’d explaining them arriving in small numbers and being within reach of our defences. In fact, didn’t X-COM Apocalypse do something like that?

        On the human side, perhaps the aliens have some kind of terror-inducing psionic background effect that makes most soldiers incapable of even engaging them, and renders even elite troops barely effective until they’ve slowly and painfully developed a limited form of immunity to the effect.

        It’s tough to explain away the ability of humans to shoot down alien ships but then not use those same aircraft to provide fire-support though. Likewise artillery, drones, cruise missiles, etc. Or even armoured fighting vehicles for X-COM. So you’d probably need more substantial changes to the setup and/or gameplay to fix that.

        • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

          There are a lot of interesting possibilities inherent in the tensions between XCOM-likes and making sense; though I suspect that some would be very, very, tough to make into actually-fun games(in the case of Xenonauts, say, the aliens show up in the middle of the cold war: with everyone staring at the radar with a finger on the trigger we would probably nuke ourselves into smoking rubble by the time a couple of their pitiful little scout UFOs made it to the cattle mutilation sites. Doesn’t mean that “Xenonauts: Moscow Hotline Nuclear De-escalation Simulator” would be fun; but somebody with absolutely ridiculous charisma, speech, and luck was manning the phones for the game to even start).

          Others would be difficult; but more amenable to somewhat conventional takes: if you want the shadowy conspiracy stuff(as the original Xcom clearly did: I’m running basically the most noble cause in human military history and my budget screen’s background image is a shady guy opening a briefcase full of cash; new XCOM went for the same effect with its “you lead a multinational force doing vital work for all mankind; so naturally you’ll be ultra-secret, report to ‘the council’ and get scathing performance reviews from a guy with a scary voice whose face actually absorbs light if you try to photograph him not in shadow” aesthetics) you could always go with a ‘Deus Ex; but with squads’ take; as long as at least one of the intricate conspiracies within conspiracies involved actual aliens(let’s say that they are highly advanced; but can’t break lightspeed; so the few who survived stasis on one of their seed ships have been forced to subtly manipulate human events from their base on the dark side of the moon, since reinforcements are hundreds or thousands of years away, but they have what they need to expand onto a suitable planet if, shall we say, things can…be prepared… for them maybe?). This would provide a reasonably solid reason for why you always send in a tiny band of handpicked and augmented agents rather than just the army; make losing a real possibility since you are a definitely illegal clandestine entity in a world rife with hostile conspiracies; but also make victory a real possibility, if the alien’s plan can be foiled they can’t just storm earth.

          Another one that might be fun, and opportunity for rather bleak humor, would be an examination of what ‘xcom’ would actually look like on the day we suddenly needed to activate it: so, a few decades before any actual evidence of aliens appeared, some kook managed to hammer through an appropriate UN resolution while the grown ups were busy with other things; and now everyone is obligated to nominally support an ‘in case aliens invade’ project; but nobody actually likes the idea enough to provide real money or talent for it. It is…unlikely…that they’ll be sending along their finest special forces, or that recruiting actual scientific talent, rather than fringe crackpots with limited options elsewhere, will be doable; so the organization will be quite the collection of enthusiastic crackpots and dead-end incompetents ‘promoted’ by their governments to get them out of positions people actually care about and then the aliens show up and start wrecking things. Comedy ensues.

        • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

          (‘edit’ given platform constraints, please treat as continuation of prior post)

          In thinking about it the circle-squaring Xcom has to do is much more common(and thus less obvious in the moment, though no secret) in RPGs. Some of them just start you as nobody in particular, and so given no special support; but even the (numerous) ones where The Player Character Is He Who Fuliflls The Prophecy And Our Only Hope are often quite willing to start you with a rusty noob dagger, no funding(or “your shop will be more profitable if the entire world isn’t sacked by creatures of nightmare” discount coupons); and usually a bafflingly spiteful double-cross(by the king’s jerk councillor or the like, not a villain who actually stands to not be part of the skull pyramids that shall
          reach the very heavens when the bad guys win) partway through that makes the bad guys almost win.

          I think it’s more jarring in Xcom in part because it’s more of an RPG trope; and in part because, if any exists, you never really see or hear about the opposition that is keeping you from being properly funded: member stated will pull out if you fail enough, and Exalt messes with you because they are antagonists; but it’s never explained why, say, you get enough cash to build a secret underground military base and obtain a few super-cutting-edge military aircraft; but not enough cash and/or support to just be OKed to borrow one corner of an airbase in every council nation immediately (obviously it’s because it would ruin the pace if the early and midgame; but that’s not an in-universr limit).

          Some RPGs are similarly silent on why nobody will just listen to reason(eg. Skyrim has people recognizing you as the dragonborn hero of legend, doom driven, from very early; but the “can you guys stop the stupid civil war for ten minutes while I save the world from the resurgent swarm of unstoppable death lizards?” thing is still an obnoxiously hard sell; and “hey, bandits, I’m saving your world, by personally annihilating legendy immortal creatures born of Akatosh; isn’t that two reasons to not bother me?” is never an option). Others, presumably to make this less obvious, keep solid proof out of your hands until fairly, or make it something that only a select few would recongize(eg. Morrowind knew it had a problem but had few reasons to believe that you were the solution until you start providing them; Oblivion has the emperor vouch for you, but then die moments later along with just about everyone who knows that; though the few who remain do assist as able).

          In other cases the same Xcom-type tensions exist, and the explanations aren’t 100% convincing; but the game at least shows them to you: that’s sort of Mass Effect’s bag: it’s not terribly unreasonable that you aren’t believed during the post Eden-prime arguing-with-the-space-UN section; but the fact that they still basically blow you off and send you on a bunch of search and destroys on the far end of nowhere after you demonstrate your point by killing a reaper during it’s attack on the Space UN; and go on to adopt a “there’s so little evidence of so-called ‘reapers’ that next-gen Turian weapons are based on the advanced alien tech salvaged from that definitely not a reaper whose massive wreckage we apparently misfiled before study” stance is less readily comprehended.

          Bioware seems to be fond of it; Dragon Age had some of the same issues with the “you betrayed and got most of the standing army massacred; then framed the elite specialists who give their lives to the struggle for the debacle and had them hunted down? All because you thought that getting oppressed by decadent-fantasy-france would totally be worse than annihilation at the hands of a twisted army of creatures of absolute nightmare and the tainted god that fills them with terrible purpose? Are you goddamn kidding?”. The whole ‘world ending, refugees everywhere, etc.’ situation explains why nobody issues you a bunch of +1 badass gear or an expense account, but the “our world burns before us, pass a bunch of speech checks or side quests or we’ll enthusiastically back the guy who helped screw everything up” situation on the human side and the “our world has almost entirely already burned around us, so we know how dire things are; but how about some political squabbling and blind tradition?” situation on the dwarven side are just bang-head-against-wall level frustrating, though they are perfectly serviceable gameplay expedients to have you do additional stuff, see some extra things, get additional backstory, etc.)

          (Also, since this is nominally an edit, the “what if Xcom we’re all laterally-‘promoted’ incompetents because nobody thought we’d need them” premise described could be played for humor in a basically optimistic way(we all know that a ragtag team of misfits can totally save the day when the pros fail, as long as they can overcome their differences and work as a team), or in a fairly pessimistic one(a bunch of dead-enders in a cushy and basically ceremonial job suddenly face a lethal onslaught; and the organization reacts and retools now that people actually care about them; but the pre-invasion personnel suffer harrowing casualties in situations they are hopelessly outmatched by; and their empty-suit leadership starts to crack under the burden of command they really aren’t up to and the guilt of presiding over a string of bloody failures. Like the throwaway line about Bradford developing a bit of a booze habit between Xcom and Xcom 2; but an oppressive burden throughout the game.)

  2. BobbyDylan says:

    Backed. I loved Xenonaughts.

  3. aircool says:

    I’m sure the aliens wouldn’t have invaded if we’d have had stricter immigration controls!

  4. MattM says:

    I’ve played enough of XCOM with the long war mod to miss several 100% shots. The accuracy is rounded to whole points for display so 99.5%-100% show up as 100%.

  5. caff says:

    It’s already hit the £50k target and going strong.

    I’ve backed it, I want to see an indie team take on this genre.

  6. Rashism says:

    Prefer Xenonauts over XCOM. Will most likely back.

  7. ZakG says:

    Open Xcom is the only version i want to play currently.

    For those that have an issue with the RNG you have to take on-board that the roots of the tactical game are more board game like and less FPS. Your personal skill has less bearing on the combat than you might have become uses to playing all those fps games that dominate PC gaming. And even if in your mind you fancy your ‘elite’ soldier as being so good they can’t miss (given a high odds of success), just like in real life they can miss.

    As for Xenonauts i hope they fix the feature where your shots had no height trajectory, you could climb to an elevated position sometimes, but your shots would not pass over a short fence between you and the target. The original game could do that.

    I bounced off the new XCOM games, just way too streamlined (and less interesting because of that), so for all these kind of reasons, as a huge fan of the original game, Open Xcom is still the best version of the game i can play.

    Fingers crossed for Xenonauts 2, but my gut feeling is i’ll still be in Open Xcom for a longtime.

  8. differenceengine says:

    I backed Xenonauts, I’ll likely back this as well. From the demo, some of the issues highlighted already (terrain destructibility, line of sight) are on the menu for #2.

    The warning signs for me are:
    1) moving away from the diversity of action points to a “run or gun” system
    2) emphasis on coloured uniforms instead of environment quality and variety
    3) Taking a scythe (instead of a scalpel) to rest of the numbers game.

    The demo is okay from that standpoint, at least :)

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