Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition, developed and published by Snapshot Games.
XCOM is back! Only… it isn’t actually called XCOM now, it’s been reincarnated as Phoenix Point, developed by Snapshot Games and spearheaded by the co-creator of XCOM himself, Julian Gollop. So it’s probably in good hands, right?
Well… based on the current build we can say that Phoenix Point has issues. Big, dangling, hairy issues that can’t be tucked away neatly as if they were never there.
The storyline begins as a deadly pathogen known as the Pandoravirus creeps across the world and infects large swathes of humanity, who then lose their minds and trot off into the sea before mutating into vicious semi-aquatic monsters bent on destroying what’s left of civilization. Of course, the surviving humans don’t fancy facing annihilation, so the remaining factions splinter apart, each with the goal of stopping this new pandemic in their own way.
Anyone who’s played an XCOM at any point will recognize what’s on offer here. During combat there’s a tactical overhead viewpoint with the playable squad available to scoot around the environment while picking up resources, taking cover behind objects, and blasting the hell out of enemies ranging from deformed humanoid crab-things to poisonous worms and deadly fungi. There are a number of victory conditions, ranging from retrieving intel to killing all enemies, or sometimes it’s good enough to simply make it out alive.
Between missions players will access the Geoscape — a map of the world where team Phoenix can fly around the globe to visit points of interest, establish bases, conduct research, train soldiers, develop weapons and a few other things. Again, it’ll look extremely familiar to anyone who’s played an XCOM before.
At first glance, Phoenix Point looks fine. It clearly hasn’t had the same development budget that the recent XCOM titles have — it has to make do with stiffly-animated illustrations instead of slick rendered cutscenes, and during battle there aren’t any cool slow-motion moments when a squad member hurls themselves through the nearest window and starts blasting at nearby enemies, but it does the job, even if it’s with a little less panache. As an XCOM fan, I was pretty sure I’d enjoy my time with Phoenix Point.
I was wrong. Dead wrong. Why? In its current state Phoenix Point is buggy as all hell, to the point of being borderline unplayable.
The first inkling I had that something was wrong occurred while scooting around the geoscape and unlocking points of interest — nothing was happening as I uncovered them. I’d find abandoned bases and attempt to reactivate them, only to find them inexplicably unresponsive. I’d shrug my shoulders and move on to the next, where I’d also activate a whole lot of nothing. I’d find a mission area, attempt to deploy, and nope… nothing.
Eventually I reloaded a save and was beset by a sudden deluge of all the queued-up events that should have triggered along the way as each node was uncovered. Worse, reloading hadn’t actually fixed the issue since uncovering new spots on the map still didn’t trigger the corresponding new events, so it became clear that this was going to continue throughout the campaign.
While this was the worst bug I encountered during the time I spent with Phoenix Point, it certainly wasn’t the only bug.
Tapping the confirmation button in menus sometimes results in it registering twice, which ruins the multiple choice dialogue options and skips past potentially important information. Buttons can randomly become unresponsive mid-battle, resulting in the inability to scope out different terrain heights or it may even become impossible to attack, requiring a checkpoint reload. All of these issues were a constant hindrance throughout, severely affecting my ability to enjoy what was on offer.
It’s not just me being unlucky, either — a quick glance on various forums cited issues ranging from UI quibbles to the game refusing to save after missions, or even hard crashing to the dashboard on a regular basis.
Now, I’m not hard to keep happy when it comes to gaming. I’ll take a janky and unpolished (but enjoyable!) title over a slickly produced, soulless waste of time any day. However, there are limits, and chief amongst them is ensuring that the game in question actually works on a basic level. It’s hard to ignore that Phoenix Point is constantly shitting the bed any time it needs to provide commonplace features such as ‘saving‘, ‘registering button clicks‘ or ‘progressing the goddamn story‘, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.
In the times when it’s working as intended, there does seem to be a competent, if unexciting, version of XCOM lurking within. Therefore, Phoenix Point has two fairly pressing issues – the core game is chock-full of bugs that will undoubtedly kill any enthusiasm within a few missions, and… Firaxis’ excellent XCOM reboots still exists.
On the plus side, Phoenix Point is currently available on Xbox Game Pass, so subscribers can dip in after each update to see if the bugs have been squashed. Potential purchasers, however, should stay far, far away until those fixes are implemented. It doesn’t matter how competent the game design is when the experience can barely be classed as finished and playable in its current state.
Note: The Xbox Series X version was tested for the purposes of this article.