I love X-COM, which I think I’ve stated a few times. When the chance presented itself to back the new game by Julian Gollop. the creator of the very first game in the series, UFO: Enemy Unknown and the first set of classic X-COM games—before the Firaxis remake—I jumped at the chance and became a backer for Phoenix Point.

Last week, the cool guys at Snapshot Games sent me a press early access version of the backer build coming out today, so I could take a look and see just how the game is shaping up. Below you’ll find a video of my latest session, up to the point when the game crashed on me. A minor issue with a preview build when the game is this fun.

But before we get to it, let’s discuss what’s new, what I liked and what I think they could improve on before the final release:

New bits:

  • Geoscape is live! Big bad world filled with new hotspots. Some are faction bases, some are Phoenix Point HQs and others are just there to get in trouble!
  • New units, new skills and a brand-new vehicle.
  • New mission types, aliens, and tons of technical tweaks.

The Good bits:

  • The Geoscape gameplay is proactive. Instead of waiting for things to go badly in some part of the world, you’re actively seeking new locales and building a supply chain to allow your aircraft to travel the world and deal with things when the crises turn up!
  • It’s version 0.3 and the game look damn good and the alien models are downright terrifying. The Hives look like an alien landscape.
  • Combat is tough but rewards smart thinking. Being just on the offensive will get you killed but careful positioning and taking your time does wonders. It’s how I survived one of the missions despite losing all but one soldier, hiding out from overwhelming forces as I made my way towards the vehicle and some storage boxes.
    • Alien Hives are intense as hell.
  • From what I saw, every class can use all weapons, but they’re worth so much in the right hands. One of my soldiers lost their assault rifle, so I gave him the sniper’s pistol. He made it work thanks to his Exhaustion ability, but it was nothing like what the sniper did with his Gunslinger skills. But the versatility of mixing and matching weapons means you can overcome resource deficits.
    • Only thing I didn’t test was loot dead friendlies, to reuse their arms (their weapons, not their dismembered corpses). So, Snapshot Games, if you’re reading this, make it happen if it’s not already there!
  • Item caches on the world are great to replenish limited resource weapons, which in Phoenix Point means every single weapon. Was happy to find not just ammo but even grenades a
  • I love the Armadillo, it’s just amazing to charge through enemies and its weaponry is impressive.
  • The demo has no set win condition so you can just keep playing for as long as supplies and meat-shields last. Means I’ll have something to binge on until the release or the next build!

What needs improvement:

  • Ammo counter: only sign I had that I had run out of ammo was that I couldn’t reload anymore. A clip counter would be good to have, to know how many times I can reload, especially considering it takes action points to check the inventory.
    • On that note, a basic and weaker weapon with limitless ammo might do wonders too, especially for classes like the heavy gunner with highly destructive but incredibly limited resources.
  • On a related note, I’d get rid of encumbrance, a mechanic that I don’t think has ever been fun or interesting. Characters already have limited inventory and equipment spaces, must it also be limited by weight?
  • The first-person aiming thing, I’m still not convinced. Not a single time I’ve tried it does it offer any significant reward. More often than not I just miss, even if trying to stack it with skills that supposedly double the accuracy for a turn—with the sniper for example. Only times it’s worked is when I do it in almost point blank. Some tweaking on the aim calculation for this mode is definitely necessary.
  • Despite the notes mentioning the Return Fire ability—where the unit fires on enemies that have attacked allies—and linking it to the assault rifle, I didn’t see this triggering in any consistent way. Also, I might be mistaken but I remember playing earlier builds where this feature was independent of the weapons, meaning everyone fired in whichever way they could. It made the combat feel dynamic, with both sides counterattacking constantly.
    • I would make this a baseline feature or perhaps unlockable as a squad ability.
  • The turret needs some tooltip explaining how it works, when it fires and so on. I often deployed it and felt like it didn’t contribute, then it suddenly opened fire on an enemy in between turns or at the start of my turn. It was slightly confusing.
    • Overall, tooltips are important. I’d love to see them in a future build.
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