Phoenix Point: Pre-Alpha Demo

Checks email. Oh… I can download the first backer build of Phoenix Point!

I seldom do previews for so many reasons*. But when Julian Gollop, the creator of X-Com returns to the genre… yep…  this is one of the few occasions I’m excited enough to put words to paper.

Yes. i’m fully aware that this is not paper, smartarse. No, I refuse to say smartass.

Righto. I’m off to try it now.

It stinks of shiny new XCOM and that’s not a bad thing. Wait.. the reboot is 6 years old now? Blimey, doesn’t time does fly.

The pre-alpha not only looks good, but it’s surprisingly tight and bug free. I was expecting a stuttering mess of ideas as I threw myself into my first battle. Anyone with a passing knowledge of this genre should be able to pick up and play this game without issue.

The mechanics are promising and already take into account the dreaded design flaw (flaw is too harsh a word, maybe crutch) ‘overwatch’.

Hey, you. Yes you. What is this overwatch you speak of?

Why Sir, overwatch sets your solider in a state of readiness to return fire when the enemy moves into your point of view. It encourages you to sit on your arse in a defensive style and takes the wind from the games sails. Now don’t ask anymore silly questions.

Phoenix Point mildly negates this in two ways. Firstly willpower is a resource that overwatch uses and most of your soldiers automatically return fire. Well, unless they get dead-ed. Naturally, most enemies benefit from this too. Whilst overwatch is handy, it is no longer as important as some other games. Aggressive acts are wholesomely encourage, cos it’s sometimes worth having that potshot from distance. How delightful! Now let’s never use the term overwatch ever again.

Phoenix Point

I shall instruct Daniel to overwatch this here situation.

I’m happy to see your highly trained super soldiers nearly always hit a fair target, but armour and cover are a big consideration. You can zoom in to take aim at a particular body part and that’s hugely useful. Taking out a grenade arm, or a crippling an armoured bastards leg becomes second nature, and you rue the day when such shots miss*. It’s nice to note that your guys aren’t complete pushovers and can survive a few hits. Doesn’t mean you should leave them in the open though. Nothing worse than a soldier with two busted arms. There are some minor issues with chucking grenades as you have to be incredibly careful with them. Phoenix Point claims the shots on, but then immediately blows up in your face as your grenade powers into an nearby something. It’s on the player to be wary, but this is the kinda modern convenience I think we’ve all become accustomed to.

*I shook my fist in anger and rued!

Movement and action points are interesting. You can generally run, fire or use a skill, and then run some more if you have the spare energy. It takes a little trail and error to figure out how much you can do. For example, if you want to recover willpower that’s a whole turn. Throwing things to the floor costs nothing, but picking things up does. You should be able to hover over the action you want to use, to see how long it will take. But it’s early days and it’s already, almost there. You have to expect the odd lil’ foilable or bug. Like the one that saw my heavy soldier bravely standing atop a building, unable to jetpack away, jump down, or even take a shot until the boss had died. The look in his eyes as she slowly bled out. Another bug saw me unable to walk were the alien queen had once passed. The destruction is lovely, but it does cause a few issues. Maybe visible rubble is missing from the area?

Phoenix Point alien boss

Hey babe. You look mighty fine tonight.

It is a bit strange that I had to worry about running out of ammo. Also picking up weapons and using them made me nod approvingly. It’s difficult to pick out such tiny blips on the map. Thinking about it, maybe I can hold ALT to highlight areas? Can I pick up alien weaponry? Alien corpses? Great, I’ll have to turn the game back on now! I’d admit, I have been inspired to reinstall XCOM 2.

I did return and you can pick up alien weaponry! You can’t Alt highlight dropped or interactable items though.

So beyond the default boss battle map there is a map generator and I was pleased to see that the game did indeed still look pretty damn fine. Nothing looked odd, although it was a tad samey, but what do you expect at this pre-game stage. The geometry, especially noting the verticality and cover remain interesting and when the alien boss burst from the ground instantly taking out my of my guys, I had to admit. I should have moved the poor sod earlier.

Phoenix Point Queen

She simply ignores steel and concrete. The cheeky lass.

Finding the last guy on the map to complete the battle needs some work. Modern XCOM’s final alien sound detection is a pretty smart idea. When the maps get larger with squads of 16 vs a horde… now that could be an sexy mess. With ammo it could become a logistical nightmare and I wouldn’t be surprised if squad size is reduced in play-testing. A big part of me hopes not.

With such a strong base it’s easy to get carried away. But the battle is, erm, half the battle. All the fun stuff is to come. Research, the adaptable aliens and the Geoscape is when Phoenix Point becomes your normal turn based game, into some potentially special.

Yep, that’s the hard bit.




Update – 15th May

Unannounced the game drops a new version. It’s a tidied up version of the previous build. The soldiers timebar is easier to follow. My whole squad were wiped out after taking out the Queen. Yep, it is still bloody hard.

Original 1st of May redundant intro. For historical reverence. 

Hey, I said come back tomorrow. I’m downloading it this very second**.

Hmm… I suspect this build would only consist of a small turn-based battle. Without the context of a Geoscape it could feel a little redundant. Drat, this could make for a crappy preview. Wait, what if I don’t actually preview it? This could get awkward.

Still… Weathers nice today isn’t it.

Oh, I know, did you guys check out Annihilation? What a great film that was, right?

Hey, I have an opinion on that Avengers film, would you like t-BANG! *slump*.

*Hype helps no-one. It might not be a true reflection on quality. Hey, what’s the rush, isn’t your backlog big enough. That God of that War looks good. Previews often come across as an advert propagated by the often incestuous relationship between critic and provider. Remember, unreasonable hype doesn’t help. Wait… will my preview become a twisted parody of an excitable preview? Nahhhhh. Maybe.

** That was a lie. I am eating a sandwich at work.