Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Kickstarting: Xenonauts

I've already talked a bit about UFO: Enemy Unknown on this blog, and it's recent reboot XCOM. But there is another contender for UFO's crown, and that is Xenonauts. I was aware of Xenonauts before the Firaxis XCOM, and had been watching it closely as the small indie team worked hard to produce something amazing. When the Kickstarter revolution got underway, Goldhawk Interactive decided to try their luck, and they ended up raising over $150,000, three times what they'd asked for.

All pictures from

For their interpretation of the turn-based strategy classic, they decided to set their game in during the Cold War. It's certainly an interesting premise, and I really like the idea of the setting being in a little-used historic period rather than some of the mainstays of gaming (like WW2 or near-future). The uniting of the Cold War superpowers to combat a common enemy is a particularly nice touch.

I backed Xenonauts at one of the higher tiers, and so have had the opportunity to have myself included in the game. It's a nice touch for the backers, although I can understand how people might not appreciate these sorts of additions. In this particular case, I felt that the addition of real people's names on the soldier roster was of little consequence (especially since they can be re-named anyway). I can understand people being concerned with more intrusive backer rewards, but I've yet to see any that I found offensive (but do let me know in the comments if you've spotted something of note).

Xenonauts begins some years after the "Iceland Incident" (a short introductory tale recounted on their website), in which a large craft of extraterrestrial origin had been shot down and crashed on Iceland. The premise of the game is simple: you are in charge of a response force designed to combat any extraterrestrial force that threatens Earth. Each month you are supplied with money from participating countries, with which you must buy equipment. The countries involvement is dependent on your ability to keep them safe, and to do this you will need to research the alien menace and find a way to stop it once and for all.

The game itself is based on two main areas: the geoscape, which provides you with an overview of Earth, from which you can attend to your military bases and launch fighters against UFOs; and the ground combat, where your specially trained forces must kill or capture the alien invaders. The geoscape is a larger strategic view, for which the development team have created an air combat system that is far beyond their competition, that is capable of involving multiple aircraft on both sides (contrasting the one-on-one air combat of the 1994 original and it's more recent reboot).

For many people, it's ground combat that is the core gameplay, and the game has a turn-based tactical approach that is an evolution rather than a revolution. While the majority of elements will be familiar to players of the classic game, it's the additions of a clearer and more user-friendly interface which will make the game more accessible for new players, without losing any tactical depth. The detailed and well designed graphics should also please many players, as while the game is displayed in 2D, the care and craft that has gone into the many different types of scenery is impressive (and often destructible too!).

One of the most interesting parts of these games for me has always been the research aspect. You are required to fund research into the aliens and their equipment, in order to make use of their technology. The technology tree, and the slow advancement as you become ever more capable is something that has to be done just right. As I haven't seen the full tech tree for Xenonauts I can't say if they've managed this as well as the original game, but I hope they do. The balance between the overall strategy and tactical combat is essential for a game of this type.

Xenonauts is still very much in a beta state though, so be my high praise is based on an incomplete product. What I've seen so far has made me more than happy, but no doubt I will speak at more length about it when it is finally completed. Until then, I'll be playing both the 1994 classic and the 2012 reboot and getting plenty of practice in defeating an alien menace!

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