8 Best And Worst Things About Phoenix Point | Phoenix Point Review (PC)

Hello and welcome to Rock Paper Shotgun where
I’ve spent the last five days squatting behind benches and shooting at crabs. It’s the kind of behaviour that got me banned
from my local aquarium, but in Phoenix Point, it’s encouraged. In this turn-based strategy game the sea is
taking revenge for years of mistreatment: the melting icecaps release a dormant virus
which turns all those happy, singing crabs into this f**king nightmare. Fish fingers are now attached to fish fists
and they are going to put us in our plaice. Yes, that is a fish gag. Considering the last game I played was drab
COD – that’s an abbreviation of Call of Duty, not a fish gag – an army of squids with
machine guns was enough to put Phoenix Point on my radar. But it’s also notable for being headed up
Julian Gollop, the co-creator of X-COM. With Firaxis having revolutionised X-COM by
removing the hyphen – and some other features – Phoenix Point feels like Gollop’s chance
to show how he would have dragged X-COM into the 21st century. And as it turns out: he would have done it
a lot like Firaxis, too. But rather than focus on the similarities
– which should be pretty clear from watching it in motion – I want to highlight what makes
Phoenix Point tick: the formula tweaks that work brilliantly, and a few areas where it
maybe struggles. It’s important to note, I’m not approaching
this from the perspective of a hardcore XCOM veteran – the only Ironman campaign I’ve
ever completed was this terrible Nintendo DS game. Whether it will hold up to months of replays
is hard to predict, but I’m hoping these impressions will capture the general shape
of the game. Before I do that, a quick thanks to Displate
for sponsoring the channel – Displate make lovely metal posters and we’ve collected
our favourites in our store – the link is in the description. If you do buy one, we get a bit of that money
– which I will be using to pay my fines to the local aquarium. Of course, if you’d rather support us by
giving the video a like and subscribe, that would also really make my day. Let’s kick off by thanking those who crowdfunded
the game, specifically those who got the money pot to the stretch goal to include these drivable
vehicles. Because this is a brilliantly stupid toy. Just look at this brute, knocking down benches,
walls and small forests. It’s like a drunk godzilla, giving not one
f**k about how little of the world it leaves standing. If you do manage to reclaim the earth for
humanity, how are you going to explain the devastation this giant metal bastard has left
in its wake. I especially love the way it totally guts
any civilian rescue missions – you just feed your target into its metal belly, and then
click on the extraction point. Is this a cheese tactic? If it is, it’s a good cheese. It’s a Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference
Baking Camembert. The only sad thing is that the Pandoran lairs,
where the real nasty stuff happens, are so full of rocks, it means I have to leave my
favourite squad member in the parking lot. Good night sweet prince. Besides driving a monster truck over squid
men, if there’s one thing that defines Phoenix Point against XCOM, it’s flexibility. Not the sexiest sales pitch – and now you
know why I started with the truck – but something that changes the rhythm of a strategy game. Where modern XCOM has two rigid action phases
– one to move your legs and one to move your trigger finger – Phoenix Point lets you get
granular and move on a step-by-step basis. Everything you do eats into these four action
points, but not all at once. You can use half a bar to step few tiles out,
then spend three whole points to shoot, and then use that fraction of an action point
to step back behind cover. One of the more useful things about this is
that if you spot an enemy during a sprint, you’ll stop, letting you swap those jogging
points for some extreme violence points. Convenient, as jogging makes me want to do
extreme violence. These micro adjustments are vital for Phoenix
Point’s other cool trick: the option for manual first person aiming. Select normal fire and you’ll aim at a fishman
as you would an alien in XCOM. There’s no percentage chance here, though,
instead it uses a reticule to show the likeliness of a hit. Everything will land in the big circle, with
a 50% chance of hitting that smaller bullseye. But manual aiming lets you finesse that shot
or gamble on a more unlikely target – if you can see a fishman’s elbow poking out behind
cover, you might be able to get a bullet right into his funny bone. In this light the ability to take baby steps
makes so much sense – you’re looking for those sneaky angles, maybe to find the tiny
window of gooey flesh hidden behind the exterior shell. This stuff matters because it’s very easy
to fall into habits in strategy games, the tried and tested best practice. And while I’m sure people will sniff these
out, the fuzziness around the edges of Phoenix Point’s ideas, means it’s not so cut and
dry – you’ll find opportunities that surprise you, even after 30 hours with the thing. To me that feels strategically rich. And if that sounds a bit vague, let me talk
about more specifics. The first-person aiming, for example, isn’t
just about landing riskier shots, but landing smarter shots, too. A bit like Fallout’s VATS, manual aiming
lets you target specific body parts – in turn letting you disable attacks used by those
body parts. The second I see one of these sirens – mind-controlling
motherf**kers who can easily wipe your team out – I’m pumping every sniper bullet I
have into their stupid heads. Likewise, emptying lead into fish torsos to
shut down the Pain Chameleon power that sees them vanish and then skitter off. I’m also a big fan of shooting rifles in
half, forcing burly human warriors to look a bit sheepish with their tiny handguns instead. Don’t chuckle too hard as they can do the
same to you. A lot of the magic of X-COM, both Gollop’s
original and the modern version, lies in tension – the notion that you are always on the back
foot. For me, this system, of neutralizing your
least favourite attacks, plays into the siege mentality brilliantly. In one amazing battle in a forest tomb I found
half my squad glued in place from a goo cannon, and swarms of sirens and frenzied minions
descending on them. It’s here, with your back against the wall,
that you have to make every shot count, and the option to place that lead exactly where
you want it, gives this a level of drama – and stress – that a broader shooting system simply
can’t. Confession time: I eventually shit this battle
up the wall, but for the few minutes I thought I could neutralize the threat, this was about
as thrilling as turn-based games get. An even better trick with aiming is using
it in tandem with destructible environments to carve your own way through the levels. Now, to be honest, some of the destructible
stuff can look ropey – buildings appear to be built from large chunks of polystyrene
that collapse unconvincingly and then just vanish out of existence in embarrassment. But! I’ve always wanted a strategy game where
you have the freedom to properly alter the world – not just breaking away cover, but
blasting open new doorways if the main entrance is under overwatch, or firing a grenade into
reinforced glass and then having all my gunmen pour their lead through the hole. One of my favourite Phoenix Point moments
was blasting this perfectly waist high window only to realise that I had accidentally build
a tiny facehugger doorway straight to my head. I will say, that for all the fun of destruction,
it does feel rougher around the edges than other systems – I’ve seen the AI take a
couple of clever opportunities with it, but they are generally not very creative when
it comes to making new doors or opening up lines of sight. The fact that switching to first person aiming
will latch onto the nearest enemy is also a bit of a pain as you have to slowly swivel
your aim at whatever it is you want to shoot. It gives you the impression that the demolition
man routine is kinda playing the game wrong, that you shouldn’t be aiming guns at walls,
which is a shame, as it’s one of the best things about the game. Let’s zoom out a bit. Outside of turn-based battles you’ll spend
most of your time staring at this screen, and possibly weeping because you can’t keep
on top of everything at once. The Geoscape shows the global battle you’re
waging against Pandoran forces. This is probably the biggest departure from
modern XCOM, in that it throws a lot more at you than simple base management. Although XCOM did have a prettier base than
these boring pictures, so I can understand why it wanted to spend so much time there. At heart of Geoscape is a search for answers
about the aquatic threat and potential technology to deal with it. It has the feel of a scavenger hunt: you fly
to mystery locations and pray they offer you answers instead of an angry crab ambush. In order to push through the story you’ll
need access to the entire world, so much of the game is spent trying to grow your network
of Phoenix Bases. With more bases come more facilities to speed
up research, more satellites to scan the globe for new exploration sites and more room for
soldiers and vehicles. Having multiple squads in helicopters allows
you to police multiple continents at once or bundle several squads to the same battle
for an even bigger squad. For the most part, I love the buzz of Geoscape
– the satisfaction of slowly spreading your influence or discovering small story event
that paint a better picture of the world you’re trying to save. It finds a chewy tension as you debate whether
to send a fatigued squad on the long trip back to a base or to push on to the next question
mark. When a soldier is out of stamina he enters
battle with fewer action points, so it’s a risk to march onwards. It feels like you’re having to make a lot
more decisions, and on many more fronts, than you ever did in XCOM – but it’s not so knotty
that it veers into 4X strategy territory. For that you’ll want to try Planetfall Age
of Wonders – there should be a link to our review in the top right of the screen. Just as the Geoscape gives the action scale
and density without slipping into baffling complexity, so the faction system offers just
the right level of snappy diplomacy. I mentioned that you police continents and
that’s because so much can go wrong – the spread of Pandoran mist sees nests and lairs
spawning near to human havens, which can lead to attacks you’ll need to fend off if you
want to keep those havens alive – doing so keeps them as trading partners and recruitment
locations. But then you also have conflict between three
rival factions. There’s the ‘lets murder them all’ generals
of New Jericho, the Disciples of Anu, who just ‘want to be friends with the fish’
and Synedrion, who are the scientific masterminds behind fancy weapons and presumably cleaning
chemicals, based on how spotless their bases are. Look at this: you could eat your dinner off
that. The more you help a faction, by performing
special story missions, or sabotaging enemy havens, the more support they offer – from
special unit types to pre-researched items. Sabotage missions make a nice change of pace
from simply eliminating Pandoran forces, although I did feel pangs of guilt as I applied my
advanced military tech to wiping out silly little farms. Knowing how much bloody effort it takes to
get anything built in Phoenix Point, you do feel like a total sod if you take this route. But then my new psychotic mates in New Jericho
did teach me how to build armour piercing sniper rifles, so it’s swings and roundabouts. But still, it’s cool to see the game pondering
not just how to save the world, but what kind of world it should be. Certainly I see myself taking the trip a few
more times to see how differently things can play out with other factions. Alas, there’s some self sabotage, too. The big black mark against Phoenix Point is
that it is technically rough and prone to some bonkers bugs. I’ve had a on-running problem where the
mouse cursor becomes untethered from the action, forcing me to enter the option screen to reset
it. Several times the end turn button has broken,
leaving my poor little virtual soldiers in eternal limbo. A few times it has refused to save – at first
I thought I’d hit a save file limit, but exiting the game seemed to sort that one out. The fact that the game has Epic exclusivity
was a nasty upset earlier in the year, but I honestly think waiting to play it on Steam
might be the better option, given the slightly wonky state of things here. Also, while I’m having a moan – it’s not
a bug but the game boasts some absolutely horrible interior locations which are so visually
cluttered that it’s very difficult to read lines of sight and plan accordingly. It would be less of a problem if a couple
of the worst offenders didn’t keep cropping up in the procedurally generated levels. Of course, if anyone from Snapshot is watching,
I’d rather they fixed the demented mouse cursor thing first. These problems are a shame as I’ve had a
great time with Phoenix Point – a game I expected to be a slightly budget clone – I mean, you’re
putting crowdfunding against the financial might of 2K – but the game has real character. Whether you’re on the ground or hovering
above the globe I think Phoenix Point treads a fine line between clarity and chaos. It’s definitely not as clean cut as modern
XCOM, a game whose masterstroke was to take this incredibly complicated genre and simplify
it into something sleek and console friendly. Phoenix Point nails some weird stuff onto
that skeleton – the free aim, the Geoscape, granular movement – and it loses those smooth
edges in the process, but I enjoyed playing with those wrinkles, and having something
fresh to chew over. I often think these games are never as good
as the first time you play them, when you don’t know what horrible trick every monster
can pull, and every tactic you devise feels like a genuine revelation. In this sense, Phoenix Point has plenty of
surprises and lessons to teach. And unlike XCOM, where things tend to start
hard and see you gradually ascend to alien-smashing godhood, Phoenix Point manages to keep the
pressure on throughout: the further your network extends, the more fires you’re trying to
put out, counterbalancing the leaps that you’re making in research. It’s compelling stuff – in fact I’m going
to finish this video edit and jump straight back in. I mean it’s not like I can visit the local
aquarium. We started with fish and ended with bugs. Thank for for watching this Phoenix Point
review all the way to the end. If you did enjoy this review, please give
it a like and subscribe to the channel – we do loads of videos like this. And you should watch them. If you really loved this video, you can support
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why not pop them below. Even better, share your own reviews of the
game – I’m keen to hear from anyone who backed the game. Thanks so much for watching Rock Paper Shotgun,
and hopefully see you again soon. Bye for now.

25 Replies to “8 Best And Worst Things About Phoenix Point | Phoenix Point Review (PC)

  1. Been following this game since backing stage and travelled across the UK to play it at PCGamer Weekender a couple years back. I am so happy to play the full thing at last.

  2. I'm downloading it now and was a backer – I confess I got a bit worried by backer build 5. It was very repetitive, which can be a hallmark of these types of games, but without any of the story (or, that is, anything to give me a reason to do basically the same missions over and over) I actually got a bit bored and stopped playing after ~10 hours.
    Also, I seemed to level up my squad really quickly, but it wasn't clear if there was a real point to the science / tech tree. I did a lot of research, but it never really seemed to give me any new cool toys to play with – it felt way too slow compared to the character leveling.
    One thing I did find frustrating in some of the backer builds was the accuracy of the aliens. My guys weren't able to hit the broad side of a barn (even with me carefully lining up the shots manually) but aliens were basically one-shotting me from across the map. It was particularly frustrating when they did this as response actions. They seemed to fix this in later balancing, but it's a shame to hear it's quite buggy (I had the save bug in backer build 5). I noticed lots of hitching in your footage and it looks like they've not fully addressed the poor performance issues that have been there since the first builds either.

  3. Thanks for the review Matthew! Waiting for the bugs to be ironed out sounds like a good idea for the moment as I still have bad memories of my neverending turns in XCOM2. The manual aiming, destruction, faction systems all sound great but the art style of reminds me too much of XCOM 2 as I was hoping for a little more grounded look and the lack of an interactive looking base is kind of a missed opportunity.

  4. I assumed I would want to play this, now I know I do. Good advice to leave it a while, perhaps until steam so it's less buggy… I often do the same.

    My least favorite parts of xcom are the 2 action 'move/shoot' action system and the way enemy packs are triggered preventing any stealth, looks like Phoenix point has neither 🙂

  5. I've heard some different information regarding looting the battlefield. I've heard you have to pick up what you want to bring back with you, and also heard you just collect it all automatically at the end of the fight, can you confirm which is right?

  6. Lately I've been thinking that sometimes Epic exclusivity for a year is a blessing. As a Steam person, waiting that year can mean less bugs, more DLC, and lower prices.
    And it's not like there's a shortage of games. My wishlist and library backlog combined is 100 or so games now.
    Excellent and funny review, as always, Matthew. Feels weird typing your name, as it is also mine…But everyone (aside from my mom) calls me Matt.

  7. Thanks for the review name-brother! This one's been on my radar for a bit, but looks like I'll wait for the Steam release.

  8. I have never heard of this game until today. It's like Gollop finally realized some of the ideas he had for X-com Apocalypse like factions and so on.

  9. Cool. I backed this baby as the OG X-com is my fave game of all time and I even liked the firaxis remakes. I’m maaayybbeee 2 hours in and I can see myself restarting as I have backed myself into a corner. I know this is not really in the game but the fiction created as backstory on the games website is amazing and very well written. It really does pull you into the world they have created. I prefer the free aim and the move away from % to hit. overwatch (the go to start in Xcom ) is still your friend but has major drawbacks and over reliance will get your soldiers very crabby(?). Spoilers………
    The mutations are a neat touch and have some Interesting implications in the story I suspect.
    So far I am really enjoying it and can see my self doing some very bonkers future playthroughs.
    Thx for a great review!

  10. What the actual fuck, I grew up in Dokkum. Of all the places to encounter in a video game, that's the last I would have expected.

  11. 12 hours in one day. Can't wait to go back to it.
    The overwatch is a little twitchy. I've had it not trigger once or twice – which is annoying. I've also had a couple of the larger bugs clip through scenery and see things , and attack things they shouldn't have.
    But that's it. The interface is clean. The gameplay depth is a full notch up from the Firaxis games. Not original Enemy Unknown and not Terror from the Deep complexity and micro management, but certainly quite a bit more to do both tactically and strategically than XCOM 2 vanilla.
    And there is the rub. I've got well over 1000 hours in XCOM 2 – but maybe 50 in the vanilla game.
    I would not play the XCOM 2 vanilla game now – at all – even if the DLC's and mods did not exist.
    I run with Long War and about 25 other mods in XCOM2. Making enemies tougher, allowing for A LOT more customization in characters, adding to the research tree etc.
    This game starts from a slightly better footing then XCOM 2 which was buggy as hell on release. PP has a few bugs but nothing like my first 8 hours with XCOM 2
    XCOM 2 in 6 months grew into a great game, and 2-3 years later is a brilliant game. Firaxis approach to DLC and allowing modders to add so much by opening the game up to them means despite being – what – 4 years old. I still play a full campaign through once or twice a year with new mods and new personal objectives.
    PP would benefit from the same developer and community love – and I very much suspect it's going to get it.
    But as it is, the first 50-80 hours on a vanilla play through are well worth the cost.
    Remember this is a 2/3rds priced game a $40 not a $60, and as such I think, if turn based tactics is your thing – it's an absolute must. Deserves
    Oh – even on normal difficulty it's a LOT tougher than XCOM2, and on harder it will challenge all but the most hardened players. Use those level up AND Phoenix skill points, equip those grenades, research those better weapons and armour. You're going to need every bit of it.

  12. Solid review. Only thing I would add is that on release day it is less buggy than XCOM/XCOM2 are now after years of patches. And it outperforms them too. I did an XCOM2 campaign last week and even now on a high-end computer its frame rates are bad with dips into atrocious. Phoenix Point stays solid and smooth.

  13. So… better waiting 2 years for enough DLC content and bugfixes – hoping the modding community don't get left behind – and in the meantime, playing a balanced modded XCOM2 or even a modded openXcom. The game right now is not in a state that could make real Xcom enthusiasts happy – unfortunate – but that's how it is.

  14. I was a backer, being a big fan of Xcom, Xcom2 and Xenonauts. So far I am enjoying it greatly and looking forward to all the DLC i apparently get for being a backer. Was a bit miffed about it being on epic but meh. Haven't encountered any bugs yet, but I'm only like ~5 or so hours into it.

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