OPINION | GAME ON: Blast all viral monsters before last human mutates in 'Phoenix Point'

Enemies mutate in the "Phoenix Point" video game. (Photo courtesy of Snapshot Games)
Enemies mutate in the "Phoenix Point" video game. (Photo courtesy of Snapshot Games)

Are you like me, always looking for the next "X-COM," seeking a gritty, grounded, turn-based tactical game to immerse yourself in? If so, I applaud you for living your best life and urge you to pick up "Phoenix Point" on the double.

"Phoenix Point" is the creation of Snapshot Games, a Bulgaria-based game developer led by none other than Julian Gollop, the man who created the original X-COM franchise in the 1990s. Gollop crowdfunded much of the budget for the game, with more than 10,000 people contributing.

Rather than an alien threat as in the X-COM franchise, the enemies in "Phoenix Point" are (mostly) homegrown. In the game's setting, Earth scientists in 2022 discover an extraterrestrial virus in melting permafrost. (OK, so sort of alien.) They dub it the Pandoravirus, and humans and animals who come into contact with it are mutated into horrifying abominations.

Melting ice caps release the virus into the ocean, and Lovecraftian horrors emerge to begin the destruction of humanity.

It should be noted "Phoenix Point" was created pre-pandemic, so spot on, Snapshot Games.

Your mission is to save the remnants of humanity. Game end is determined by a Doomsday Clock -- if the human population falls below a certain percentage, it's game over. There's no way to stop the clock. You must win before it runs out.

Enter the Phoenix Project, a global scientific attempt to fight back against the monstrosities crawling out of the neo-primordial soup of Earth's oceans. And judging by the giant pincer claws, that soup is clam chowder.

You'll assemble a team of operatives with three soldier classes; assault, sniper and heavy. In addition to the Pandoran threat, three factions rule what's left of humanity. The Disciples of Anu are a doomsday cult that deliberately infects themselves with the virus, creating human-alien hybrids. New Jericho is a militaristic, xenophobic human faction seeking to wipe out every trace of the virus. And the Synedrions, the most technologically advanced, are radical ecologists who seek a way to coexist with the alien menace.

How you interact with these factions, which have their own philosophy and technology, is entirely up to you. They can be allied with or made enemies of, and are constantly at war with each other. Establishing good relations will entice them to share their unique technological advancements, however, as well as offering you a source of faction-specific operatives to add to your crew, such as a melee-focused Berserker from the Anu.

Similar to "X-COM," there's a global geoscape for planning missions and organizing the war effort, and monitoring the progress of the Pandoravirus mist, which acts like a fog of war and correlates to alien activity. You'll end up having several teams of operatives moving around the globe, trying to stamp out metaphorical fires, but you will never have enough resources to solve every problem.

While your operatives fly around the map, the world is not static. The alien threat and the human factions are AI-controlled and will accomplish their objectives in real time, such as going to war with each other.

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Combat is squad-based on a tactical level, and while similar on the surface to the aforementioned "X-COM," can trip up new players. Gone are percentage-based chances to hit. Instead, soldiers have a reticle based on their accuracy, weapon and distance. Bullets are modeled, meaning bullets that miss will travel past enemies and can destroy buildings and the environment. Cover is now physics-based, so hiding behind a solid wall offers more protection than hiding behind a railing with gaps in it.

Units can select a default shooting option, aiming for center mass, or they can enter a free-aim mode similar to the Fallout series' V.A.T.S. mode, with the ability to focus on individual body parts and appendages. This allows for options such as aiming for the legs to slow an enemy's movement, or disabling an arm to prevent it from using weapons that require two hands. Or, you can even target the weapon itself, breaking it.

What truly sets "Phoenix Point" apart is that the enemy continues to evolve and does so to directly counter player tactics.

For example, let's say you find that an effective strategy is to blast enemies in the legs to take away their movement. Shooting them in a body part repeatedly will then unlock stronger versions of that alien, so the next time you see that enemy, it might be a variant with thicker armor on its legs, or an arm might turn into a shield to block bullets.

There's lots of replayability, too. Starting location, recruits and tactical combat maps are procedurally generated. Every play-through is its own unique experience, and there are multiple endings, depending on which faction you've allied with.

"Phoenix Point" offers a surprisingly complex and challenging experience with customizable difficulty and can easily be a game you'll sink hundreds of hours into.

‘Phoenix Point: Year One Edition’

Platform: Xbox One, PlayStation, Windows, macOS, Stadia

Cost: $29.99

Rating: Teen for blood, language, violence

Score: 9 out of 10


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