Phoenix Point PC Review

Phoenix Point’s great aspects do eventually shine through, as long as you’re willing to weather some fairly harsh storms and deal with lackluster onboarding and presentation.

By Woozie, Posted 09 Dec 2019

To say that things have gone wrong for good old humanity in Phoenix Point would be an understatement. The melting of the polar caps led to the appearance of the Pandoravirus that has thrown humanity into chaos, relegating it to isolated havens as angry mutated sea life claims more and more of the planet. You take control of the Phoenix Initiative, a group built specifically for situations like these, but which is also in a pretty poor state after running afoul of various governments back in the day. So, from a meager start in which you’re given a base, an aircraft and a handful of inexperienced soldiers, you go around the world saving as much of humanity as you can, while looking for a way to get rid of Nemo’s temperamental cousins. The comparisons with XCOM are inevitable and justified, given Julian Gollop’s role as creator of the original game, however, as much as they share DNA, Phoenix Point does do enough to carve a spot for itself among RTS/turn-based tactics hybrid games.

The most obvious example lies in its combat which makes use of an action point system. This essentially means that you have more control over how your units move. You can move, shoot, then dash for nearby cover, spend all your points to move further ahead or move half the possible distance and pop Overwatch, keeping a watchful eye on enemy movement and firing when they cross your sights. Phoenix Point also does away with percentage-based hit chances, meaning that point-blank shots will hit if aimed properly and, in the right context, can be lethal. Not only that but you can also use free aim to choose where you want shots to land, which opens up the way for tactically disabling enemies. Tearing the arm that’s holding the weapon apart can significantly reduce a unit’s potency, while blindly firing into a mist created for camouflaging is just as effective as long as you guess where the opponent waits.

Phoenix Point, PC, Review, Screenshot

Phoenix Point’s battles, while satisfying and tactically sound, fall on the dull or outrageously difficult side of things enough to eventually harbor frustration. The Pandorans are ruthless opponents even on lower difficulties, and the sight of some is terrifying well beyond the first encounter. Every battle in which a Siren was present became this uncertain race towards disabling its head, lest I wanted to risk half of my squad getting mind-controlled. If I was unlucky enough for the Siren to mind control a shotgun trooper with the Return Fire ability – that does precisely what it says on the tin every time an enemy in its range attacks –, that usually spelled doom for my squad. The same goes for the Chirons: heavily armored crabs that launched fire worms, immobilizing goo or plasma projectiles that could instantly decimate my most resilient troops within a turn. Difficulty is at home in Phoenix Point and, although the game rewards adapting your tactics and equipment to the situation, I bumped into several missions in which, no matter how I tried to approach things, my squad ended up dead, prompting a reload in hopes that the RNG would be slightly more forgiving with enemy types and their placement.

Depending on the tactics you employ, enemies mutate, adapting to counter you. Whether it’s extra armor for certain body parts, devastating explosive weapons that destroy your equipment, poisonous glands to wear your troops down or mists to obscure sight and protect against Overwatch, these mutations go a long way to keep you on your toes and make finding a surefire solution to all problems impossible. It’s difficult not to appreciate how well the system does its job, even in missions in which it was the culprit for several losses on my side. Enemies once though familiar change just enough to become a newfound threat.

Phoenix Point, PC, Review, Screenshot

Without soldiers, the Phoenix Initiative is nothing. Each unit comes with class abilities and innate ones that you can unlock as it gains experience. At level four they can choose a second class, which automatically unlocks another string of abilities. While at first dual classing seems optional, later on, especially after you unlock the classes associated with factions, they can turn battles around. Indeed, the pool of skills isn’t large enough to uncover new things throughout an entire playthrough but, when you’ve eight members on the ground, you’ll be happy to have soldiers that can also mind control units or Heavy units that can switch to poison weapons or sniper rifles when they run out of ammo for their big gun. You can also customize your soldier’s names, appearance, and armor, to make your squad stand out. It’s not the most expansive system, but it does the job. If soldiers are a bit too squishy for a given mission, you can also take vehicles with you into battle.

Phoenix Point’s flexible inventory system lets you carry extra medkits, ammo or weapons, within a given encumbrance limit, these coming in handy when you need to quickly replenish soldiers while on the field. You can even have them share ammo or loot bodies and crates found in actual maps, giving a tangible sense of cooperation. There are multiple types of armor and weapons to consider, specific classes excelling in specific roles. You can alter your squad’s composition both by replacing armor (and turning regular troopers into jetpack wielding Heavies, for example, if you’ve the proper hybrid class) but also by switching out wounded soldiers to rest at base. Recruitment tends to be costly and a little slow, which turns individual soldiers into quite a valuable resource.

Phoenix Point, PC, Review, Screenshot

Missions run the gamut from basic elimination ones to those tasking you with securing intel or seizing aircraft. In theory, there’s decent variety when it comes to objectives. In practice, most battles eventually lead to eliminating opponents or rushing one specific unit. Ambushes stand out as you can’t anticipate them and, when sprung, you have to see them to the end while keeping as much of your squad alive as you can. Sadly, the randomly generated layouts of levels rarely do anything interesting being the main source of why Phoenix Point’s battles become tedious much too soon.

As much as Phoenix Point’s tactical aspects impress but also infuriate, the game’s spartan presentation weighs things down. Textures range from ugly to passable while the HUD almost feels like a placeholder in certain spots. The high count of destructible environments can change the course of battles, potentially rendering perceived cover useless within a turn. The actual act of destruction, however, feels like striking plastic and leads to janky animations as pieces try to figure out how to fall to the ground before pulling off their disappearing act. Add to that such quirks as the weapons’ muzzle flashes appearing well above the shooter and multi-level maps which the camera makes rather tough to navigate and you’ve a game that’s not all that interesting to look at. To top things off, Phoenix Point’s audio and music are both very hit or miss and, especially in fights, the latter feels eerily absent, leaving a lot of empty space around the noise of battles.

Phoenix Point, PC, Review, Screenshot

You might think that Phoenix Point is all about tactics and shooting angry sea life, but you won’t get far without paying attention and understanding its engaging strategic layer. The Geoscape lets you move between points of interest, unveiling Havens belonging to different factions or locations where you’ll find resources that you’ll sometimes have to protect from enemies before claiming. Resources and new recruits are limiting factors that you’ll want to get on top of, although this, like many other things, isn’t explained all that well by the tutorial. Missions and locations are one source of resources but trading shouldn’t be overlooked either. Managing resources is centered around balancing amounts rather than stockpiling as many as you can find. While this can be frustrating at times, bringing recruitment, manufacturing or base expansion to a halt, it gives weight to decisions when it comes to these aspects. Do you build that snazzy new weapon or armor you just researched or divert resources to a medical bay for an extra base where you can heal your squads after missions?

In Phoenix Point, bases are the centerpieces of your effort, expanding not only the number of soldiers and vehicles you can have active but also your reach across the globe. You start with just one but end up discovering others through either missions or exploration sprinkled with a good amount of luck. This is another spot where RNG plays a role and, if it takes too long for you to discover a base, you might find yourself at a disadvantage. When you find them, they’re often in disrepair – for reasons explained in the lore – so bringing them back to operational capacity is another place in which you’ll sink resources. Area scans are key to unlocking new points of interest on the map and, as you travel the world, you’ll also encounter the game’s three different factions.

Phoenix Point, PC, Review, Screenshot

Where New Jericho is a dictatorship that believes in developing technology for war so that humanity may live as it once did, Synedrion is a democratic assembly divided between taking the planet back and coexisting with the new ecology. The Disciples of Anu are quite fond of the Pandorans, as it happens, militating for making use of the abilities bestowed by the Pandoravirus, seeing them as the next step of evolution. All three factions have their philosophies fleshed out and a fair share of intrigue attached to their inner workings, elements which you’ll have to balance when faced with certain narrative decisions. The writing in Phoenix Point is good enough to have you looking forward to the next narrative event and the choices can translate to anything from a modifier to reputation to more resources. But, as good standing also paves the way to new tech, you’ll likely end up having to side with one of them as you go into mid and late game.

Phoenix Point can be quite a handful initially and takes a while to settle into its usual pace. It’s no stranger to great ideas, like free aiming and the mutation system, but it’s also home to soulless randomly generated levels and repetitive, tedious, or impossibly difficult battles, particularly towards the latter portion of the mid-game and beyond, that sometimes feel like middle fingers to the work you put into leveling up your units. I can definitely see people soldiering through all the challenges just like I can see people giving it up after the third encounter with armored grenade launcher-wielding crabs that disable most of your weapons in the first two turns or those blasted Sirens that mind control units willy-nilly unless you focus fire on their heads. But, as long as you’re willing to weather some fairly harsh storms, deal with lackluster onboarding and presentation and, in the worst cases, restart a campaign or two, Phoenix Point’s great aspects do eventually shine through.

Bogdan Robert,
Senior Editor, NoobFeed
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General Information

Phoenix Point

70/100

Platform(s): Xbox One, PC
Publisher(s): Snapshot Games
Developer(s): Snapshot Games
Genres: Strategy, Tactics
Themes: Sci-fi, Turn-based
Release Date: 2019-12-03

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