PC, Mac | ★★★★★
The XCOM series tells the timeless story of an extremely polite alien invasion in which everybody has kindly agreed to take turns fighting, chess-style, rather than piling on to one another in a furious mess of guts and explosions and insectoid limbs.
XCOM 2 doesn’t stretch the idea too far, feeling immediately familiar to anybody who’s played the original. You’re the commander of the human resistance, floating above the battlefield like a sentient cloud and giving orders to a squad of soldiers. When the battle’s won, you scoop up any bits of alien tech you find and research it back at your home base, developing more advanced weapons with which to violently kasploosh our malevolent alien overlords.
Death in XCOM is permanent, leading you to consider the human cost of chucking your best troops into a difficult mission – you can even name and personalise each soldier, if you really want their deaths to truly sting. Outside of the nitty-gritty of personally managing each fight, you’re also orchestrating a rebellion on a global scale, disrupting alien supply chains, evacuating important civilians and stirring up the resistance forces where you can.
The highly economical resistance runs on a strict budget too, forcing you to scrabble for what limited funds and resources you can get your hands on. Choosing which of these missions to take on comes with massive opportunity and time costs, with research, training, healing and scouting all taking up valuable in-game days.
XCOM 2 forces you into difficult decisions on a constant basis, becoming an unrelenting treadmill of stress in which you play the dual roles of a battle commander and CEO of a corporation whose employees won’t stop being torn in half by horrifying mantis creatures. Brilliant, challenging and even further refined than the celebrated 2012 reboot that precedes it, this sequel represents the series at its absolute best.