1 Year in: my response to the game as an overall experience

I’ve been away from the game for quite a few months, and the latest update piqued my interest. In all honesty, though, I’m struggling to find the will to actually press play. To be clear, I (like many others) backed the game, and I’ve followed it (decreasingly) closely from its announcement. We’re not in Early Access anymore - the game is officially released, but from what I’ve seen on here, balance issues are still a hot topic, and grind in the mid to late game is still a factor. In some ways, I can’t help thinking that this is just the pathology of the game, given the mechanisms that the devs have opted for - it might just be painted into a corner, so to speak.

Previously on these forums, when I’ve commented I’ve tried to keep it constructive, and hopefully this isn’t too negative, but at the same time, I feel I need to get a few points off my chest. Some of these are sort of abstract, so bear with me (and apologies for the length):

  • The game is gloomy. Almost too gloomy. I understand that this is the narrative, but there is absolutely no let up. From the music to the colour palette, the overall effect received by the player is just this - gloom. And doom. Again, I stress that I understand the need for this somewhat, but the Firaxcom games managed to imbue a sense of weight and tension without bogging the player down with the same sense of bleak depression. Players spend hours upon hours with games, and after a while, the feeling from the game starts to spread to how you feel in real life. Every time I think about opening the game again, I just think ‘Orange. Black. The blackness of space. Doomy piano music. End times. Fog. Seafood.’, and I play something else. There must have been a way when considering the multi-sensory aesthetics of the whole thing to provide a little light and shade. It’s too far down the line to start changing this now, so I’m not expecting anyone to consider this as a request - it’s just something I personally don’t like - enough for it to have a considerable effect on whether or not I play.

  • The enemies are boring. Again, another subjective view, but Terror from the Deep was never my favourite, for this reason. I just don’t find crabs, squids, and crustaceans to be an exciting or compelling foundation for an interesting enemy force. At this, the variety is low, and many enemies are just a graphical tweak of another, with a couple of numbers jiggled around in the background. This is a far cry from (what was) one of the two main selling points of the game for me at announcement: the ballistics system, and ‘evolving’ enemies. I understand that the latter concept has since been written off, but the combination of the u-turn on the idea, and the actual dreary implementation we have, is very disappointing. All this has been raised and discussed ad nauseum already - I know - but we’re a year into release, and very little has improved in this department. There is the in-game announcement of new enemy types, but that’s not the point - they all even have the same animations - it just feels like cut corners. Even in the DLCs, models and animations are reused to represent new concepts or characters. The variety of aliens in ‘UFO: Enemy Unknown’ was perhaps less thematically cohesive, but they all felt like very different entities, that demanded very different tactics.

  • Magic. Teleportation. Infini-cupboards. Instant robot head transplants. This jars with me perhaps more than anything else in the game. Some don’t mind it, I know, but for me, it breaks the narrative. It’s this board game mechanic that seems so at odds with other aspects of a game that wants to be so realistic. Why go to the trouble of having a semi-realistic ballistics system, but be able to perform a full body prosthesis on a human, on an in-flight dropship, with zero down time? If items can be teleported around, why can’t the aliens just teleport a bomb into your base? I know this makes me sound like a rigid-thinking stickler, but I would much prefer there to be one ‘lore’, and for the game to say that some things were technologically possible, and some weren’t. It’s not even that item ‘teleportation’ is supposed to be in the narrative of the game - we’re just supposed to overlook it, as if it isn’t really happening. I much preferred the system from UFO, where you could load up the dropship with as much spare gear as you thought you might need. This in itself was a gameplay mechanic, as you were at the same time covering yourself, and also taking a risk; there was always the chance that the ship, and all the gear in it, could be lost. Equipment had to exist somewhere. In PP, you can never lose resources like weapons and ammo unless you lose the game outright. Where is it all supposed to actually exist? Call me old fashioned, but I also preferred having to manufacture (or loot) ammo. This brought about scenarios where you might not be able to use the weapons you wanted, and had get to get by with something else. In PP, once a soldier has one magazine, it’s instantly replenished for the next mission. I really don’t like that. I think this is another great mechanic that was abandoned in the name of streamlining and simplicity.

  • Life imitating art imitating X-Com imitating XCOM. The overall look and feel is too similar to the Firaxis XCOM, along with the two-action per turn mechanic. Even the perk system is there. Somehow, this just feels undignified. For the creator of the original concept to copy a later, third-party interpretation so directly - I can’t really understand this at all. There must have been some other way to make the game that built upon both the original implementation, and the Firaxis games. It pains me to say this, but after a year of release, the only thing PP has going for it over the Firaxis games is the ballistics system. With regard to tone, narrative, playability, balance, progression, in-game assets, and overall fun-factor - Firaxis do all of this better, leaving PP feeling like a weak copy. It feels like the decision to copy the overall design was taken without really considering what would happen after that. It reminds me of the plot of ‘Lost’, where the writers confessed there never really was a story - they just made it all up as they went along. To top it all off, the core game systems aren’t even finished yet, due to the seemingly endemic balance issues.

If we ever see a Phoenix Point 2, I hope there will be a bit more of a grand plan from the outset, with conversely, the minutiae of the in-game mechanisms much further along in terms of implementation at release. I’d like to see a new, original game design, that expands on the UFO foundations and also what Firaxis did with their interpretation, to create something new, brave, and unique - not this strange, feedback-loop homage to a copy that we have. If I’m brutally honest, after all this time, I think I’ve decided that I don’t really like the game, and if I’m even more honest, I’m genuinely sad to say I think I’ve lost some faith in the devs.

Subjective opinion as it is, that was a bit more negative than I’d planned. Sorry!