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Science-Fiction Weekly – Everspace, XCOM 2 On Console, Rogue One

by Andrew Reiner on Sep 27, 2016 at 10:00 AM

In an attempt to save as much money as I can to buy Rogue One: A Star Wars Story toys on Force Friday, my lunches have consisted mostly of peanut butter and honey sandwiches for the last two weeks. This self-inflicted punishment has saved me roughly $90 that I can use to buy the Black Series versions of Jyn Erso and K-2SO. My remaining money will either go to the U-Wing, which I just learned features awesome transforming wing positions, and a few of the 3 3/4 inch figures for my collection. All of these collectibles and many more release in just four days (which is a good 75 days before Rogue One hits theaters on December 16).

As excited as I am to go shopping (I'll be at a handful of stores at midnight!), the wait hasn't been that excruciating, thanks in large to two new science-ficton games hitting this week. The first is the console port of XCOM 2. When developer Firaxis Games announced XCOM 2 last summer, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One editions were not in the cards. In an interview with IGN, Jake Solomon, Firaxis' creative director, said that to make a more dynamic sequel with procedural generation the team had to shift gears to a PC-only focus. “To do that, we had to use all of our studio expertise, and our expertise here is PC," he said. "That's our home, and that's where we're really comfortable." Firaxis wouldn't rule out a console version at the time, but it didn't sound likely, and for a year, it appeared it would remain a PC and Mac exclusive.

Enter The Workshop, a developer that has helped other studios bring their games to console. Through a collaborative development effort with Firaxis and Blind Squirrel Entertainment, XCOM 2 is now on console, and it's a damn fine port. I'm just at the beginning of my campaign, which is set 20 years after the events of XCOM: Enemy Within and tells the story of the aliens seizing control of the world, and I'm having an absolute blast. Firaxis clearly had fun designing a world in which humanity is on the verge of extinction. While many of the enemy types from the first game return, they've evolved and showcase terrifying new abilities, such as a sectoid's ability to reanimate fallen soldiers.

If you haven't played XCOM before but have always wanted to, you don't need to go back to the previous console generation to play the first entry. This sequel stands well on its own, and the tutorial at the beginning is brilliantly devised, giving you all of the tools and knowledge you need to dive deep into the turn-based action. Just know this: death matters. If your troops are slain, they aren't coming back....unless you turn off permadeath, but don't be that person. XCOM is best experienced when a loss of life means something. You'll grow attached to your troops, more so than you would think. When you get a few hours into the game, you'll hate seeing them take on damage.

I'm playing through the Xbox One version, and the controls work remarkably well on the controller, as well as its predecessor did in the previous generation. On the visual end, I have experienced a few hitches in the character animations, and a slight dip in framerate when an abundance of effects (like fire) are on screen. The game also periodically freezes for a few seconds between player or enemy turns, creating a moment of uncertainty as to what is happening. These are minor (atom-sized) complaints in an otherwise excellent game. Again, I'm still early into the action, but I don't foresee any other problems occurring in the campaign. With that said, I still haven't explored the multiplayer landscape. You can check out a playthrough of a mission in the video below.

Are there any Colony Wars fans out there? If so, you may want to keep your eyes on Everspace, a roguelike space shooter developed by Rockfish Games for PC, and Xbox One. You can play it right now through Early Access, but I have some concerns about that. First, let me begin by saying it's a beautiful game.

Stunning even.

So good that almost every screenshot looks like the cover of a science-fiction book.

Damn.

Okay, I may be overselling the visuals a little bit, but asteroid fields hold a bit of a siren's call for me, and most of the areas in Everspace feature them. They also happen to be one of the game's biggest problems, but more on that in a second.

Since it is a roguelike, expect to die a lot, not from a lack of skill, mind you, but from the difficulty being blistering from the outset of play. The Early Access version doesn't offer a story, (although one is planned for the final release), and at the moment just features a series of level-specific challenges to complete before new stages can be reached. These goals range from earning a specific amount in a run, to downing a specific number of enemy fighters. Again, the game is brutally difficult, and you'll likely die repeatedly before achieving victory.

Although your ship is destroyed, almost everything you earn in a run is stored and can be used to improve the vessel you'll send out on the next run. So theoretically, over time you'll be able to outgun the opposition and make it to the next stage, which will likely turn up the difficulty a notch. Only one ship is controllable, but three will be available in the final game. It's a little slow in movement, but needs to be to a degree. Dogfighting against other ships requires aiming precision and quickly rotating to stay locked on the target. Keep in mind that these battles often unfold in asteroid fields. If it were any faster, you'd likely die more from crashing into rocks than by opponent rockets. Your base vehicle is equipped with lasers to kill shields and a gatling gun that can tear up a hull. It's also outfitted with light missiles that deal significant damage. The combat is rewarding and a true test of skill, but there isn't enough of it in this early version.

Right now, most of my time is dedicated to mining asteroids for materials that I can later use to upgrade my ship. Scavenging is the central focus, and it's execution leaves much to be desired. After blasting asteroids, useful debris must be excavated, a slow, and tiring process that nets the smallest of gains. Some asteroids are gigantic and you'll have to fly inside of them to find what you are looking for. This action is somewhat terrifying and cool (and again reason why the movement is somewhat slow), but ends up being repeated too often in each run.

We'll see where Everspace goes from here, but it isn't too far off of the mark. The combat and flight mechanics are right on the money, and if resource gathering can be lightened, this could be a fun, and unique rogue-like experience. I recommend passing on it for now, but keep it on your radar to see how the full release turns out. Again, here's a quick look at it in action.

I'm going to conclude this edition of Science-Fiction Weekly with a bit of news that may not seem noteworthy, but it carries a bit of mystery that we should keep an eye on: Alan Dean Foster is writing the novelization to Ridley Scott's upcoming Alien: Covenant film. The point of interest comes from Foster's website where he says he is taking an "unusual approach that's never been tried before in a novelization." What could that mean? We'll have to wait for more details to find out. Until then, have a great week!