One of the greatest strategy games of all time can now be played on a handheld but how well does it run on Nintendo Switch?
XCOM 2 is one of the best video games ever made. Or at least it is on PC and the other current gen consoles. And even then, it only barely runs well enough for its technical limitations not to ruin the experience. Given that fact, many wondered how on earth it was going to work properly on the Nintendo Switch. Predictably, this version is highly compromised, but it’s still far better than we expected, and the convenience of handheld mode makes putting up with most of the problems surprisingly easy.
There are frame rate issues and loading time waits that would make an action game completely unplayable but XCOM 2 is a turn-based strategy game and as such the number of problems that directly affect the gameplay are actually quite limited. XCOM 2 on Switch isn’t elegant or pretty but nothing has changed in terms of the game itself, which is as endlessly engrossing here as it was on the other formats… and all the previous versions dating back to the Amiga era.
As usual, the set-up involves you controlling a clandestine group fighting back against an alien invasion. But rather than a militarised version of The X-Files the sequel starts with the aliens having already won and the XCOM organisation reduced to a guerrilla force working out of a stolen UFO. From there you have to expand the scope of your insurgency and research alien technology until you’re ready to take back the planet.
Although the XCOM games were initially designed for the PC they’ve always worked extremely well on consoles, to the point where many prefer playing them with a joypad. (An option for touchscreen controls would still have been welcome, but like so many Switch games that choice doesn’t exist.) XCOM 2 is a complex game, once you start getting further into the campaign, but at a basic level the combat involves simply pointing where you want one of your four soldiers to move and then who you want them to shoot at.
Once you’re comfortable with that you can start to take advantage of the different abilities each soldier has access to, according to how much they’ve been levelled up, what class they are, and what items they’ve brought with them. These can range from various grenades and bombs to grappling hooks and holographic decoys.
These additional options are introduced only gradually and most have to be researched and manufactured back at your UFO, in the strategy level meta game. This can be a little more daunting for strategy newbies, but again it starts off very simply with little more than recruiting and armouring your soldiers, before picking which mission to go on next.
The meta game is something most other strategy games don’t have but anyone’s that played Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle will find the rest of the game surprisingly familiar. Ubisoft’s game borrowed liberally from XCOM and while it never had the same range of options it did include features like overwatch, where you hold back a turn to take a potshot at aliens when it’s their turn to move. So if you could handle Mario + Rabbids you really shouldn’t have any problems here.
As the name implies, this release includes all the DLC for the game, with four smaller content packs and War Of The Chosen, a huge expansion that could easily have been sold as a standalone sequel. All the content is available at the start but can be switched on and off depending on your preferences. If you’re new to XCOM though we would suggest leaving War Of The Chosen until later, because it does assume you know what you’re doing and can get very involved.
It’s excellent though and introduces three new human factions, what are essentially zombies, and three superpowered aliens that act something like Mr. X or Nemesis from Resident Evil, in that they’re always turning up just when you least expect it and cannot be killed by conventional means. War Of The Chosen is significantly more difficult than the base campaign but it’s hugely satisfying when you complete it.
In terms of content and gameplay XCOM 2 is superb value for money, but there is that question of performance. The bugs and frame rate issues were problems even on the PC, and while that doesn’t excuse anything on the Switch it does mean this isn’t significantly worse. The load times are also terrible, but then again they were awful on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 too.
It takes around a minute to get into most missions, which is a lot to put up with, but the fact that this is a strategy game makes it a lot easier to put up with. A bigger problem is how the game struggles to cope with the fog of war effect on each map, which can sometimes take 15 seconds or more to update in certain situations, which does start to interfere with the pacing of a mission.
Performance, particularly the frame rate, is much better in handheld mode and the game as a whole works much better than the PS Vita port of the first reboot. It’s not ideal but even though the graphics have been stripped down as a far as possible XCOM 2 on Switch still manages to look surprisingly good at times, and in terms of both visuals and performance this is much better than we were expecting.
There’s currently no clue as to what the future of XCOM is, but with both Chimera Squad and this we hope things are building up to an announcement for XCOM 3. If that’s released on the next gen consoles then hopefully there’ll be no technical distractions at all, but even with them XCOM 2 loses almost none of its appeal and remains one of the very best games of the generation.
XCOM 2 Collection Nintendo Switch review summary
In Short: Despite some serious technical compromises this is still XCOM 2 and playing it on Switch in handheld mode is just as engrossing as any other version.
Pros: The best turn-based combat of any strategy game, whose depth and variety are equalled by its surprisingly accessible controls. Meta level strategy is equally good, with great storytelling.
Cons: The performance is, understandably, the worst yet with bugs, long load times, and frame rate issues; although the nature of the game means they have relatively little effect on gameplay.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Virtuos and Firaxis Games
Release Date: 29th May 2020
Age Rating: 16
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