With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. In this installment, we’ll be looking at Phoenix Point, a turn-based strategy game released by Snapshot Games games in 2019.
The apocalypse this week is something a little bit different from our previous entries. A mysterious virus, dubbed the Pandora Virus, has turned some people into mutant hybrid sea creatures that have slaughtered most of the remaining humans. You control a surviving secret society trying to get to the bottom of the epidemic and reclaim the Earth for humanity.
This idea is similar to zombies, in that an infection spreads and turns humans into monsters. However, instead of the monsters spreading by attacking humans, the vector for the disease is a virus-laden mist that rises out of the ocean. For anyone that played the massive multiplayer game Secret World, this plot is a little similar to the Draug chapter of that game, though these two games play quite differently.
Phoenix Point is broken up into a few main components: turn-based tactical squad combat, base management, and exploring the world map. When starting a campaign, an optional tutorial will walk you through the basics of the game. Thematically this tutorial is a handful of soldiers claiming your initial base.
The map, or Geoscape as it called in this game, is a 3-D model of the earth. Locations are marked as little white circles with various symbols inside them: question marks for unexplored areas, white dots for cleared areas, the orange bridge (seen on the screen shot above as a bullet point for objectives) for your bases, red symbols for enemy bases, and a variety of colored symbols for other factions. The red highlighted areas represent areas covered by the virus-laden mist.
You discover locations by triggering a scan from your transportation vehicle, the Manticore. You do not need to leave your vehicle at one location once the scan has been initiated. It can fly off and explore other areas while a circular section of the map has location your revealed.
Besides your faction and the enemy mutations, called the Pandorans, there are three other groups: New Jericho, a militaristic faction bent on eradicating the infected; Synedrion, a group of extremely democratic technologists trying to build a new society amidst the infection; and the Disciples of Anu, a religious group that sees mutation as the evolution of humanity. These groups hate one another, but you can do missions to build relationships with them and eventually ally with one of them. The Pandorans will also attack their bases, giving you an opportunity to raise your standing with that group by rescuing their base.
On the topic of bases, in this game they serve as a place where you can house your troops and let them heal between missions, grow food, house vehicles, conduct research, build new equipment, and a few other things. Some buildings require energy to run, so you need to build a generator to power them and get their benefits. You cannot build a base wherever you want, but instead need to discover and reclaim old Phoenix Point bases around the world as the game progresses.
The Pandorans can also attack your bases, though in my experience this is a rare occurrence at best in the early to mid-game. As the mist expands around the world, Pandoran bases can be built inside it. I believe that you may be more likely to be attacked if one appears near your base and you don’t destroy it in a timely manner.
Ammunition is limited in this game, so eventually you will need to manufacture more. Aside from ammo, you can also build more weapons, armor, grenades, medical kits, and even vehicles. Smaller items, like ammo, can typically be produced instantly, but larger items may take several days of game time to construct. You can also unlock new items to build through research, or raising your standing to ally with one of the three other factions.
The game presents various objectives for you to complete as you try to discover the secrets of the virus and deal with the Pandorans. These can be broken down to three activities: research a topic, manufacture a specific item or building, or complete a mission at a location on the map. Sometimes the location will be presented to you, while other times you will need to find the location as part of the objective.
Missions take place on a tactical, multilevel grid-based map. You get a turn to take actions with whatever troops you have sent to a location, then the enemies and any neutral forces get a round of actions. Each soldier has 4 Action Points (AP) that can be spent on moving, shooting, activating abilities, using items, etc. Depending upon a soldier’s skills, and the complexity of the action, each action can take from 0-3 AP.
There are three base classes for soldiers: assault, heavy, and sniper. This class determines what weaponry the soldier is proficient with and what skills they can unlock after leveling up. Soldiers level up by earning experience through completing missions, killing enemies, or by spending time in a base with a training facility.
When a soldier levels up, they gain Soldier Skill Points (SP). These can either be used to unlock skills, such as increased damage with a particular weapon, reduced AP costs for abilities, or new combat abilities, or to improve a soldier’s base stats: Strength, which determines how much can be carried; Willpower, which is used by some skills and impacts morale; or Speed, which impacts how far a soldier can move using AP. The maximum level is 7, but you also get a communal pool of points, earned from completing missions, that can be spent to improve any soldier.
Phew! That’s a lot of writing to just cover the basics of the game! While I don’t want to get too much into the plot to avoid spoiling things, I will say that the game does a good job of setting up a ticking time bomb scenario. You only have so much time to save the world before the mist spreads to cover the globe.
The graphics for combat are very well done. Almost too well done, in my case. I have an older machine and, even with the graphics turned down, it struggles to run the game at times. There are some cut scenes, which are done via narration while the camera pans on static images. I believe the style is called Motion Comic, which has become fairly popular with developers. It’s less impressive than fully animated cut scenes, but probably much easier to make.
The music does a good job at setting the mood of a futuristic, yet apocalyptic, world. The voice-overs are well done, though mainly are for interactions with faction representatives or narration of the plot. I didn’t feel particularly invested in any of the speaking characters, and worried more about my troops dying.
If you ever played Microprose’s mid-90’s X-Com series, or the 2013 reboot of that series by Firaxis Games, then this game will seem very familiar. Phoenix Point was developed by one of the creators of that series, and most of the mechanics are lifted from those previous works. Things have been updated and modernized, of course, but the flow of game play is still very similar.
One big new feature is evolving enemies. As the game progresses, the enemies will change to adapt to your weaponry and tactics. One thing that hasn’t changed, is that the game is fairly lengthy and difficult. Your troops getting slaughtered may have you reloading from an earlier save to try a mission again until it goes right.
As a big fan of the X-Com series, I was very excited at the prospect of this game coming out. Overall I enjoy the game, but my technical limitations can make it a chore to play. Starting it up, and shutting it down, can take quite a while for me even with the settings turned down. However, I don’t want to judge it too harshly on that criteria, as most players hopefully have better hardware.
If you are a fan of X-Com, or enjoy lengthy strategy games, then this is probably a title you should check out. Ignoring my technical issues, I give it a solid B+, or 8/10. But, if your graphics cards is several generations old, you may get frustrated with it.
If you want to check out Phoenix Point, it can be found at the Epic Games Store here. You can also purchase it, for the Epic Game Store, on the developer’s web-site here.