15th Oct2021

‘Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition’ Review (Xbox)

by Matthew Smail

Even though Phoenix Point has been out on PC for a couple of years now (more or less, anyway) it has only just landed on consoles. Thankfully, it appears on both PS4 and Xbox One (with next gen upgrades apparently due in the future) in the form of the Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition. This version includes both the original base game and all of the released DLC, which is actually so well integrated that as someone playing the game for the first time, i.e. me, it’s quite tough to tell exactly which bits are new from those that have always been there.

Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition is a straight up tactical shooter with a strategic management element that takes place between missions. As you would expect from a game conceived by the original designer of the X-Com series, Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition layers in the complexity from the outset, with lots of things for the player to think about and manage. Most notably among these things is understanding the enemy – which is the all too close to home “Pandoravirus.” In Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition‘s story, the Pandoravirus emerges from melting of polar ice caps due to global warming, and upon its release – life as we know it begins to mutate.

With a world being overrun by crabmen who emerge from an ever-expanding red mist, the player assumes the role of the leader of the dormant Phoenix Point organisation. This group occupies the classic “saviours of humanity” position within a global ecosystem that also includes three other key NPC organisations, each with differing goals and philosophies. One of several failure conditions for the player is if the human population falls below 10%, and a key part of the game is flying your Phoenix team operatives from one location to another to save various faction havens, whilst also managing your own stamina, health and resources.

With this as the basic premise – save humanity – Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition offers so much more. Aside from just hopping between havens to fight, trade, complete missions and scheme between the various human factions, you’ll also need to manage the production of weapons, ammo, armour and vehicles, upgrade your initial base (and expand into up to ten more to increase your range), research new technologies, build and upgrade ships to operate multiple teams and lots, lots more. Despite some added complexity (manufacturing additional ammo, for example) this is all very X-Com so far, and that, honestly, is a theme you’ll never get away from – but that’s OK as long as the execution is excellent.

And thankfully, it is. Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition feels very feature rich when you’re in the strategic view alone, and most of what you “think” you should be able to, you can. As I said earlier, I don’t know how to unpick all the DLC versus what’s in the base game, but it’s clear that one later addition is that of the “Festering Skies” which effectively gives the Pandorans the ability to scout the map and attack from the air, which requires constant consideration at a strategic level. Additionally, this introduces aerial combat which is a bit clunky, but nonetheless an interesting distraction and it means that upgrading your airships becomes essential for survival.

Where the design heritage of Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition really shines through though, is in the tactical battles. Most of these take place in procedurally generated maps that come in four or five different biomes and feature buildings with up to four levels to offer tactical advantages. Walls can be destroyed and cover works on a very literally “line of sight” level, rather than via the random number generation of most X-Com style systems. To explain this a bit better – cover might be half or full height, and characters will lean around walls to shoot, but whenever targeting an enemy, shot success is determined by a large reticule with a smaller one inside it – the shot will hit 100% within the large reticule, and 50% inside the smaller one. This makes long shots with sniper rifles more appealing, and close up shots with say, a shotgun, the only choice.

Having mentioned procedurally generated maps, I should point out that some of the story missions (of which there are lots – mostly with well done, interesting cut scenes to accompany them) come with hand-crafted maps. In most cases, these are quite a bit more interesting than the standard ones that are generated randomly, but if anything for me, that just highlighted how much fun Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition is by default, and how the experience is elevated on the truly excellent maps.

Another high point for Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition is the enemy design and associated AI. One of my issues with the X-Com series has always been the fact that there are relatively few enemy types to sustain such a long campaign. Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition does away with this by not only having about twenty (maybe more) discrete “classes” of enemy, but also the ability within most of these to vary – allegedly based on how the player approaches the game. As an example, enemies might initially focus on a balanced attack, but later in the game will begin to appear with more shield mutations in order to defeat snipers, or more close combat units to counter assault-heavy squads.

When you take this ability to dynamically respond to the way the player sets up and match it with AI that actually seems to do the right things at the right time, Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition can pose quite a challenge – especially on the harder two difficulty levels, the latter of which is practically impossible to succeed at for the average gamer. As an example, the first time we meet the Acheron class of enemy, we learn that despite its formidable size, that it will largely focus on calling reinforcement and staying away from combat, even though it has some powerful de-buffs and evasive skills to defend itself with. The downside of this kind of adaptive AI and a very broad range of units for it to choose from is that sometimes missions can feel unwinnable, whilst others might be a relative cakewalk – the curve is much less traditional.

A bigger downside for me is that of running out of resources and seeing the end long before it actually comes. This happened on one or two of my games, especially on the second hardest difficulty, where I simply didn’t have the resources to continue practically. I had little left to trade, not enough tech to replenish my soldiers ammo or damaged weapons, and two or three teams of operational units that I just knew would die off in the next battle. I think to some extent this has been recognised by the developers because the player can recruit non-human “Mutoid” soldiers using a completely separate resource, but because these guys don’t come with any weapons or armour, it often just compounds the issue – although in other situations it can buy you enough capability to complete a mission or two and get back on track.

Overall, despite a couple of minor issues that only really surface during long term play, Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition is easily my favourite game in the tactical genre. It easily eclipses X-Com 2, and it delivers in all the key areas – story, tactical combat, strategic level management and in key supporting areas like the AI, character customisation and so on. The console version (which is the only one I have played) has a great user interface considering it is designed for controllers, and the only issue I had (on Xbox One Series X) was occasionally finding that my button mappings had gone to cock – which I could only resolve with a restart of the game. Aside from these small problems, Phoenix Point: Behemoth Edition is a really fantastic, comprehensive experience that offers 50 plus hours of content for dedicated fans, and way more for completionists and those who can stomach the harder difficulty levels.

**** 4/5


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