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Xenonauts Preview

By on April 10th, 2012 11:06 am


Xenonauts is a sci-fi strategy game that is heavily inspired by the X-COM classic UFO: Enemy Unknown, which is the X-COM series’ first title. Xenonauts is being developed by Goldhawk Interactive, an indie video games studio that bets on a low-cost development model to bypass publishers, and to fund their game’s development entirely through community channels. Goldhawk defines their first game, Xenonauts, as:

“A spiritual successor to the X-Com series of strategy games, Xenonauts aims to be the first project to carry the timeless mechanics into the modern age!” ~Goldhawk Interactive

Xenonauts is currently in Alpha state and is accepting pre-orders at Desura. Pre-ordering the game will allow you to play the latest alpha builds and the final game when it gets released.

Xenonauts brings back the old X-COM days

That’s right! After playing the early alpha build for a couple of hours I can already advance that Xenonauts succeeds in capturing the original X-COM game’s atmosphere and gameplay. It achieves this with appropriate music and sounds, intuitive controls, simple yet fun gameplay mechanics, and all that with nice and crisp new graphics.

I admit that I was a bit skeptical at first, after all the task of capturing the original X-COMs feeling was not an easy one, and being able to improve it further, even harder. Well, all I can say at this stage is that I’m totally convinced that Xenonauts will be a true UFO: Enemy Unknown spiritual successor. One that will certainly entertain the X-COM fans.

How did they did it?

There are many game components that need to be made right to make a successful X-COM, but above all else two must be made exceptionally well. The strategic world map and, of course, the tactical ground combat. Then, the music must be well chosen, the suspense setting well captured, the research part well made, the base-building well thought. All of this has been done very well in Xenonauts in my opinion, which is saying a lot from an X-COM veteran.


But, the game is still in alpha and very unfinished. For instance, at this stage (alpha 9.1) there are apparently only two maps available to play, and I was not lucky enough to see them both. I made about 10 ground missions and all of them were in the same map, an industrial area. There should be a farm area but I didn’t experienced it. In addition to the industrial and farm maps the devs plan also to have arctic (tundra), desert, town, alien base and xenonauts base maps.

An important aspect to reinforce are the intuitive controls. The game is very easy to pick-up on, at least for an X-COM veteran like me it feels very intuitive. Things work as they should and feel right. Things like having different aims being easily selectable via a simple mouse click or the soldiers’ movement being marked with a single click and double click moving your character. Moving your tanks and soldiers around also feels familiar. The user interface is also very well done, at least I think it is because I didn’t notice it (can’t make a better compliment to a UI than this).


I already talked about the good music, but the sounds are a no less important factor to reinforce the suspense and the horror setting, and they are no less good either. The alien sounds do sound very alien, and above all else scary. Tension is always present, and the curiosity to discover where the aliens are a constant. All this in one map? Ok, I think I was a bit hungrier for more X-COM that I thought :)

But, seriously, you can witness those things were very well thought and done. And you can also feel that things can still be further improved, like the Interceptor’s screen, or the bases’ graphics, but, I give a lot of merit to these guys for being able to pull it off. One inch around the mark and we would jump on you. Good job!

Bottom Line

Now, I just wanted for the game to be finished in order to play more. Playing the same map isn’t doable for more than a couple of hours. Yes, you can already undertake some research projects and can construct more bases but I got a couple of crashes that also hurt my progress, since I didn’t save and apparently an auto-save feature is not available.

But, the important thing is that this already feels like an X-COM game, even the explosion effects are very similar, the telepathic aliens, the fear, the interceptor missions, the avalanche missiles, the mystery, the drama, all there. Now with very nice graphics, that in my opinion can even be made much better with new layers of rendering.


Xenonauts is still in Alpha, many things still need to be done but X-COM fans can already rest assured, you will not be disappointed. We will have at least one X-COM game to play this year that’s for sure.

You can pre-order Xenonauts at the game’s official website. If you want to refresh your X-COM memories there’s an XCOM: Complete Pack available at GamersGate.

To know more about Xenonauts and XCOM: Enemy Unknown (the new X-COM being made by Firaxis), I invite you to read the article: XCOM: Enemy Unknown vs Xenonauts – The Debate Starts. See ya at Terror Site!

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  1. HungerPangz says:

    Definitely looking more interesting than Firaxis’ effort at the moment. Their game is pretty, but when you read about the gameplay it’s just looking way, way too thinned-out, mass-appealy and focused on “ACTION!” to be a worthy successor. Xenonauts, however, is satisfyingly crunchy and thoughtful even in its unfinished state. Definitely a game to keep an eye on.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I also have my own share of doubts about Firaxis’ XCOM. I mean, I’m positive that it will be a good game. It’s Firaxis, there’s a lot of talent and experience in that Team. But, if it’s a true and faithful successor we want than Xenonauts seems to be on the lead. If we want more and different, perhaps XCOM:EU will be the best.

      In any case I’m excited about the possibility of having 2 great X-COM games to play this year. Xenonauts I have little doubts I will enjoy a lot. About XCOM:EU, I have doubts but I’m confident that they will manage to pull it off. Although those almost real-time, action-full tactical battles don’t quite captivate me. But I will give them the benefit of the doubt of course.

      • HungerPangz says:

        Hah. I stopped giving the benefit of my doubt to game development teams about a decade ago :P.

      • Adam Solo says:

        Why do you say that? So little faith on game developers. If you said publishers or corporate CEOs I could agree to some extent though :)

      • HungerPangz says:

        The days too many studios are just extensions of the publishers and handle all public interaction like they’re spin doctors.

        But more than that, for the last ten years I’ve just been seeing too many games that could have been deep, unique, massively replayable or all three “streamlined” into averageness so they have the widest appeal – so that three million people will buy them and play them for a week, rather than a hundred thousand buying them and playing them for ten years (like UFO: Enemy Unknown, the Baldur’s Gate games, Fallout 1 and 2, Half Life, System Shock 2, the original Deus Ex, etc).

        I’m not saying the masses shouldn’t have their generic blockbuster games, but we’ve seen publishers turn away from niche genres that could use a lot more love because they don’t understand the idea of small budgets and *not* using the most expensive graphics and audio, leaving niche fans feeling left out. Even worse, we’ve seen niche series repurposed into blandness to draw crowds (see: Fallout 3, which Fallout: NV only slightly made up for). I feel the latter is what’s happening with Firaxis’ XCOM:EU.

        Part of it can be laid at the feet of soaring budgets, where publishers steer a game into genericness so they can get as much of their money back as possible, but greed still plays a part because they obviously want to make as much money as they can.

        There’s also the persistent delusion that since the largest part of their audience use consoles, and console players are simple, that the games must therefore be simplified into dull mediocrity to suit them. I’ve both been told this directly by game developers, and I’ve also had the delusion explained to me on two separate occasions as being a product of focus groups and playtesters: the people in question don’t feel they’re doing their jobs (and might lose them) unless they can find *something* to complain about, so when a *good* game design comes up, this means they quibble over things which aren’t really hard to handle at all, giving developers the false impression that their game is difficult to comprehend, leading to unnecessary “streamlining”.

        Developers also seem to have bought into the whole “the more people play your game the better it must be” thing, including Jake Solomon of XCOM:EU. But I’m a game developer, and I can tell you I’d rather have a tiny audience that will treasure my game for years than a big one that won’t remember it in a month – my only hope would be that said specialist fans would find my game worthy.

        It’s why I’m so happy about the massive response to Tim Shafer and Brian Fargo’s Kickstarter projects – no publishers, just oldschool fans directly commissioning oldschool games from oldschool developers.

      • Adam Solo says:

        Thanks for your comment HungerPangz, it was a great read and I share your game developer and gamer concerns 100%. The streamline, console, masses, greed, niche things, all of it.

        I have little to say after your comment because I think it says all. I would just add that there’s little we can do to change big publishers and development studios motivations, but what we can do is foster a different mentality to approach games and game development. Hey, it’s surely not new, we just need to bring most of it from the past, from the good old days (heck, they WERE really good old days) of Microprose, Westwood, Sierra, and others.

        I guess what we all need to see (I guess for many is already obvious) is that niche games (a subset of the market on a specific product that not everybody enjoys) must be nurtured by their people. And I mean ferociously. A major part of what I do with this site is exactly that. Keep the community tight, increase it, putting developers and readers very close, so that they can exchange views and help each other.

        Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have a big role on this, as you brilliantly put it “oldschool fans directly commissioning oldschool games from oldschool developers”. That’s exactly it! 4X games for example are niche games, they are a pretty big niche still but it’s not big ($$) enough for the so called AAA gaming corporations. And you know what, I think we don’t need them.

        As you say it’s much better to “have a tiny audience that will treasure my game for years than a big one that won’t remember it in a month”. That’s how this business was when it started. Games like Master of Orion 2, Heroes of Might & Magic 2, UFO: Enemy Unknown, Fallout, Half Life, were all done with that mind set for sure. The devs and publishers were much less greedy because there was not a big gaming market by then (and no consoles…).

        So, thanks for your comments, I think they were great to start this discussion. It’s time to be much clear. We, old-school gamers need to take care of each other and help our backs more. We need to help talented and courageous people more. People that decided to follow their dreams to make games they like to play (and we like to play). Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are a good vehicle for the devs to express their visions and for us to help them achieve them.

        But in the end I think it’s key that we don’t do all this only for the money! (devs, publishers, journalists, …) In my opinion if a dreamer is allowed to live his dream every day he only needs to put food on the table and keep himself (and his family) alive and well to be the most happy person of the world.

        You know that you can count with me in this. We will get more games like UFO: Enemy Unknown and Master of Orion 2. Start with Xenonauts, checkout Endless Space and have a look at Legends of Pegasus and StarDrive, and so many other indie games featured here on Space Sector, that surely deserve our love. After all they are made by people like us.

      • HungerPangz says:

        (Sorry, my first attempt at a reply went to the wrong spot)

        That reminds me of another saving niche games can make – niches are often small and concentrated enough that they don’t need money-sapping traditional marketing. Word of mouth is often good enough, because people of similar interests tend to congregate and chat amongst themselves on themed forums, but even if it isn’t, people like you and other writers with niche tastes will actively go looking for this stuff and bring it to the attention of readers with similar tastes.

        Additionally, with modern digital delivery systems, finding out about a new game is often merely a matter of going to your favourite content delivery platform, searching for games in your genre or by keyword, then sorting the results by date or whatever. Desura for instance. It’s bought loads of unique, niche indie games to my attention I might not have known about otherwise, and not only that, but it has an alpha funding system very similar in general principle to IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. GoG, too – it’s done a fine job of reminding people how good games used to be, and with recent changes it may be poised to become another good source of games with more classical design philosophies, not just actual classics.

  2. LS35A says:

    Three X-coms this year – ‘UFO Extraterrestrials 2’ is slated for 4th quarter release.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yes, you’re right. There’s also UFO2:Extraterrestrials to look at yes. So, it’s Q4 2012 for UFO2:E now. Interesting. There’s a good chance they all release more or less at the same time :) It’s X-COM remake/re-imagining year no doubt.

  3. EJ says:

    After reading your preview I went to the website and pre-ordered the premium copy of this game. I am currently playing a pre-build version of this game and have to say IT’S GOOD! I have not enjoyed a strategy game this much in a long time. I’m looking forward to burning many hours absorbed into this game.

  4. EJ says:

    Adam, The only gripe I have is that the camera view isn’t adjustable. Hopefully it will be in the final build. This looks like the game that will restore my faith in cpu gaming!

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Post category: Game Previews, Games Under Development