App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Update: A new content update to Xenowerk Tactics makes the game much harder and more satisfying. Learn more here.
Xenowerk Tactics is a strange release in the sense that its developers are mostly known for shooters and driving games. On this foray into a new genre, Pixelbite gets a lot of things right, but it’s also clear they’re new at this. There’s a lot of great ideas in Xenowerk Tactics, but they’re mostly packed into the back-end of an experience that feels a bit short to begin with.
Xenowerk Tactics is a real-time strategy spin-off of Xenowerk, an arcadey top-down shooter. In both, you control humans as they seek to exterminate alien lifeforms that have somehow invaded Earth. In the case of Xenowerk Tactics, you happen to be controlling squads of up to three human combatants and controlling them with tap-and-drag controls that aren’t too unlike that of Door Kickers or Strain Tactics.
Tactical combat isn’t the only thing you control in Xenowerk Tactics, though. The game has a management layer where you’re building up a home base, recruiting new soldiers, upgrading their arsenal, and choosing missions to advance the interest of competing factions. This sets the stage for your missions, which can involve bouncing between multiple locations and completing objectives to gain resources for upgrades, get your troops experience, or unlock new areas of the map to explore.
Most of the fun in Xenowerk Tactics is in upgrading all of your stuff to change up your combat options. I say this because the game’s base combat at the outset is a pretty bland affair. Missions are dead simple, to the point that the only troop commands that matter move and halt (as your troops shoot automatically, but only while stationary). As you start unlocking things though, your alien opposition becomes larger and sturdier, and it becomes fun to see how your evolving troops can deal with the emerging threat.
I say “evolving” intentionally because your soldiers can literally mutate and gain superhuman powers as a result of being exposed to hostile alien environments. In my playthrough, I was particularly fond of one of my marines who had gained a Pyrokinesis ability that could light enemies surrounding her on fire.
Evolution isn’t just constrained to upgrades and powerups, either. As you play Xenowerk Tactics, your troops develop their own personality traits that can grant passive bonuses and penalties. This can even lead to some people causing friction with others, so you want to make sure not to send them out on missions together. Once out on missions, things can get even hairier. Because you have to move your troops from landing zones to mission sites, you can get ambushed by random alien mobs, have minor squabbles between your team, and even stumble across prototype technology. Xenowerk Tactics is at its most fun when all of these systems weave themselves together to create a challenge that requires some tough decision-making.
Game over, man
In my playthrough of Xenowerk Tactics, some truly harrowing situations resulted from pushing mission outings a little too far or coming across random events I wasn’t prepared for. Unfortunately though, that only really started to happen toward the end of the game, and it was mostly because I was playing the game more recklessly in an effort to create those situations. Even then, I still never lost an operative, though I did come close. This is to say that Xenowerk Tactics probably isn’t as punishing as it should be.
Something also worth noting is the fact that I was enjoying these endgame encounters without really knowing I was nearing the end of Xenowerk Tactics. This is because the game doesn’t really properly communicate what its win conditions are (for the record, filling any faction meter is cause for the game to end). I was fully prepared to keep upgrading my base and operatives indefinitely, but I accidentially triggered an ending that forced me to start a new game if I wanted to keep playing.
In that playthrough though, I ended up seeing the full extent of challenges Xenowerk Tactics has to offer, and it left me a bit wanting. The game relies a bit too much on its systems generating challenging situations, but those systems are a bit too easy to sidestep safely.
The bottom line
Xenowerk Tactics is bursting with potential, but it only delivers on its promises fully if you force it to. The game overall is a bit too friendly—the onboarding is too gradual, the upgrade ramp is too slight, and the whole thing piques just as it’s ending. If there was some new game plus or other challenge mode, I’d really love to dive back into Xenowerk Tactics and test my mettle. Until then, I’m happy to have played it, but am slightly frustrated by its lack of challenge.