The invasion continues. Xenonauts 2 is now in Early Access from Goldhawk Interactive and Hooded Horse and I've taken a look to see how it runs on desktop Linux and Steam Deck. Note: key provided by the publisher.
With the good news to begin - it works out of the box on both with Proton 8. No special Linux / Proton issues I've noticed when playing it. So if you're into XCOM-like strategy games, and this is very XCOM, then you're in for quite a treat, keeping in mind there will be bugs and balancing issues since it's an Early Access game.
For the Steam Deck specifically, playing it is a little more difficult since it does not have full controller support. So you'll be using Steam Input's keyboard / mouse layout and it may take a few minutes to tweak it to your liking. Not a big issue though, and felt good enough with the Steam Deck's trackpads but actual controller support would make it just so much better.
As for graphics settings on Steam Deck, I would suggest just sticking to the "Fast" preset with a 40Hz / FPS lock in the Steam Deck performance menu and you're pretty golden there. Not much is needed apart from that because it runs really nicely with those together overall. It's also turn-based so any drops I saw were momentary and not a problem for the gameplay.
Text size is once again an issue though. It’s not exactly heavy on the text, but there are times you get a few paragraphs to read based on mission reports and what’s going on. On Steam Deck the text size simply isn’t big enough to be comfortable to read. So it really needs the developer to adjust it and add in some actual scaling options.
On desktop Linux with my Ryzen 5800x and an NVIDIA 2080 Ti it's no surprise that it handles max settings without breaking a sweat. No performance issues there at all.
So what's actually different compared with the original? The developer has been keeping a list and there's actually quite a lot. This includes more difficulty options, a proper tutorial, extensive tooltips, translation support, a better user interface with improved text clarity, Steam Achievements, better support for ultrawide displays, it's now using a modern 3D game engine (Unity), a number a new mission types and the list goes on.
For those who haven't played the first one, it's a lot more like the classic X-COM: UFO Defense / UFO: Enemy Unknown compared with the modern XCOM remakes. Think of it like an evolution of the 90s original, one that's quite a lot more tactical and a thorough challenge. You build various bases across the globe, and equip each one with buildings, troops and more to deal with an expanding alien threat. You need multiple bases too, as each has a limited area they can scan around them for UFOs.
Bringing back some great memories of when I played X-COM: UFO Defense / UFO: Enemy Unknown on the Amiga. The excitement of discovery and the panic of a UFO being spotted that you need to chase down. There's a lot of interesting mechanics at play here with lots of enemy types, human agents working alongside them and all the mystery surrounding it keeps it feeling fun as you go through. Really it feels exactly like what I would want from a modern strategy game inspired by one of the best retro strategy games ever made (I'll fight anyone who thinks X-COM isn't an all-time great).
It does feel a little bit special playing a game inspired by a childhood favourite right in my hands on Steam Deck.
Some of it really can be difficult, although a lot of it really does depend on your own decisions. In my first mission for example, I lost half my squad pretty quickly due to poor positioning. A small element of it is also the accuracy system, which as any XCOM player would know a "99%" hit chance right in their face can still result in you missing a shot and losing a soldier. There's missions where enemies will repeatedly get reinforcements too, making your positioning and timing all that more important.
The UI work done in it actually reminds me a little of the more modern Paradox games like Crusader Kings III, with nested pop-ups, links in text to hover that can bring up more information and other little adjustments. It's looking pretty good and thankfully laid out quite nicely so there's not a chance of getting lost in the UI.
So far I've been really impressed with it and look forward to seeing what development during Early Access brings. The developer has been actively fixing up issues as they come on, and responding to some comments about the (at times) punishing difficulty in some mission types with more difficulty options planned to be added in.
A little rough around the edges as expected but once complete, I can easily see this being one of the best strategy games to pick up and play. They're estimating around 9 months until the game leaves Early Access.