Book Review: The Art of XCOM 2


XCOM 2 is the hot new game right now, and you know what that means, don’t you? New art book time!

Okay so The Art of XCOM 2, by Insight Editions, actually published about a month ago, but it seemed a bit premature to check it out until the game launched. Now that the game’s a few days old, let’s dive on in and take a look behind the scenes.

The Art of XCOM 2 features an introduction by art director Greg Foertsch plus six chapters and 192 9.25″ x 12″ pages of concept artwork covering previsualization, environments, aliens, ADVENT, XCOM, and weapons, technology, and effects.

With XCOM 2 set two decades after Enemy Unknown, in a near future scenario where Earth is ruled by aliens, the art reflects how the creative team evolved the original’s stylization to show how the world has changed under the occupation of invaders from outer space. The sequel’s switch to procedurally generated maps and customizable soldiers is also shown and discussed at length, as many of the art assets were designed in a sort of modular fashion to switch in and out for different environmental biomes and armor types.

The environments chapter displays the contrasting styles between the utopian shimmer and sterility of the alien-controlled cities and the rural shanty towns that refugee humans resistant to the occupation call home, as well as the propaganda statues and posters used by the ADVENT to lure in humans versus the black-painted graffiti used to inspire the human resistance. For a turn-based strategy game, getting a closer look at the map-building process is particularly cool because you get to see how the designers planned out things like cover points and other environment props.

The aliens, ADVENT, and XCOM chapters focus on the visual languages of the character designs, while the technology chapter shows the contrasting nature of the three factions’ weaponry and vehicles. The aliens chapter is probably the highlight of the whole book, as there’s just something about the different alien concepts that makes a sci-fi nerd geek out. While XCOM has been turned into more of an underground guerilla force using familiar “old world” weapons and a retrofitted alien craft as a mobile home base, the aliens have used human DNA to evolve into even tougher and more terrifying beings, from the standard Sectoids and apelike Mutons to the insect/crustacean-like Chryssalids and the morphing giants of melting flesh known as the Faceless. Even the serpentine Vipers make a return in homage to the original X-COM: UFO Defense. The sketches depicting the animation sequences of the various alien attacks, like the Berserker’s beat down ability and the Viper’s bind and pull abilities, are especially cool.

In addition to the modular elements of the armor customization, the XCOM section features character artwork, including costume and hair/head studies, for major human characters like Central Officer Bradford, Chief Engineer Lily Shen, and Chief Scientist Dr. Tygan. The least interesting art is for the ADVENT, which I suppose is somewhat by design as their angular, generic sci-fi look is supposed to be kind of sterile and future-militaristic to create a sense of mystery about who they are.

The Art of XCOM 2 is another world class video game art book from Insight Edition, publishers of other recent coffee-table standouts from last year like Assassin’s Creed: The Complete Visual History and The Art of Halo 5: Guardians. (Don’t forget about the XCOM 2: Resurrection prequel novel either.) As a game and universe, I wouldn’t say that XCOM has a particularly unique or original art style–i.e. I don’t look at the art and immediately say, “Hey, that’s XCOM!”–but the work the Firaxis art team put into realizing the game’s visual identity certainly is to be respected and admired. XCOM fans and general appreciators of sci-fi art are in for a treat.

You can buy The Art of XCOM 2 now at or direct from Insight Editions for $39.99.

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Disclosure: A review copy of The Art of XCOM 2 was provided to by Insight Editions.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!