XCOM: Enemy Unknown is sometimes pitched as a remake of the old school classic UFO: Enemy Unknown. I hoped it would be something like the original, but to my surprise it was something more. I woke up earlier than usual on 12 October to deal with my admin because I knew that my weekend would be entirely devoted to two things: Dishonored and the latest XCOM. As wonderful as my Dishonored experience was, looking back now I wish I had installed and played them both before committing myself to one before the other.
XCOM Enemy Unknown was developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K, and it’s a true diamond. In XCOM Enemy Unknown you are the commander of the XCOM initiative and it’s up to you to train soldiers and command them in the field. After killing aliens the other objectives are to repurpose alien tech and protect your 16 member states while trying desperately to survive and defend against the alien threat.
Moving at the speed of death
Enemy Unknown is a turn based strategy game with short, intense missions. The soldiers of the XCOM initiative fly out to deal with alien abductions and UFOs that have been shot down. The combat is always engaging and this is why XCOM Enemy Unknown is the best strategy genre game I have played since Starcraft 2. The problem with older turn based strategies like Fallout Tactics were that at times they were slow. XCOM combat is highly strategic and after just a few hours the mechanics of flanking, positioning and cover will be an automatic part of how you take on every new challenge, but the combat is never slow. Besides combat keeping you on your toes there’s the addition of a third person action camera to keep drawing you into the action as it happen. The slow motion camera did mean that sometimes I had to cross my fingers when one of my soldiers took an especially unlikely shot.
One of its main draw cards and what it’s all about really is getting the biggest and best guns to keep on shredding aliens. One of the most satisfying moments is when one of your soldiers take aim, the camera zooms in and time slows, they fire, and then the camera darts over just as an enemy alien lifts off his feet with the force of the shot and comes crashing back to the floor, dead and bleeding.
The combat side of the game is even more strategic on harder difficulties. As such it’s always testing your killing skills. Each class of soldier is varied; there are Snipers, Heavies, Assaults and Supports. Each class has their own development trees from which the player chooses skills as the soldiers gain ranks with promotion. The heavy class for example, can choose abilities like extra grenades, shredder rockets and suppression fire. It’s those kinds of abilities that save your ass when you make a misstep or run for cover only to alert two more aliens to your presence. But because there are generally choices between skills at each promotion and you can choose what combination of soldiers you want to use in each mission, it means that very few XCOM teams will be alike. I went for two Assault soldiers in my squad. They’re basically shotgun wielding bad asses, who on every third turn can run double the distance of other marines and still take a shot and then, with rapid fire, take a second shot to boot.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction:
There are various avenues through which players can allocate the resources they gather, such as: scientific research, foundry research and building items and facilities through engineering. Scarce resources mean there are always pressured decisions and sacrifices that must be made whether it’s spending your alloys on better ships and losing out on the next piece of weapon research for your soldiers, or spending cash on generators instead of training your soldiers in the Officer Training School. Even your response to alien incursions will always come at an opportunity cost whether it’s losing out on a good soldier in order to decrease the panic in one area or choosing a reward that suits you at the cost of later alienating a member state of the XCOM initiative.
The handy tutorial function, which you can enable at the beginning, allows players to learn the ropes and how every new threat can be dealt with. The difficulty settings are representative of the challenges a player will face. For first time players ‘Normal’ with tutorial enabled will provide a stiff challenge for players new to XCOM. The jumps between the difficulty settings are terrifying: ‘Classic’ may leave you bashing your keyboard in frustration but ‘Impossible’ leaves you huddled in a corner clutching tucked knees as you rock back and forth wishing it wasn’t so.
So what’s wrong with it?
Well, not all that much.
But if I had to pick something out it would be that there weren’t enough enemy types. Every enemy is unique and all have their own particular strengths. You learn what to avoid and how to handle them though by late game. The biggest indicator of how tough an enemy is, is their health, anything with more than 4 stacked bars of health is a team effort.
Also the camera would sometimes stall a bit after a shot. Just for a second. But it broke the intensity of the missions when I had to wait for my mouse respond.
Also, it should have been longer than the 20 hours it took to complete. I wanted to play it again almost immediately – wait, maybe that should be in the positives column?
Go Go Power Rangers
If you have not played anything in the XCOM series before then Enemy Unknown deserves some serious consideration and if you have, well you’ve probably bought and finished it and are involved in a squad based multiplayer battle. It is an excellent game with a good mix of challenge and reward and most definitely replayable.
Version Tested: PC