Welcome to earth.
I know some of you probably cringe when you hear that a game is going to be a Turn-Based Strategy game, but hear me out. This isn’t your typical sword and sorcery strategy game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is about badass soldiers shooting creepy aliens. Kick in a door, take cover and take aim because death is waiting, swift and permanent. This is XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
I’ll get to the combat in a minute, but the home base is where you’re going to be spending a lot of your time. From your home base you can access a number of different rooms including the barracks, mission control and research lab. Researching new technologies is important because you don’t know anything about the different types of aliens you’ll be facing. To get the jump on them, why not research their technology, or even their dead bodies?
Since your soldiers remain dead when they fall in battle, recruiting new soldiers from the barracks, and training your existing soldiers, is an important part of surviving each new encounter. If you can keep your soldiers alive long enough to level up a few times, and equip some upgrades, you’ll be much more dangerous than you would if you have to go back to the well every time.
Now, what grabbed me right away when I played my first mission of XCOM: Enemy Unknown was the atmosphere. I’ve played a number of turn-based strategy games in my day and in most of them you can see both armies, and most of the available terrain, on the field when you start. This is not the case in Enemy Unknown, the maps are dark, tight and creepy, revealing only a small area around your squad. Since the forces of XCOM operate based on reports of alien invasions, your troops are the first ones on the scene. The fact that an enemy could be just beyond your view, at any time, makes each battle a tense and almost frightening experience.
As far as controls are concerned, Enemy Unknown operates much like other turn-based games; you select where you want your soldier to move, then you attack if you’re in range. There are a number of differences here though, the first being cover. You’ll always want to be behind some sort of cover as this will greatly reduce the chances of being hit. Cover can be either partial or full, and you’ll have to pick your spots carefully.
Movement is a little different too, as you’ll be moving through urban environments a lot of the time, so you can charge through doors, jump through windows or take a more stealthy approach to entering buildings. There are also a number of different levels of elevation to navigate so you’ll have to take that into account, since line of sight is important when calculating your chances to hit or be hit.
When you do close with your enemy the battles are fast and definitive. Early on, a lot of actions will end with one shot so you want to be the one taking that shot. In my first match, I had two soldiers down within a couple of seconds of seeing the enemy for the first time; and I had them outnumbered. You can revive downed soldiers if you have a medic in your squad, but if they’re still down at the end of the battle then they’re gone. When your actions have real consequences it changes the way you approach each battle, in a big way.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a lot more fast paced than you were probably expecting from a turn-based strategy, and it’s definitely more creepy than you were expecting. After getting my hands on it, I have to say I’m excited for this one. We’ll have more on XCOM: Enemy Unknown when it hits stores on October 9th.