XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review
To defeat the aliens, you must think like the aliens.
The XCOM series has lain dormant for quite a while now; so long in fact that many of us probably thought it was gone for good. We certainly never expected it to be resurrected by one of the biggest names in Strategy games, but Firaxis are finally ready to drop their version of the alien invasion upon us. XCOM: Enemy Unknown takes the Turn-based Strategy genre into the modern era while keeping the charm and complexity that made the original game such a hit. Choose your squad and get ready to experience one of the most tense and fast-paced strategy games you’ve ever played.
I know they may not be the type of games that excite most people, but I’ve been a fan of the turn-based strategy genre for a long time now. From the original XCOM, to Final Fantasy Tactics, to the Front Mission series (which really had me hooked) I’ve encountered just about every type and even though I enjoy them, I can understand why others don’t. These games are usually quite slow, and feature huge lists of equipment and stats to sift through before, and during, each battle. XCOM: Enemy Unknown steers around both of these hurdles while keeping most of the depth that hardcore strategy fans are looking for.
XCOM is an elite special forces organization created specifically to deal with extraterrestrial threats, answering to a shadowy bureaucracy called The Council . When I say organization, I mean just that; from the operatives on the ground, to the scientists and engineers in the base, you are the commander of XCOM. Most of the action will take place between your troops on the field and the alien forces, but you’ll have to manage every aspect of the war to truly succeed. Recruit new troops, research alien technology, build new gear and structures; you’ll be doing it all.
What really struck me about Enemy Unknown is that it represents the whole of the war effort, not just the battles and troop management like most other strategy games. You’ll build new gear by researching captured technology and secure funding by protecting as many countries as you can. Diplomacy, engineering, and intelligence data are just as important to victory as your soldiers and battlefield strategy are.
From the time your first battle begins, you’ll be able see how Enemy Unknown sets a much quicker pace than most other turn-based strategy games. This speedy approach isn’t because the game is easy, and you’ll be blowing away enemies left and right, but rather because it is rather difficult. Enemies can flank you, and bring you down in one or two shots, especially early in the game. Setting your squad up behind cover is integral and having them cover each other is key. I’m also willing to bet you’ve never ran up to a window and crashed through it, rolling into cover, in a strategy game.
Each soldier can move twice during each round, and can attack one or more times depending on their weapon of choice, but skills like Overwatch will allow your squad to take a shot at any enemy that moves withing their line of sight, whether it’s their turn or not. Remembering that the enemy has this capability as well will help you out a lot too. Trust me.
Each battle is made all the more tense by the fact that Enemy Unknown employs a fog-of-war system that truly leaves you feeling like an enemy could be lurking around any corner, ready to strike. This also lends an overall creep-factor to a genre that really isn’t known for its horror themes, even if the visuals aren’t quite up to current generation standards. Since we’re talking issues, the animations and cut scenes, while in your base, can be choppy at times, but this never seems to bleed into the actual battles so it wasn’t a major inconvenience.
There are a number of difficulty levels, so beginners can still have fun with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and my favorite setting has to be Ironman mode. When Ironman is enabled, you can no longer save the game whenever you please, loading your last game if you screw things up. Instead Ironman takes over by frequently autosaving the game, ensuring your decisions have real impact.
Though the single player campaign will take up most of your time, Enemy Unknown does offer a simple two-player, online multiplayer platform. You can build out a separate, fully customizable, squad to take online and try you hand against your friends as well as strangers. It isn’t a particularly deep multiplayer offering, but it is good for settling just who is the best commander among your friends.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a fantastic tribute to the classic games, updating the series with some modern ideals while keeping the deep strategy elements intact. Whether you’re new to the turn-based strategy world, or a seasoned veteran, you’ll love this game. Despite looking slightly dated, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the future of the genre and other strategy game developers need to learn from what Firaxis have accomplished here.
Available On: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC