XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the long awaited sequel to X-COM: UFO Defense from 1994, originally created by MicroProse Software. Firaxis, well known developer of the strategy series Civilization, have re-created the magic of the original X-COM with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. To be fair, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is more of a re-imagining than a remake. It’s a turn based, real time strategy game with a few twists that you might not expect.
I’ll start off with the Single Player portion(Yes, they included Multiplayer)
Any veterans of X-COM will know this has always been a single player series, but it’s been..almost 20 years since the original X-COM released. Times have changed and multiplayer is now a standard in most games, but for now let us focus on the traditional single player portion of the game.
The game starts out with an intro cinematic showing the aliens initial invasion, it’s a cool scene and for new players like my self, imminently introduces you to the context of the game. You’re fighting aliens.
When initially starting the single player game, It gives you the option to play the tutorial or not. If you’re new to the series, or even if you’re not, I would recommend playing the tutorial. It contains important narrative and has a slower build up, which I enjoyed. It’s tedious after the first time for obvious reasons, but definitely give it a chance on your first playthrough.
Coming out of the tutorial mission you’re limited to only two choices for your base location opposed to the usual five locations. This is another downfall of the tutorial, but I still recommend playing it, it’s not only useful, but fun!
Once you’ve chosen where your base will be, you fly there in your Sky Ranger. Arriving at the base for the first time is quite a sight. It’s a dream for micro-management lovers such as myself. You have different sections of the base, consisting of Barracks, Research, Engineering, Hangar, Situation Room and Mission Control.
-Research is as it sounds, they are the labs where you conduct research to further the XCOM project. It’s up to you when you want to do these projects.
-Engineering is also self evident, you create facilities and build/buy items here.
-Hangar is simply where you interceptors are stored and maintained.
-Situation Room is an important place, this is where you get a view of all your funding countries. You can view their panic levels, check XCOM finances, sell items on the Grey Market and launch satellites to countries in need.
-Mission Control is the HQ of the whole base. This is where you scan for alien activity and monitor your projects.
-Barracks is where all your valuable(!) troops are located, this is where you can customize their appearance, load outs, level them up and assign them new skills.
It’s cool, in the base menu you can use the mouse wheel to scroll in and view what your soldiers are doing.
As you complete more projects by scanning, you come across alien activity. The activity ranges from Abduction Missions, Terror Missions, UFO Landings, Shooting down UFOs, and a variety of Council Missions. Abduction Missions generally take place in crowded suburb type areas. I really like these missions, they fun and offer plenty of cover for both sides.
UFO Landings and Crash Sites always take place in a wooded area. These missions are generally much more difficult, less varied and offer less cover. They get repetitive but can offer a serious challenge.
Unlike most strategy games, XCOM is surprisingly personal. Instead of commanding a horde of faceless, nameless soldiers, you have a squad of 15-20, on average, soldiers. As I said earlier, you can customize their appearance, names and even define their skills. This gives a small, but noticeable personal touch to the game.
While you don’t get emotionally attached in a way you would to a more developed video game character, you do care for them. They are crucial for your mission and after becoming a Veteran you almost form a bond with your soldiers. You know what this guy is good at, and what that guy isn’t good at. You know what missions will suit them the best.
Losing soldiers in XCOM is a big deal and you should try to avoid it at all costs. When your men get higher in rank, the more valuable they become. It takes quite a few missions to get a single soldier up to the rank of Colonel, and in turn having one die can really set you back.
You should always try to keep your ‘A-Team’ alive and kicking so you can be ready for more difficult missions.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers little in the way of a story, but it does have ‘some’. There is narrative to explain certain key events in the game, but the overall alien invasion story purely exists in the background.
This lack of a defined story is acceptable in an RTS/TBS game, and it makes a larger effort than most RTS games I’ve seen. It gets the point across, I’ll leave it at that.
Let me at least mention the Multiplayer portion, I’m not going to write a whole page on it. It’s a standard death match scenario. You have a team of 6 that you can choose between humans or aliens. You have ‘points’ that go towards gear for your team and then you fight it out on a small selection of maps. It’s clearly not the highlight of the game.
Now I’ll talk a bit about the gameplay.
Since this game is Turn Based, it’s a little different than your average RTS game.
In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you have 2 ‘actions’ per soldier. These actions can be movement, dashing, firing your weapon, throwing a grenade, or many other things. After all these ‘actions’ are used up your turn is over. Control is then taken away from you and given to the enemy AI.
This is where the game becomes tactical, due to the fact that you cannot make a quick reaction or move your soldiers out of danger when it’s the enemies turn, you need to be totally prepared for it in your turn. Enemies can come out of no where and easily obliterate your soldier if they are in a bad location.
I want to note that enemies also get a free turn when spotted for the first time, they normally run to the nearest cover. Because of this, it’s always good to have at least one soldier on Overwatch in a good location.
That is the core strategy element of the game but, as I discussed in the earlier portion of this review, the game offers plenty of micro-management in between combat missions.
Juggling finances, satellites and your soldiers armors/weapons can be one of the most intense parts of the game. If I were to give one tip for the beginning of the game. INVEST IN SATELLITES. The less satellites you have, the more panicked your funding nations get and the more difficult the missions get.
Being unprepared is one of the biggest killers in XCOM. Not only in combat, but back at base. Make sure you’ve always got at least 1 backup satellite on hand, make sure you have a few well equipped interceptors for when the big alien ships first start appearing. Not having the proper weaponry for your interceptors can lead to the destruction of multiple planes, a severe increase in panic and even the destruction of your satellites.
Being prepared tactically, and supply-wise for a mission is just as crucial. Don’t rush into a mission, look over your squad selection screen and make sure you have the men you want in your squad, if it’s a hard mission make sure you have your best. Take the time to go through their inventories and give them the appropriate load outs. I would highly recommend having a minimum of 1 Support soldiers on your squad, they are the team medic essentially. Even that is not enough, make sure they are kitted out properly, nothing is worse then going into a battle only to find out you forgot to bring a medkit or two.
Overall, game play in XCOM is extremely tense and challenging but equally rewarding. The Turn Based nature really brings out the necessity of tactical thinking because one wrong move and that could mean the end for your entire squad. It’s that ruthless.Time for Audio/Visuals!
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is built on the UE3 Engine and looks surprisingly good. As you may have noticed, a lot UE3 titles have troubled adapting Anti Aliasing to their games, thankfully in XCOM Anti Aliasing is quite good and Aliasing is only noticeable in a few select locations.
For a Strategy game, XCOM offers very nice visuals. Textures for the most part are crisp and look the part. Nothing jumps out as extraordinary but the game looks very nice.
Lighting is also a powerful force on XCOMs battlefield. Soldiers cast dynamic shadows and fire ignited by the many projectiles in the game light up the ground.
Now let me talk a bit about the audio. I actually really enjoy every aspect of the audio in this game. Almost everything is phenomenal.
When it comes to sound effects such as alien creatures, gun shots, explosions, footsteps, rubble decaying, XCOM has it down perfectly. It all sounds impeccable and I couldn’t of asked for more, some are even saying the footsteps of stepping off the Sky Ranger is identical to the original X-COM!
The Soundtrack of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is another highlight of the game, it has 2 high profile composers, one of which worked extensively on the Deus Ex: Human Revolution sound track and the similarities can be heard. The ominous rumbles and bass drops as you’re traversing the battlefield before being spotted is certainly eerie and the combat music is on par as well, this is where the Deus Ex: Human Revolution similarities come up. I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack.
The only short coming of the audio in XCOM is the lack of accents. XCOM is supposed to be an international organization, and you have soldiers from various countries around the world, yet you’re stuck with maybe 9 distinctly American voices. This isn’t the worst thing ever, but I mean a few standard American voices and even just 1 accented voice for each continent would of been fine. It’s easy to find a blend of many Eastern European accents for example. This is just a small pet peeve but doesn’t really detract anything from the game.
Okay, now I’ll close this up.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a surprisingly personal twist on the Strategy Genre, while also maintaining it’s uniqueness with a Turn Based Gameplay style, XCOM combines the best turn based game play and micromanagement to create a challenging, intense and highly rewarding gaming experience.
For all fans of RTS, TBS games and ofcourse X-COM fans…this game is a must have! As for people who have never ventured into the realm of RTS games this can be a hit or miss, I never enjoyed RTS games before but I tried this and absolutely loved it. The small bits of the game that make it just the slightest bit personal made the game for me. But like I said, it’s hit or miss, others I know who did not enjoy RTS games did not enjoy XCOM either.
Their is a demo available on Steam so if you’re interested give it a go.
Now for the final scoring. Lets see how this re-imagining of a classic has done in today’s industry.
Presentation: PC Friendly Menues, Custom UI and features for PC version of the game, ample graphical,audio and control options. Easy installation due to Steam Works, minor noticeable bugs on my part. 5/5
Storyline: As an RTS/TBS game, story was never a priority. With that being said, it still does convey it’s narrative well and the cutscenes do a very good job at informing you of the progression of the game. It’s not a strong point of the game, but you also don’t feel like you’re missing anything. 3.5/5
Gameplay: Exceptional gameplay. Very tactical, challenging and rewarding. Some of the most fluid and responsive gameplay in the genre. The camera is fixed, but can be rotated and zoomed in and out considerably. 5/5
Audio/Visuals: Looks quite nice in comparison to other UE3 games and especially other recent strategy titles. Textures are clean and detailed, lighting is very well done and effects are top notch. 4/5
Lasting Appeal: This game begs for multiple playthroughs. Each time is different and dynamic due to the unscripted nature of the game. Finding different play styles, techniques and getting new soldiers every time seriously encourages replayability. 5/5
Final Score: 90