The new XCOM series is a modernized recreation of the dated and similarly titled X-Com franchise, which made its debut to the world in 1994. Touted as the pinnacle of strategy games, the original UFO Defense was declared a ‘benchmark in the evolution of strategy gaming’.
Now under the wings of 2K Games and produced by Firaxis Games of Civilization fame, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is prepared to reinvigorate the highly-acclaimed franchise and make a bold attempt to push a turn-based strategy game onto console gamers. Does XCOM: Enemy Unknown stand up to the hype created by its predecessors? Read on to find out.
That’s Latin, and it happens to be the aptly chosen motto of XCOM, a multinational organization which represents humanity’s last stand against a technologically-superior and seemingly merciless alien invasion. Roughly translated, Vigilo Confido means ‘I am watchful, I am relied upon’. The wording is extremely appropriate and accurately portrays each player, who will be doing their best to scan the world and respond to any country’s call for help as the planet begins to get slowly overrun by a tide of threats which are mostly re-imagined enemies from the old games, but certainly with a few surprises packed in to the hordes as well.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown presents players with a commander’s view both on-and-off the battlefield. During combat, you’ll have a sky-based view of your squadron and fog-of-war that reflects their visuals. Tactics are vital to the success of each mission, as simply sending your soldiers running into each fight will ensure they leave in a box, provided there’s still a body at the end of the mission. Players will learn which tactics to use in what landscapes, and will have to further adjust these strategies for each race of alien threat. Getting caught out-of-place or flanked isn’t uncommon, so knowing when to retreat and when to advance is a vital skill that the game will inherently teach you through a ‘tough love’ method. This is a game where first-time players are likely to lose several soldiers just through trial-and-error, but thankfully, XCOM is the kind of game where even losing can manage to be an entertaining – if still heartbreaking – experience.
When at the base, players will find themselves monitoring a plethora of resources. It’s an expensive process to build uplinks and launch satellites into space, but doing so allows you to monitor more countries which then, in turn, add to your budget from the Council of Nations. Research and Engineering projects can be sanctioned, but often require alien materials that are typically in short supply, forcing the player to prioritize. The Barracks needs to always have a fresh supply of soldiers, and the base itself needs to expand. When aliens attack, it isn’t uncommon for an abduction mission to force the player to choose which country to help when multiple are in need at the same time. They’ll each offer different rewards, but not helping the latter two will increase panic for their entire continent. Too much panic, and a country will abandon all funding potential for the XCOM project. Though the game does some hand-holding in the beginning, it shouldn’t take players too long to get used to the system – though like Dead Rising, they’ll find that helping everyone is simply not an option.
Soldiers gain experience with each mission, and as they progress through the ranks of the XCOM organization the player will choose which skills each individual soldier will unlock, though the choice isn’t always easy – deciding between whether a soldier can carry 3 medkits as opposed to one, or the ability to carry more grenades, are very situational in use. Thus, each player will have to evolve their soldiers and hope they’ve made the best decision for their entire squad. Likewise, divvying up the squad into different classes of soldier (Support, Assault, Heavy, or Sniper) can decide the fate of battles early on. Veteran soldiers are the backbone of each squad, and just as in the old games, players will find themselves intensely regretting any combat choices which lead to the death of such a soldier. The ability to customize your soldiers and even name them after others doesn’t make the blow any softer either – naming squads after your friends is a dangerous endeavor, as most are almost guaranteed not to make it through the full game.
Firaxis had stated that the studio wished to focus on a strong narrative, and players will feel like each mission is important to humanity itself. It’s the kind of game where heroic music feels appropriate and every choice brings with it the stresses of high command – players will feel guilty when their errs in judgement send soldiers to their doom, and each mission seemingly offers a plethora of ways for the computer to tactically surprise the player. As the game progresses and more items become researched, cutscenes can become somewhat copy-and-paste, though the high-priority missions always bring unique dialogue to the table.
Throughout the game, the alien horde will throw tougher enemies at players, and it will become apparent that humanity cannot simply just ‘defend’ themselves. Adopting alien technology through research is vital to the success of your missions, and players will be hooked on the addictiveness of admittedly very nerve-wracking missions. Players will feel like true commanders hoping every soldier will make it back from each mission in one piece, and it’s a testament to how well Firaxis have done to ensure XCOM is full of addictive, adrenaline-packed moments.
Firaxis have also included a multiplayer mode to the game, which is a standard deathmatch mode between two players. Gamers can actually choose to be aliens in this mode, which presents a nice change of pace from the usual strategies players will employ throughout campaign mode. However, with no ranking system and limited features, the multiplayer mode is a very light feature, especially in comparison to the in-depth story mode.
The game does a good job of preventing too many duplicate maps from coming into play over the course of the games, but players will get a feeling of deja vu at some point or another. Thankfully, spawn points seem to be randomized around the map, so no fight is ever truly the same. The only other problem is the occasional graphic hiccup, which may blink the wall of a UFO in and out of view, but this came few and far between.
XCOM presents players with a phenomenally entertaining and challenging experience from start to finish. The ultimate end product is a highly strategic combat game with consequences that will leave players on the edge of their seats for most battles, whilst actively proving to the world that turn-based games still have a rightful place in modern gaming itself. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the type of game which every player should try, and comes highly recommended to anyone who enjoys strategic gameplay.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is available on October 9th for both PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the PC version for this review.
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