XCOM is considered one of gaming’s classic strategy games. Since the early 90’s PC gamers have been fighting the alien invasion in this highly addictive turn based strategy game. In 2001 we had our last mission with XCOM: Enforcer, and then the series went dark until a few years ago when 2K Games announced that they would be reviving the series. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the first of two games being published by 2K and stays close to the original’s roots.
Set in the near future you command XCOM, an elite military and scientific organization created by a group of countries called the Council of Nations. XCOM was created to fight off the on-going alien invasion of Earth. As in the original game you command all aspects of XCOM, from research and base building to the turn-based ground combat. You’ll have to budget both physical resources such as alien alloys and money as well as your soldiers As you progress you’ll be researching ever more powerful and effective weapons, and be able to train your troops with improved skills.
At first XCOM is a bit of a daunting game, though when you begin you’ll be taken through a nice tutorial that helps you learn all the basics on and off the battlefield. Once you complete training you’ll be set free to command as you please. After playing a few missions though I found myself in a deep hole, low on resources and manpower. I figured out my aggressive play style was constantly putting my troops at risk and I was quickly stuck with rookies instead of seasoned veterans. After figuring out my missteps I began a fresh career. This time I was able to get right to action without having to go through the tutorial again. This not only got me back into the game quicker but I found it allowed me to make a few different research and troop choices early on instead of those required by the tutorial. This second career has been much more enjoyable.
As you play you’ll be controlling the game in two ways. Between battles you’ll be managing your base. Here you’ll be instructing your scientists as to what to research and working your engineers on building weapons and armor, as well as expanding your base to give you more abilities to fight off the aliens. The goal is to create a strong enough ground, air and space force to detect and eliminate alien threats as quickly as possible in order to keep panic down in each of the nations in the Council. If you neglect one nation too much and panic rises too high they will pull out of the Council and you will lose bonus resources. Lose too many nations and do poorly in battle and you’ll be pulled from command. Once your research and work orders are set you can scan for aliens which is the game’s “fast forward.”As you scan days will tick by. During the scanning you’ll see a list of what activities are going on in the base and the time remaining until they are complete. You will also get updates on when your soldiers return to duty from injury. Every month you’ll be rated by the council and receive bonus resources from nations that you have launched satellites over.
The battles you’ll face vary and come from multiple sources. To further the overall story you’ll be given different objectives, and these objectives lead to large missions such as assaulting an alien base. While the story missions keep the game moving, the bulk of your battles will be based off abduction events. These require you to travel to an area of the world and clear out all of the aliens. Each time an abduction event is found during scanning you’ll be given a choice of missions, each with their own reward and each will either lower or raise panic of a nation. Pick wisely because sometimes reducing panic in an area might be more rewarding than the cash. At other times you’ll be required to assault UFOs that you shot down with your air force stationed around the world. These missions are essential in gaining alien resources to further your research and to build better equipment.
The battles unfold turn by turn, each member of your team can either make two movements, or a movement and an action. Once your team has made their moves the aliens then make their moves. The key to XCOM battles are to stay in cover and constantly flank the enemy. The combat system is fairly intuitive and the control scheme is laid out well for the console. However the math that creates the percentages for hits and critical was a bit odd. It seems to not take into count position all that much. Many times enemies would move right behind me and not be in cover to my direction but because they were in full cover in the other direction my direct shots would constantly be misses. Same goes for distance; it seemed low-level aliens with simple pistols would be able to land more accurate shots at long distances than my higher-level snipers. This makes the game a bit frustrating because it doesn’t seem logical at times. Another problem I had on the battlefield was that enemy movements seemed to be all over the place. Some units once seen would be able to do really long movements and be able to pretty much hop over my location and be right in an optimal flanking position before I was given a turn to react. I learned quickly that although your team back at the base constantly stressed not using explosives to prevent damage to resources, using explosives and rockets are a huge help to get your full team back alive, and having higher level soldiers ends up being a bigger help than having more resources.
The look of the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The base layout is really nice and being able to move the camera around to each level and seeing what’s going on is pretty neat. On the battlefields the game has a somewhat cel-shaded look but with the addition of some nice lighting and particle effects. One glaring graphical bug is the constant texture pop. Textures on initial loads looked horrid and then popped in at times. Even my mission control globe wouldn’t have its textures loaded and would just be a blob. I was also a bit surprised that space battles were just basic 2D on a computer screen. It would have been nice to have a decent looking space battle sequence even if it was just within a computer screen element.
When I was younger I never played X-COM however after playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown I really want to go and play the classics. Enemy Unknown is a great change for gaming. In a gaming world full of first and 3rd-person shooters a solid tactical turn based strategy game is a nice change. The game has a fairly steep learning curve; I’ve restarted a few times and each time I keep learning better tactics which makes the game much more enjoyable. The game really doesn’t let you get an upper hand. After a few easy missions I found I was quickly stuck picking between “difficult” and “very difficult” missions, it seemed the difficulty of the missions ramped up much quicker then I could build my soldier’s experience. If you are looking for a a new gaming experience and want to save humanity then give XCOM: Enemy Unknown a look.
A copy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown for Xbox 360 was provided to us for this review by 2K Games.