Gaming

XCOM:Enemy Unknown – the legend returns

The original X-COM was a standout title among the incredible number published by Microprose in its golden years. That this game could stand head to head with Civilization in gaming’s hall of fame is a testament to its design and execution.

For quite a while all anyone knew of a new XCOM was an FPS which had been through development hell for a couple of years. During that time a lot of media and fans were wondering if the original game may be a bonus or re-released on Steam/GoG.com.

Much to everyone’s surprise it was announced that Firaxis were updating the original – having the gods of Civ working on what had been ranked as one of the most idolized strategy games ever was bordering on genius. That’s not to say that this is a cheap cash in. On the contrary; this may be the sign of the brand’s return whilst also adding a new, yet familiar, string to Firaxis‘ bow.

The game starts off in the initial stages of an alien invasion and the formation of XCOM, the UN formed military group created to combat this new enemy. You play its commander who is responsible for getting the group equipped and combat effective. The game is spilt into a resource management section and a squad combat section. Both are very different experiences but reliant on success in the other. For example: researching new weapons will help your squads and completing missions will provide resources for further research and manufacturing.

Managing your squad can become quite involving as you see them gain rank and skills; not only can you choose where their skills are applied in a simple tree, but you can also customize their appearance and armour. Mixing up your squad to include different skills can make an impact during missions and there is some scope for finding a combination that works well for your approach to the game.  You can get quite attached to your soldiers over time… in recognition of that, the game includes a memorial for all those you lose during the course of your game.

When playing the game, don’t expect anything real time – this is a turn based experience through and through. And when you are managing a squad of up to six you will be glad for it too. Occasional bouts of pandemonium when you stumble across and alien squad are brought under control when your next turn arrives, giving you that moment to carefully plan your next move.

Time is definitely not on your side in the game; the longer you take to shore up your resources  the more likely it is your enemy will force countries to pull out of the XCOM project, spelling the end of your game. With the constant weighing of options, you may find the sacrifices made will impact you in the long term but you have little choice as the game constantly pushes you forward. As more enemy units are introduced into the game, you will quickly see the wisdom or folly of your choices.

Sooner or later the game will conclude and whether you win or lose you’ll still be wanting to play again. It has that same addictive touch that Pirates! and Civilization Revolution have in that you can play them for as short or as long as you want in a single session and still be wanting to jump back into the fray again. I know Firaxis don’t have the patent on how they bake these games, but they do an awfully good job of it.

Visually the game does well in creating the world and though graphical detail may not be at the cutting edge, the scope of it is impressive when zoomed out in both resource and combat sections. The environmental destruction during combat not only is great to see but can also factor into the gameplay.

There are a few niggles with the game and most seem to be in the combat section. The areas in which the missions occur can be surprisingly confined, almost amounting to corridors which don’t allow for a large amount of options in moving your squad. In addition, environment destruction can be haphazard in when it works. Sometimes I’ve had squad members shoot through walls without causing damage and killing enemies. In that case it usually works to the players advantage but it is noticeable.

Multiplayer allows you to play the squad combat section against others online. Basic idea is that each player is allocated a set number of points which they can use to spend on their squad. This covers number of units (including alien units), weapons and items. This part of the game I wasn’t really into but I could see it appealing to people who like strategy or tabletop games. If anything, it shows that the combat mechanics work perfectly well against live opponents.

Overall, if you like the chance to manage a squad of occasionally bald headed space marines then this might be the game for you. It’s a fun, deliberately paced game that has the potential to soak up a lot of your time.

Presentation Art style fits the theme nicely and real effort is made in making even the small details seem important. 8.5
Graphics Graphics are not pushing the envelope but are effective in action. Environmental destruction is cool to watch. 8.0
Sound Music is catchy but ingame voice work is a little hokey and sound effects generic. 7.0
Gameplay The game is a sum of its parts; each section is designed well enough that as part of the big picture they work brilliantly. Multiplayer is functional but not core to the game. 9.0
Lasting Appeal Once you progress far enough into the game it becomes a highly addictive experience. 9.0
Overall A welcome return for those wanting a slice of strategy to their action. 8.3
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