Back in 1994, there was an interesting concept for a video game; by combining turn-based strategy, base development, and the terrifying aliens from outer space – this game was X-COM: UFO Defense in North America and UFO: Enemy Unknown in Europe. With commercial success, the XCOM series has spawned multiple sequels and a loyal fanbase. With over a decade since the cancellation of X-COM: Genesis, 2K Games is ready to reboot the franchise in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Now out of hibernation, does this wartime epic bold well in 2012, or should this series be abducted to a fall away place?
In the not to distance future, a global alien invasion is about to begin. Mysterious pods have landed in multiple locations around Earth and people are abductions and murders are being reported all over. Meanwhile, a group of countries have banded together to form the ‘Council of Nations’ and create the ‘XCOM‘ project. This special organization is trained in alien incursion and are regarded as the earth’s only hope for survival. As commander of the XCOM project it’s up to you to wage war against the extraterrestrial enemy.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown has a simple story of defending earth with a nice Saturday night science fiction feel. The plot is nothing over the top, nor is it overly dramatic, which suits the game quite well. With that said, the plot will only continue if you meet propriety objectives like capturing an alien or creating a key to unlock their crafty bases of operation. The story moves at your pace, leaving you to develop your troops in standardised combat before moving on with the story.
This extensive reboot acts more like its predecessor than you might expect, with some new enhancement and changes thrown into the package. For those who are veterans of the XCOM series will know that this is a really sophisticated tactical turn-based strategy game; and by sophisticated, we mean there are a lot of gameplay elements at work at any one time. For now – to simplify gameplay – it’s broken down into operating the XCOM base and commanding your international squad of alien killers from mission to mission.
To begin with, let’s focus on operating the XCOM base. As commander, you’ll have to select where your XCOM base of operations is placed with just the choice of location having a severe effect on your battle strategy. Choose Africa and your coffers will see a healthy boost while South America will make your interrogators more competent at their sometimes brutal occupation. Europe can even use their number of boffins to speed up scientific reasearch to aid just about everyone. Once established, you’ll have direct control over the command centre. Eventually you’ll have to make decisions on research and engineering by creating new technologies, improving the XCOM base by building more facilities; manage finances, soldiers, relations with the Council of Nations, and keep an eye out for further alien incursions across the board. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
While on the field of combat, you must command the international squad of elite soldiers on an isometric 3D perspective on a turn-by-turn basis. Player will direct each soldier individually, with each soldier having two actions. Some actions will consume one action bar – like moving to cover – or consume both actions bars – like dashing to a cover or attacking. Once all soldiers have moved or attack, then the alien forces will begin their counter measures. There are other tactical actions for you to use to an advantage; like suppressive fire to pin enemies, overwatch against moving enemies, or hunkering down to provide extra defense. While you can do this, the alien forces can do these tactical actions as well.
When gaining new soldiers they’ll begin as mere recruits. After completing missions and killing aliens, that said soldier will level up and finally get a class and ability. Some classes include; support, heavy, sniper, and assault. Each class has different skills, but after the first initial rank, players will have to define their role further by selecting one of the two abilities in each of the ranks. If a soldier dies, all that hard work will be gone or if your soldiers get critically wounded during combat he/she will be out of combat for a while and you’ll have to adjust your usual battlefield tactics to account for the loss of your famed sharpshooter. Players will have to select their next best soldier or just grab a grunt from the barracks. Smart play and safe tactics are critical if you don’t want to lose all your hard work on that character.
While at base, you’ll have to make decisions on how to run the XCOM base; from researching new technology, creating new facilities, managing income, and keeping the Council of Nation - and the world – happy. It will not be easy to make such decisions from time to time. Especially when it comes to protecting the world, managing your soldiers, and how you command your base. When scanning for alien activity, there will be times when the you’ll have to choose between multiple counties to protect – which can be a harder when progressing though the game. If a country goes unchecked, it may panic and give up on the XCOM project and relinquish their share of resources from the coffers. The same thing goes with soldiers; every move you make must count. On top of that, if a country gives up on the XCOM project, soldiers from that country will have a major decrease in moral and panic easily during combat. You’ll even have to make decisions on what to complete within his/her base of operations. Should you focus on preparing your soldiers, expand your base, or research that critical item to progress the story. Every decision you make will have a major impact, even if it’s a hard choice to make.
While gameplay depends on the difficulty that the player chooses, players will have a variety of options to experience XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If you’re a veteran of the series, you will more likely choose the classic or impossible settings with ironman turned on, in which ironman can be enable for those who want to experience decisions permanently, meaning that every soldier you lose and how you do things will be saved to one file without auto saving or going back to previous savestates. XCOM: Enemy Unknown does get harder and will be ruthless and unforgiving most of the time. While this is a great feature, nothing is complete nowadays without a multiplayer component. XCOM: Enemy Unknown has a simple multiplayer feature where battles take place via 1v1 matches. Players will choose up to six humans or aliens and customize them for combat. It’s pretty shallow for the most part, but great for those who want to face a human player – even if they’re controlling aliens.
Presentation wise, XCOM: Enemy Unknown looks cartoony, but reflects well on the battles with good attention to detail. From the multiple types of soldiers you command, to the aliens and environments, XCOM: Enemy Unknown has a unique feel that performs smooth on both PC and console. The voice acting in XCOM: Enemy Unknown gets the job done for the most part – especially with the major character you interact with – but your soldiers on the other hand all sound American, even if they come from different counties. The soundtrack offers some great Sci-fi feel tracks, with a hint of some familiarity to the Mass Effect series.
In the end, XCOM: Enemy Unknown brings back an instant classic and made the necessary enhancements and changes to bring it into this generation. The story still offers a nice sci-fi feel that isn’t overly dramatic. While gameplay is pretty much the same, Firaxis Games has done an excellent job in making the old formula work perfectly with this generation by making the necessary enhancement and changes. Presentation wise, XCOM: Enemy Unknown may look a bit cartoony, but it has a variety of well-detailed environments and characters, good voicing acting, and an excellent soundtrack. If you’re looking for a perfect turn-based tactical role-playing strategy game with a good challenge and replayability, XCOM: Enemy Unknown will drag you into its universe and never let go.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a cartoony looking game with a variety of well-detailed environments, characters, and aliens, while having good voicing and a well-suited soundtrack.
Gameplay – 5/5: While XCOM: Enemy Unknown sticks to an old formula, it plays perfectly with its updated enhancements and changes and by giving players the freedom to make the necessary choices to save earth.
Innovation – 5/5: Mixing turn-based strategy and using aliens is a nice change in pace from gaming norms.
Value – 5/5: XCOM: Enemy Unknown has a lot of replayability, with tons of variables that can change how you play, even if you fail the first time, you will always want to come back for more.
Final Score: 5/5