Company: 2K Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
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When I first heard about XCOM: Enemy Unknown I was both skeptical and hesitant. For one I’m not much of a fan of turn-based strategy games and I am not familiar with the original XCOM game that came out for PCs way back in 1994. With well over a dozen hours logged into Enemy Unknown, I can say that I was surprised at how fun and challenging the game was without being a gruelingly difficult game…which it surely can be with the higher difficulty levels.
Having recently re-discovered the tabletop strategy game Heroclix, I was amazed at the similarities between the two in regards to the chess board-like grid maps and overall team/squad concept of the game. The meat and potatoes of XCOM: Enemy Unknown are the turn-based strategy sections where you control up to six squad members and move them around the map under certain rules such as movement distance, moves available, taking time to re-load or use of special weapons, etc. You don’t know exactly where the enemy, in this case alien invaders hell-bent on taking over the world, is positioned on the map until you stumble upon them during one of your turns. You have to hope that you can either position the rest of your squad to set up an attack or run for cover until the enemy takes some potshots at you during its turn. One wrong move and the enemy can take out half of your squad in one fell swoop and you’re left with either fighting it out with one last salvo with your depleted squad or restarting the level which sometimes means the loss of upwards of a half an hour. I found it quite challenging to try and get that “second wind” and rally the troops for a come from behind win.
When not partaking in the elimination of alien scum, the XCOM base serves as the in-game hub for a slew of various activities. From the base you can use the resources at your disposal to build satellites to send in to orbit in hopes of expanding the Earth’s defenses, recruit and train more soldiers for the inevitable loss of your current ones, examine alien artifacts and perform autopsies on alien corpses to gain everything from weapons upgrades to special abilities. You can also access special requests from the mysterious “Council” which can provide you with cash flow or extra scientists or engineers to help get projects off of the ground that have certain staff requirements.
Managing your resources in the hub base part of XCOM is just as important to your success as the battlefield segments of the game. If you ignore satellite deployment over certain regions you risk having countries withdraw from the council. If the panic level in certain countries gets too high you could lose valuable assets that the particular country was providing XCOM. This is a part of the game that you just have to accept. You WILL lose countries, resources, squad members both rookie and veteran and you may find yourself repeating the same battle over and over again, but with slightly different maps. Even on the lower difficulty levels XCOM: Enemy Unknown can kick your butt.
Even though XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a new release and was developed by Firaxis Games which is famous for its Sid Meier games, one of the negatives about the game is the fact that the graphics look extremely dated, especially in regards to the cut scenes. Characters have stiff dangly hands and generic textured faces. I played the game of the 360, but I’ve heard that the graphics are exactly the same across all platforms. During the actual strategy portions of the game the levels seem bland and devoid of color and contrast. Maps are also recycled on quite a few occasions albeit with varying starting points, but the same nonetheless. As you make your way through the 15+ hour campaign you find some of the varieties of the early parts of the game to disappear as you repeat the same type of mission for the umpteenth time. XCOM: Enemy Unknown could also do a better job of getting you acclimated to things of importance in the earlier stages of the game. I didn’t even know that I could build new satellites and launch them until it was too late and a country was lost. You also can’t just build them and launch them…there’s what seems like a twelve step process and a long waiting period to do so. I felt like I was buying a rifle in real life. I think that a longer tutorial would be beneficial even if it just vaguely touched on some of the resource stuff in the hub.
The multiplayer aspect of Enemy Unknown is very simply a one on one match against a human opponent without the hub and having to worry about your resources. I didn’t find much replayability in this aspect of the game, but I’m sure there are quite a few gamers that will enjoy the PvP feel.
While there are some flaws with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the game itself was quite addictive and challenging…sometimes unintentionally too challenging…how do you miss twice in a row with a 90% chance to hit, and I found myself enjoying a real-time strategy game much more than I ever had and should. As I mentioned before, the game can be addictive in just about every aspect from trying out that new recruit in the battle missions to pushing hard to get extra scientists so that you can finally get plasma weapons. Although the game gets repetitive and you may have to start over simply because you just didn’t know about something in particular XCOM: Enemy Unknown rewards you if you learn from your mistakes. And because of that I pity those poor alien suckers.
Bottom Line: The best real-time strategy game that I have ever played although I haven’t played that many. The small 4-6 member squads make XCOM: Enemy Unknown feel somewhat more like Gears of War or Call of Duty than Command and Conquer. Addictive yet repetitive.
Favorite Aspects: I enjoyed managing resources at the base hub, but the action strategy missions were much more fun and rewarding.
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