Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Action, Strategy
Release Date: October 9, 2012
The X-COM franchise is back, after a long slumber, to unearth the mystery of the Universe. This is the first Firaxis Games developed XCOM. Being best known for their Sid Meier franchise, they brought their strategy expertise to the series with XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” – Arthur C. Clark
The unknown enemy of the Universe has transcended to Earth and it is up to you to assume the role of Commander to lead a paramilitary organization in hopes of saving the human race. The battlefield and research base is offered up to you to ordain and utilize as necessary in order to battle the alien invasion.
The perspective view during the battle sequences of XCOM: Enemy Unkown is an over-the-top aerial view to allow the battlefield to be more visible. When your move is made, the camera occasionally pans in to give a dramatic action sequence as the move is being carried out. There is nothing too stellar about the graphics; the environments and the character design is not very detailed. However, the game contains a very creative cast of enemies. Once you make your move, you will anticipate the enemies’ moves through some cut scenes which change the perspective angle to offer up a welcomed action cinematic that will highlight various actions from the enemies and the combatants.
The battlefields are usually cities that are under attack and are depicted as usually dark and gloomy to create a spooky atmosphere which gives the aliens plenty of nooks a crannies to hide in. The stages include overhead blockage meters above places of shelter (behind cars, car doors, electrical poles, walls) that will provide the player with adequate information about the floor plan to assist in strategizing his moves.
While back at base, I liked the fact that you can customize your characters that go into battle. You can choose their skin color, some facial features, hair, voice, and name. The character models are also not too detailed. But, for a tactical strategy game, it takes nothing away from the overall experience.
The music of XCOM: Enemy Unknown lends its own eerie feel to the game. Matching what you can expect to hear in a creepy environment, the music for the game compliments the action and suspense that you will find yourself in. Right when the enemy appears, the music will step in and it can be compared to what you would expect to hear in the ending credits of an action movie.
While you are preparing your moves on the battlefield, all that can be heard is the occasional soft music and ambient natural sounds of the environment. I suppose I should say both natural and unnatural sounds can be heard on the battlefield. After the end of your turn, you will know that the aliens will be moving around during their turn with the distinctive noises that they make.
Fans of the original X-COM will be pleased when you hear some of the music from the original X-COM play throughout Enemy Unknown, since Roland Rizzo has been with the franchise from the beginning in 1993.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a tactical turn-based game that takes the combat across the globe to fight the threat of this alien invasion. Since the enemy is not just attacking one part of the Earth, the battlefield will change to offer a variety of maps. The Earth’s governments must all work together to communicate and battle against the enemies.
While on the battlefield, each player in the squad can move two times per turn. These “moves” can be substituted with various actions, such as reloading, healing a teammate, and even shooting. There are two different grids that shows where the player is able to move and also what area provides the most shelter from enemy fire. There is a perimeter, outlined in blue, that the player can move in and be able to perform the second move, all in the same turn. The player is able to pick where he wants to place his soldiers for combat; this includes on rooftops of some areas, to allow for the player to take out the enemy from higher grounds. There is a larger perimeter, outlined in yellow, that will allow the player to get closer to the combat. This is called “dashing” and will take up both moves, but will provide more distance for the player to cover. There are many weapons available at your disposal by unlocking them through game progression. Depending on the weapon being used, the more powerful artillery will also take up both moves. You will usually have an objective, besides just shooting the aliens, in each mission. Some will require that you save civilians that are under attack. To do so, you must move your player in a specified vicinity of the civilian to save him before the aliens kill him. The more civilians you save, the less panic you will have on the radar, once you return to base. Another objective includes capturing an alien alive to bring back to base for research This can get extremely challenging as the game gets pretty unforgiving at times. Just when I felt I had my area under control, aliens would appear on the battlefield from areas that I had not anticipated, leaving my squad vulnerable to a disastrous attack. So between getting the player situated for combat, reloading weapons, and deciding what type of action you will perform, the player needs to strategize each players’ moves, keep an eye on the objective, and anticipate the aliens’ activity, as well.
Upon each successful mission, you will be handed over an “After Action Report” which will show you which soldiers were killed in action and those that were wounded and how long they will be out to heal. Some soldiers will be promotable. Once selecting to promote the soldier, you then choose between two different upgrades that you would like that player to have. For example, you can choose to allow that player to use the medkits three times, rather than only once, during each mission or give them an extra smoke grenade. Whatever you choose to give that person, they will undergo training to be specialists in that field, depending on the ranking they are being promoted to, including Squaddie, Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, and Colonel. The Major will not have an option of what training he can take, but rather mandatory extra conditioning to assist him with bonus health, depending on what type of armor he has. The more successful you are in the mission, you will be excited to return to base to see which are ready to be promoted to get them stronger for the next mission. It makes you that much more excited to send them out to battle again. Don’t think that you are the only side upgrading, though. The aliens are also getting bigger and stronger and coming back with different abilities, like flying and stronger guns, that they will also get a little harder to take down. This is why it is extremely important to have successful missions to be able to have your team ready for the next round.
The work does not stop once the area is saved and the squad returns to base. The strategy continues as you research technology, build items, train new recruits, and so much more. The After Action Report will also show you what artifacts that your team recovered from the mission, that can be used for research, such as alien corpses and weapon fragments. This will allow the research lab to learn more about the unknown enemy and develop new equipment, upon your request. You choose the research to be done and each will display a brief description and the cost needed to complete it, which is usually the recovered artifacts and extra scientists.
The Situation Room on base will allow you to launch satellites to monitor the UFO activity in various countries of the world.This will come at a fee, as well, since they require scientists and engineers to run them. The finances that you have available and what has been spent can be viewed here as well. This will allow the player to see where the finances are being allocated, included craft and maintenance fees. If you are running low on funds to use for research, launch satellites, build weapons, and whatnot, you can visit the Gray Market in the Situation Room to allow you to sell some of the uneeded artifacts brought back from the missions to the Counsil’s member nations.
Having to pick the next mission to carry out is not always a cut and dry decision. You find yourself wanting to immediately pick to help the area that is willing to offer you the most for your efforts, and this can be through currency or even scientists to help you at your base. This is where it can get tricky, though. The places in need of assistance will have different panic levels and you want to keep the panic levels low. Now, this is not always a possibility and if the panic levels get too high, you risk loosing them as partners and losing them means you will also loose their allies, as well. So, you have to make the decision of either choosing to help a country that will offer you so much money and say, five scientists, but have a low panic level, or help the one with the high panic level that is offering very little. Where it gets really tricky is when you have quite a few at high panic levels. When you go on a mission, time lapses and this will make their panic level go higher. The main goal is to keep them as low as possible.
The character customization adds so much depth to the gameplay experience. You have the ability to not only customize the look of your soldier, but also allocate their abilities and change their names. I found myself naming them after friends and family members and assigning their duties accordingly: who would be a heavy gunner, a sniper, and those who would heal the others. This builds an attachment between the player and the soldiers they are sending out to combat and offers a unique emotional experience to where you really do not want to loose any of them to the enemies. Since I had experienced some difficulty getting through some missions and if I lost some of my force on the battlefield, I would restart the mission, so that I can give it a try again. I made sure the autosave was off and only saved when I wanted to. This can greatly assist when you want to restart the mission after the last save, to keep the same troops you had previously. A couple of times, the game froze up on me while I was in the middle of a mission and I had to restart my console. However, it didn’t happen too often. It did make me have to restart the mission from the last save, though.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers the player five different difficulty levels. The game, in itself, is very challenging, but the player can choose from Beginner, Experienced, Veteran, Genius, and Superhuman. I played the game on Beginner and found that it was still very difficult.
Each mission has a different interactive experience in store for the player and the game offers over 70 unique missions that will surely keep you busy. The base strategy play allows you fully operate the base with a variety of things to do, including research, planning out missions, and negotiate with the governments around the world.
There is also an online mode where the player can test their skills against other players in the same tactical turn-based gameplay that is offered through the game’s campaign mode. The good thing about the online mode is that each player does not have unlimited time during their turn. This prevents having to sit and wait too long for the other player to make their move. You have a certain number of credits that you can use per soldier, so that you are unable to max out every single player on the battlefield. Of course, the same goes for the player you are playing against. I liked that you know what to expect when entering the online play, if you have played through the game.
As you play, you will end up setting challenges for yourself with the character customization. I found myself trying to keep characters that I created alive, since they are no longer just another name and let me remind you, the missions can get pretty unforgiving.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the perfect tactical strategy turn-based game for anyone to pick up and play. I usually shied away from this genre of games, usually because I was intimidated by the gameplay. But, Firaxis Games did a perfect job with the tutorial and walking the player through the moves that anyone will know exactly how to play it.
If you are one who is looking for a challenging game, XCOM: Enemy Unkown is definitely a game to test your will. The ability to customize and name your players creates an attachment to each soldier. I found myself trying even harder to keep them alive and unwounded because of this. The multiplayer will definitely keep you coming back for more, as the game plays out like a game of chess where you strategy is key and it you are tested against your friends online and those around the world.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a great game to change the pace from the typical games that we’ve been playing. It isn’t too often that we get a gem like this. The game is phenomenal and utterly addicting!
Follow this author on Twitter: twitter.com/Beatboxtaun
To stay connected for upcoming contests, promotions, news, and reviews follow me on Twitter and Facebook. You can also click the “Subscribe” button above. Got a news tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.