Based on a strategy franchise that few people under 25 will have heard of, the game was developed on a modest budget but provides a fresh take on turn based strategy games that provides an excellent gaming experience.
With equal emphasis on deep strategy and intense tactical combat, XCOM: Enemy Unknown will place players in control of a secret paramilitary organization called XCOM. As the XCOM commander, players will defend against a terrifying global alien invasion by managing resources, advancing technologies, and overseeing combat strategies and individual unit tactics.
Enemy Unknown puts players in command of an international group designed to oppose an alien menace intent on terrorising mankind. Pretty straight forward then. The aim is to lead a team of up to six soldiers through turn-based skirmishes that prevent alien abductions, clear landed spaceships and rescue civilians.
XCOM is a turn based strategy game, which if you are unfamiliar with involves you selecting and moving each team member within a limited number of moves before the end of your turn. Following that the alien scum get their chance and there is nothing you can do until your turn comes around again. Positioning your squad of soldiers and using their unique weapons and the environment provides a tough challenge. It may take some getting used this style of gameplay but it provides hours of hard thinking fun once you do.
As the soldiers complete missions they will level up and learn different skills. They can be customised in appearance and named after yourself, family members, friends, or even your pets. Because of this you will grow very attached to them. My South African born heavy gunner Johannes Blerk was ruthlessly cut down by an evil Sectopod, which was actually quite a sad moment. I was kinda starting to like the guy, plus all his experience and customisations all went up in thin air as he crumpled to a heap.
This sense of tension is manifested in the fact that troops can panic; a ‘Will‘ statistic shows how strong-minded each individual is and under extreme pressure anyone can crack. When a soldier panics, he or she performs a random action (which may include shooting an enemy or team-mate) and misses a turn. Its adds a nice touch to the game and makes you value your squad members, which heightens the strategy on the battlefield when there is so much at stake.
The game is regularly unforgiving like this and that’s what makes it so good, where sometimes even a victory can feel like a defeat. It harks back to the days of gaming when even “easy” mode posed a significant challenge. Yet XCOM is never unfair. The loss of a beloved soldier will almost certainly be due to a poor strategic decision, so the title rarely feels frustrating.
These turn-based battles are only one half of the game, however. The other concerns managing the XCOM base, where the task is to build labs and facilities, assign research for scientists, create new weapons and armor down in engineering, develop ships to shoot down alien craft and much more. Meanwhile there’s an intriguing touch added in having to please as many different nations as possible at the same time. For instance, fail to help China one too many times and they’ll pull their funding from the XCOM project. It’s great to see South Africa included as a main nation – I always enjoy seeing our flag in an international game like this.
The graphics in XCOM aren’t revolutionary by any means but it is a lot more than what you would expect for a turn based strategy game like this. The XCOM base is really just a tremendously slick interface, with everything you need to do only a click or two away and provides a fresh take on the traditional base/HQ we see too often in games these days. The attention to detail throughout the game is excellent and coupled with a strong soundtrack the game has a very solid atmosphere that helps set the scene for a great experience. The game tends to have the same visual environments mission after mission but what keeps them fresh is the randomised enemy placement. The alien invasion force could be anywhere, on any mission.
X-Com Enemy Unknown was developed by Firaxis Games and published 2K Games. Our review is based on the Xbox 360 version. It is also available for the PC & PlayStation 3.