In the near future an alien invasion will bring humanity to its knees and only one organization can take back our planet: XCOM. Taking the role as the Commander, it is your duty to decide where to deploy XCOM and to see each mission through to completion – whether its a success or a disaster, it will be down to you.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a spiritual retelling of the 1994 classic title, X-COM: UFO Defense. There will be no one-man armies here; as it is crucial for each soldier and member of XCOM to work in unison to protect humanity from extinction. After deciding which country your home base will be located, your underground installation will serve as the point for all operations. The turn-based strategy that was a staple of the original had me worried about whether or not Firaxis can pull it off in today’s fast-paced gaming market. Luckily Firaxis pulled through with a deep experience that manages to stay true to the XCOM franchise. Seeing Enemy Unknown run flawlessly on console controllers was something I never thought have been possible.
The plot is simple; wipe out the alien invaders while researching new technology that will be the difference between victories and having your entire squad wiped out. Playing a pivotal part in the organization, it will fall solely on you to decide which nations will be saved from the alien menace and which must endure on their own. A big chunk of your game time will be in your secret underground base micro managing the entire project. Each of the departments relies on you to decide what should be the next researched proposal, what new weapons should be put into production and when to purchase or launch new satellites in order to help keep watch around the globe. Interceptors can be built and sent around the globe in order to provide a defense against the inevitable UFO appearance.
Of course, scanning around the globe you must intercept alien abductions that can happen in any country at any given moment. Given a choice between multiple attacks, it is down to you to choose what nation will be saved. If the panic level of a nation gets too high, they will withdraw funding from the XCOM project. Savior the early on “easy” missions, as you will see missions that can range from “difficult” to “very difficult” quite frequently later on. The “easy “missions may yield a better reward, but the harder missions usually are reserved for the countries with the highest panic level. I’ll take keeping the nation in XCOM over a meager amount of extra cash or scientists any day.
Soldiers are promoted after missions depending on their execution of the previously mentioned mission. New specialization and abilities will be gained, as well as a nickname once they have earned it. Veterans will become a rare necessity later on, as you will want to always have at least part of your team filled with veterans to provide the much needed each skills and firepower. Having them in more missions means the greater risk of getting them killed or severely injured.
If they are wounded, they will be out of combat for a set amount of days, while getting yourself killed is a one-way ticket to the Memorial Room. All the strategy in the world can’t always save you from a random lucky shot by a Thin Man. I would try to avoid Chryssalids…unless of course you want your soldiers being turned into zombies…permanently.
With each soldier getting two moves each turn, you are giving enough time to run to a new cover spot and take a shot, reload or enter into the always useful overwatch state – setting your soldier to reflexively fire upon aliens that come into view. With the four different classes – Sniper, Assault, Support and Heavy – you will earn new skills that will make surviving a tad bit easier: ability to heal other members of your squad, gain the ability to run & gun or even fire rockets to take out groups of enemies at once.
If you take the time to customize your soldiers – changing armor visuals, colors, names and nicknames – you start to become attached to each member. Starting my first real mission after the tutorial I was excited to replace the soldiers names with a bunch of friends and of course myself as the cunning, but witty leader of the group. Reality set in however, as I soon realized I wasn’t ready for the difficulty in the game, due to the relative ease of the tutorial mixed with my own inexperience natural of the title.
Seeing your best friends get mowed down by identical Thin Men and getting caught in an overwatch trap is always gut wrenching to watch. Rescuing priority targets is the least of my concern as the casualties started to pile up. Even after the VIP was poisoned and stricken with fear, my resolve was to keep my soldiers alive. In this aspect I failed miserable, but it was a lesson I will never forget as the memory of seeing my name forever etched in the Memorial Room serves as a reminder.
Strategy will determine whether or not a mission will be a success. Before moving forward with an old-school flanking maneuver, have your sniper toss a couple sensors out to see if you are the ones that are walking right into a trap. With the fog of war it is easy to work yourself into a jam, especially since once spotted the aliens will run for cover. Trust me, while using explosives will yield no loot, the tendency for enemies to group together makes for some easy targets with a rocket launcher, especially if your only other option is a low percentage shot.
The best way to get through the campaign is to level up your soldiers well enough to hold their own without losing rookie soldiers left and right. It is imperative to have a well-balanced team as well as a backup team for when mistakes happen. If you are sending rookies in later missions, you will see plenty of soldiers being one-shotted.
The randomly generated levels portray a bleak and helpless world, with the battles taken place across cities, towns, forests and desserts. The computer will have the occasional pathing issue as well as line of sight issues will occur. Clear open shots will insist you do not have line of sight and flying aliens have a tendency to wrap around the maps.
The multiplayer contains a deathmatch mode where two players face off commanding soldiers or aliens with a set amount of skill points for customization. There isn’t any form of ranking system, but it is still fun to play a couple matches with a friend and seeing how they fair against a group of Chryssalids and Thin Men.
The tense moments of not knowing where and when you will encounter groups of aliens elevates Enemy Unknown into one of the most intense turn-based titles ever created. I have never before wanted to save after every turn due to the risk of losing a high-level member of my squad or even the entire squad.
Note: The XCOM: Enemy Unknown review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game provided to us.