XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a recent game published by 2k Studios developed by Firaxis studios. Firaxis is more well known for their work on the Civilization team, another high quality title from the team. XCOM: Enemy Unkown is not quite a remake and not quite a reboot, officially a ďre-imaginingĒ of the original XCOM series. Whatever you may call it, itís a quality title.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a Strategy Role Playing game, a series thatís lately been regulated to handheld titles. While the games offered are without question good titles itís a genre that hasnít really hit on the modern console or PC experience. XCOM: Enemy Unknown changes all of that as itís available for the PS3, 360, and of course PC. SRPG are typically turn based games that take place on a battle field consisting of a collection of squares/titles to deterimine where units can go and how far they can move. XCOM: Enemy Unknown continues with this basic model. You will begin the game with a team of 4 soldiers, eventually you can up to 6 soldiers. While this number feels small, and is, it forces you to make choices into what your starting composition will be. Each soldier will gain one of four ďspecialtiesĒ, being Sniper, Assault, Heavy, and Support. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses and more importantly, their own skill tree to select from as your squad earns promotions.
Due to the difficulty to raise a soldier to a high ranking, it makes the importance of keeping your soldiers alive that much more important. A factor that is largely lost to modern games is, your squad can die in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. When they die, thatís it, there is no resurrect or magic or game play mechanic to bring them back. This concept at the core is what drives XCOM: Enemy Unknown. While there is itís own storyline that plays out, itís largely a background to the story youíll create with your squad. In the game you can change the name of your squad, so you can name them after loved ones, friends, family, celebrities, or whatever your mind can think of. Allowing you to create a degree of personal connection to them. You donít just want to keep your Assault soldier alive because heís reached the Major Rank, you want to keep him alive because heís your best friend. These self created storylines add an extra layer to the game. While certainly not required to make the game enjoyable, they add that extra layer.
In order to level your characters you need to kill Aliens during the missions. This is relatively straight forward, move to a position to have a line of sight on the alien then issue some form of an attack command. Be it a standard attack from your equipped weapon or a special ability opened up by your class or secondary equipment. Your main weapon will have a core chance to hit that is alterted slightly by the attributes of the soldier attacking but more so by the cover an alien has and if you are flanking the alien. This also applies to when Aliens attempt to attack you. Meaning if you want to keep your team alive you need to avoid being flanked and maintain keeping cover. As you play on harder difficulties, the more defensive you will want to strive to be to keep your squad alive.
Combat takes place by ďXCOMĒ and Aliens taking turns having their move turns. On your turn you can issue commands to your soldiers. In general you get two actions per soldier. A soldier can move and fire or move and throw a grenade or move twice. Without specific skills from leveling you canít attack then move, so attacking ends that soldiers turn. Snipers also have their own change in that a sniper canít move and fire their sniper rifle on the same turn without a specific upgrade. Likewise a Heavy soldier has the option to attack with a rocket that deals damage in a large AOE, this can also only be done prior to moving and consumes both move commands. Due to the Fog of War, where you canít see the entire map at once. Youíre rarely want to use both move commands to rush into the unkown. As this risk leaving your soldier unable to either run back to friendlies, fire to kill an alien, or set to ďOverwatchĒ where they can trigger an attack on an Alien that attempts to move to try to get into better position.
While XCOM doesnít over a great deal of depth to strategy compared to some other SRPGS, as there is no combo system to try to pair up with your soldiers to do additional damage. The basic mechanics of establish cover and punishing Rambo like behaviors of charging ahead prevents the game from being to easy. Even the most defensive of players is sooner or later going to have to take a calculated risk or fall victom to a attack with a 80% chance to hit failing to hit. The random chance will keep you and your squad on your toes as you a try to keep your soldier alive.
Outside of the direct combat of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is base management. Between missions you will have to control your base. You begin with a fairly small bass with just a few key facilities and a satellite over your a country in your starting destination. Satellites are a key component to XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Not only do they provide vision over the region you launch them over, allowing you to stop more Alien attacks. They also the only way to increase your monthly income. Launching a Satellite over a region will give you a monthly allowance as long as you can keep the country feeling safe. The amount of Satellites you can have is limited based on the buildings and positioning of the buildings in your base. So you have to find a balance in how to spend your money, spending it to increase monthly revenue as well as spending it to make your soldiers stronger as the Aliens send out more powerful opponents. Doing everything correctly will help you keep the ďpanicĒ level down. If a single region Panic reaches to high of a level, most commonly by you not taking missions in their area as you will often be forced to select one mission between multiple regions. Completing the mission in the region you select will reduce panic there, but can raise panic in the other regions. Some missions can reduce panic globally and some can reduce panic across an entire continent, while others only impact a specific country. If any country pulls out of XCOM due to high panic, you will not be able to get any benefits from them. Most notably in income, but also in contributions of engineers and Scientist as well. Balancing how to spend your money, and time, is a difficult task to master in your first play through.
As good as the core of the game is though, there are a few issues that hold the game back. These show up primarily during combat. Like most SRPGS their is high and low ground, however the games engine sometimes struggles to understand when you want high ground and when you want low ground. Forcing you to try to mess with the UI a little to make sure you end up where you want. It also allows you to enter buildings in some missions and the camera attempts to make the ceiling and walls transparent so you can see inside once you enter a building. In general this works fine, but occasionally it struggles and wonít make it transparent and block off your view making it difficult to get into the position that you want. Again, you can try to manipulate the UI a little to help solve this and typically will work. But these little hiccups do become annoyances, but they donít take away the countless things the game has done well. Outside of gameplay, the customization options are fairly limited. You can change the First and Last name of a soldier. You can cycle through a few head styles, a few hair colors, skin color, but the choices are fairly limiting. And there is no option to change body style. All the males are are large men while all the females are quite petite. You also, somewhat understandably from a ďgameĒ perspective, canít change Gender or nationality of the recruited soldiers. It would be nice to be able to have some way to recruit specifically what you want, i.e. say you want to recruit a Male soldier from Germany instead of just getting a random lump of recruits and hoping one fits your desires. It would also be nice to see some more Armor coloring options, in particular offering some camouflage options.
Graphics: 7/10 graphically, this game wonít do much as a modern game. It has a nice art style, itís dark but not so dark that everything blends together. The Aliens have nice looks and nice animations.
Sound: 7/10 the voice acting is nothing great and soldiers only have a few phrases, the music score is okay but nothing stands out that much. Itís ultimately not memorable, neither great not terrible
Gameplay: 9/10 itís a very fun SRPG. The base section allows for some replay-ability option by letting you choose to focus on different aspects at different times. Be it trying to rush to get a powerful weapon, setting up satellites quickly, or trying to get powerful armor for your soldiers to keep them alive.
Mike Factor: 8/10 XCOM: Enemy Unknown is just a very fun game. It does very little wrong and does a lot right. A fairly simple combat engine, the incentive of keeping soldiers alive, and the base options allows each game to have itís own unique twist to the overall game. Itís simplicity can become a bit of a drag, as it doesnít have the complex natures many SRPGs have and with only four soldier classes there isnít a great deal of variety. However these are issues that should Firaxis and 2k choose, can be fixed with DLC or an expansion pack. And even without them, they wonít stop you from getting an enjoyable 20-30 hours of the game.