Summary [9.5 out of 10]
I’m not saying that the Unknown Enemy is Aliens, but it’s Aliens.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not a remake, but a reboot of a beloved game from 1994 called UFO: Enemy Unknown aka X-COM: UFO Defense aka X-COM: Enemy Unknown. After a string of follow-ups culminating with 2001’s X-COM: Enforcer, which was not a strategy game (they went that same odd route of Command & Conqueror). XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a great breath of fresh-air in the Turn Base Strategy genre all brought to you by the folks at Firaxis and 2K. I must confess I never played the first game, tried and true C&C fanboy here so I missed out big time from what I hear.
Everything in the game makes you feel the weight of your decisions, for some reason I took my friend’s advice and named my recruits after friends (not the sitcom) and boy do you feel it when one of them takes an alien bullet in dome piece. You are tasked by this global organization known as ‘The Council’ with the responsibility of putting together this organization to bring the pain to the alien invasion; from researching recovered alien tech (spoilers of war, you eventually get some sweet jets), building new items from said tech and constructing your own Top Secret Underground Base. Did I mention that you also create your own satellite network to monitor alien activity? Yea, you totally do that; it is that thorough and awesome.
What Is It Like?
A bit like Civilization V, in so much that it’s the same game studio and a Turn Based Strategy Game, but really it is more of a cousin instead of a direct clone. XCOM begins with a cinematic that states the stakes of the game, aliens get to earth and start causing a ruckus and it is up to you The Commander to take charge and beat back the invasion. You have you standard Strategy Game setup right there and after a lengthy tutorial, the training wheels come off and you are left to your own devices to gather intel and raise hell.
Game Play: The gameplay in this is very tight and precise; The Turn Based action really forces you to consider your moves and actions for each of your units in the squad. Fans of board games and old school strategy games will feel right at home. You are constantly on the lookout for alien activity and ways to thwart their evil plans; you need to build up your base, meet the requirements set forth by the shadowy XCOM council.
Graphics: For a Strategy Game everything looks pretty decent here, they did a great job on unit details for both Humans and Aliens. The cut scenes will not impress too much in comparison but it helps move the story along. The aliens are well designed pulling material from the classic ‘grey’ template, the ‘men in black’ and one of the last units you face the Ethereal harkens back to S’pht from Bungee’s Marathon games. Customization on your human squad feels a bit limited, not on par with other character creation, but you spend little time seeing up close and personal.
Level Design: They did a great job on having a variety of different maps, ranging from cities to shopping centers to alien ships. Sometimes moving and shooting through different areas can be quite frustrating but overall the buildings and their destructibility works quite well to keep the action interesting.
Units: Leveling up and outfitting squad members handled quite well, there is for sure some room for improvement here. Perhaps tweaking specialty skills a bit more and having a few levels beyond what weapon types are available, the armor variety works well but I honestly constructed and used a robotic unit once. I promptly dissembled it in the attempt to recoup some resources. Consider throwing in some rookies with your veterans to help them level up.
Pacing: You really need to take your time in this game and consider your moves and actions, you do not want to be in a hurry and go charging into the thick of battle. Pick your squad and move them appropriately and it becomes chess, but with alien murder. Again the turn-based strategy is so great for this game, for the unfamiliar it might seem odd but it really makes you slow down and take your time.
Missions: There is not a whole lot of variety here; eliminate the aliens, rescue captives or disarm a bomb. As mentioned above, these can be few and far between with the occasional special mission on the order of the council. Otherwise it is mostly standardized, even an additional king of the hill or hold out for x amount of time might have been a good addition here.
Combat: While the types of combat interactions are limited, the sense of intensity brought on by fog of war, line of sight and impending dread that one for your favorite troops could be a step away from the big sleep more than makes up for it.
Resource Gathering: Really, the only major short coming here. You need to wait until a UFO or mission appears on your scanner to gather any material you will need for researching or building. Granted the awesome there is that this leads to a combat encounter, there were points I would scan for days (once even a month) before any events triggered. Late in the game you really need a stockpile to finalize some upgrades and conduct key research.
Glitches: The occasional glitch does pop up, enemy units have the amazing ability to shoot through buildings, and you don’t unless it’s an overwatch glitch. Sometimes units will not recognize the terrain change and the movement associated with it.
The Randomly Awesome
In the vein of Guile’s Theme goes with everything, included is weird haircut for both male and female based on street fighter character Guile.
Conclusion [9.5 out of 10]
Overall this is solid strategy game and a severely welcome addition to the Xbox 360 library. I would rather not admit to how many in game hours I’ve clocked so far, even with the occasional glitch or hardship this title is well worth your time. There was one level I had to reload three times until I was able to get through it and it made it that much better taking that alien ship then any of the rest. Honestly, if Assassin’s Creed III wasn’t out this year this might be my favorite game of 2012, the potential for the follow up title is amazing.