XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review
Posted by Ray Willmott
Sgt Brown, purposefully named after a personal friend and modelled to appear in much the same way, was a competent, proficient warrior out on the battlefield. In the face of unimaginable terror, combating his own nerves on an alien-infested Earth, without question, his fortitude and intensity remained true.
Yet, it was his lack of focus, if only for mere seconds, that led to his name being inscribed on a marquee to commemorate the fallen. A considerate tribute, certainly, but not at all indicative and appropriate for the level of bravery and skill he displayed when the world was faced with its eleventh hour.
While it was a loss for the XCOM project as a whole, it was those he shared a battlefield with that felt the effects most of all. His simple execution in cold blood, a man of his talents and ability, sent them into crazed hysteria. Some hunkered down into cover, hoping the stone faced wall they’d been using as cover would shield them from the atrocities just meters away. Others fired bullets with reckless abandon, wildly pulling the trigger into thin air, petrified for their own lives. One even called for the team to be pulled out, abandoning their objectives entirely.
Amazingly, somehow, the mission still turned out to be a success. Despite losing the most experienced officer on the roster from their ranks, the upcoming recruits kept calm and relied on guts and instinct to carry them through. Fortunately, they all returned home with just a few cuts and bruises.
Sadly, it was only a small victory. Despite hard-fought efforts, the choice to help one area of the world will only send dispersions around the rest of it, causing further panic to spread. It’s a harsh reminder that while there are many battles to win, there is only one war, and it will challenge both physically and mentally. As Commander of the project, you’re in this for the long haul.
Welcome to XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
The above serves as an explanation for the importance of choice in this series re-imagining. Equally, it conveys the importance of death; the significance and impact it will have on your game. As Commander, you will need to choose between continents, who you’ll prioritise and who you’ll leave to fend for themselves. These decisions aren’t to be taken lightly. Abandon a country for too long, and they’ll lose faith in the project, removing themselves from its protection, likely setting themselves up for extermination.
While XCOM: Enemy Unknown gives you all of the time you’ll ever need to contemplate these decisions in its campaign, no matter how measured, you won’t please everyone. This is the harsh reality you’ll have to face, meaning that there is no right or wrong outcome in the game. There’s just you and the fate of the world in the balance. There is no alternative.
The turn-based strategy nature of the game isn’t new to PlayStation 3, but it has perhaps never been used to such great effect. Each unit has a certain amount of steps they can take before their turn ends. A reticule is controlled by the analogue stick, and a button tap sets the unit in motion. If they’re already in a good strategic position, and an enemy is in proximity, tapping the right shoulder button will bring up an attack menu. Here, you’ll see the unit’s chance of hitting the alien and whether they’ll gain a critical strike. However, other weapons can be used to fight the threat, such as frag grenades, and rocket launchers. As commander, you can also decide if the unit isn’t in the right spot, and opt for them to oversee the battlefield, so that if an enemy comes into range, they will automatically take shots at them.
Units aren’t just customised by their hair colour and the sound of their voice. As they prove their competency on the battlefield, they will earn promotions. With each promotion comes the opportunity to develop that unit’s skill-set. As they become more battle-savvy, their durability will increase, or how adept they are with a weapon-type. You’ll also be able to develop better armour and weapons if you research alien cadavers and weaponry. Not only will the armour be more resistant to the unearthly technology, it will also enable humans to fight back with something just as, if not more, effective.
The XCOM base is more than just a hub to collect missions. From there, you’ll be able to accumulate a research and engineering team to do your bidding. While researchers investigate Earth’s intergalactic guests, engineers are there to develop structures and assume contact with the wider world. Satellites can be used to gain coverage with countries, and ships can then be sent to investigate any potential threats. A holding cell can also be created so that the team can capture alien life for more intricate experimentation.
XCOM is a busy game, and there’s a lot to digest in a short space of time. In that regard, it’s brutal, and has a high learning curve. Even on the lowest difficulty, don’t be surprised if you’re forced to restart your game at least once. Unquestionably, this will not be for everyone, but the consequences to your actions have perhaps never felt so significant, and, as a result, make the game extremely satisfying to play.
However, the package does not just contain an enormous campaign, easily suited for multiple playthroughs. The online component is also a real joy and has already attracted a solid, consistent community due to its unique gameplay. While the playable modes are basic in form, the room for expansion and development is ripe with potential.
Time-sensitive turn-based team on team action will see you play both humans, as well as aliens. Each unit is as it appears in the campaign, with no embellishments or detractions. The balance is spot-on and works a charm, so neither side will feel short-changed or slighted, no matter which side they end up on. The weapon variety also makes for some obviously interesting scenarios and the time-based nature of the game keeps thinks frantic and at a competitive level.
Still, despite loadout customisation as well as team-development, the modes are limited and are crying out for expansion. This will apparently appear as we head into 2013.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a real sleeper hit. Save for repetitive level design, a basic online component, and some questionable voice acting, the game is magnificent. It may take longer than most to appreciate, but it never fails to deliver.