XCom: Enemy Unknown

3 min

Strategy titles will always hold a special place in the gaming world, though recently the genre has seen very little praise. With the industry’s focus having shifted to action and FPS games, strategy games come few and far between (and almost never to a console), but with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, fans of the genre will have plenty to keep them busy.

If you happen to be a hardcore PC gamer, chances are you already know of the original X-COM: UFO Defense, which was known as UFO: Enemy Unknown outside of the US. It featured a challenging turn-based combat system and in-depth base building, all revolving around the secret X-COM project, which is tasked with defending Earth from an alien invasion. XCOM: Enemy Unknown serves as a faithful remake to the classic formula, while providing proper changes for a more modern style of play.

Players begin their campaign with a quick tutorial that gives an excellent rundown of the game’s various mechanics. During combat, it is up to the player to move their soldiers to and from cover across various battlefields while hunting down every last alien on the map. Of course, it is a lot more complex than that, as players must take into account line-of-sight, move limits, and a wide variety of abilities and characters classes, each with their own specific restrictions and bonuses. It is hard to properly explain the complexity of combat, but those familiar with turn-based RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle will understand the set-up immediately.

On easy difficulty settings, combat can be mastered relatively quickly. However, any difficulty setting from normal up will put even the most experience strategist through the paces. Enemy AI is far from simple, and the various alien units you encounter all have their own smart strategies and game-changing abilities. Where most games gives you a group of soldiers to play through the game with, XCOM relies on the classic “permadeath” mechanic. If one of your soldiers dies in battle, they are gone for good (or at least until you reload your last save, though Ironman Mode only allows one save per campaign), which makes every decision an important one. This is especially disheartening when a fully-leveled Assault soldier bites the bullet and you are stuck with lower level soldiers, or even worse: rookies.

Between combat missions, players spend much of their time building a base, researching new technology, and protecting various nations across the world. It is here where the depth of strategy really shines, as XCOM: Enemy Unknown drops weighty decisions in the player’s lap constantly. Do you spend your money on satellite coverage to make Japan’s panic level go down? Or is it a better idea to purchase that new Carapace Armor for your soldier for better protection on the battlefield? While initially this choice may seem clear-cut, the farther you tread into the campaign it is very easy for you to lose control of the situation. Ignoring a particular country and leaving it unprotected long enough will cause their panic level to increase, and ultimately pull out from the XCOM project, leaving you with significantly less funding for your future endeavors.

It should be noted that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is incredibly challenging, especially when playing on the Classic difficulty in Ironman mode. It is very easy to watch things go from bad to worse, and a single wrong decision can set-up a chain of events that can actually lead to you failing the campaign. That’s right, you can fail the single player campaign. To make things a bit easier, however, the rage-inducing base invasions from the original haven’t made a return, but things are still far from simple.

Playing the game on a console is a breeze, thanks to an excellent and easy to use UI. The PC version has a few differences, of course, but nothing that greatly impacts accessibility for console gamers. Graphically, the game features some very cool looking character models (which can be customized at the base in-game), and I haven’t experienced any technical issues in my experience. However, on the audio side of things, the quick cutscenes during base operations are of terrible quality on the console versions.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is easily one of the best strategy titles available. It offers a traditional, challenging, strategic game where every decision feels important, and completing a mission without losing a single soldier gives you a real sense of accomplishment. The further the experience, there is even an online multiplayer mode where you can duke it out with friends or random players, which adds to the already extensive replay value. If you are a fan of the original, or even just a fan of strategy games in general, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is worth every penny.

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