We.....are not alone
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a remake of the original 1994 XCOM: UFO Defense (also known as XCOM: Enemy Unknown). Tossed out by Firaxis, the makers of the Civilization games, the game already looked promising when I was poking around my local Game Stop. Of course, I would be lying if I said I bought this game on day one.
Let me set the scene here: While the world is playing happy slaps with each other, a much bigger threat comes from the stars, aliens my friend, aliens. I'm not talking the “phone home” kind but the chest buster, acid-spitting kind. Magically, the nations of the world set up the XCOM project to deal with these threats (really, the game is not the best at setting all this up). You are tasked with commanding your men and women into battle of the alien invaders.
If anyone played the original Xcom they knew that the game was hard. I was only able to play a bit of the first game recently and was put off by the lack of information given to you. Question arose like, “why should I fly here?”, “Where do I set up my base?”, “Where the hell did all my money go?” Yes, all these “issues” (I use that term lightly) turned me away from the original.
Luckily, the new game slides you in with a tutorial. In the first two missions, you are given strict guidelines on what to do. The first mission even goes as far as to pick out who lives and who dies. After this, you are taken back to your base to meet your “key men” and given the lay of the land. The tutorial again gives you very direct things to research and build , going as far as to label the items as “priority” which helps you set up your first few projects and goals.
Encounters come in different forms. For example, in the base “Alien Abduction”, you send in troops to kill a set number of aliens with air encounters. Your air units will face off with a number of different sized alien ships and crash sites, which result from the above alien air battles. In one mission, you are tasked to find a bomb that is to be disabled before it explodes, and then defend your post from alien reinforcements. There are also classic terror missions, where the aliens are causing all kinds of chaos and death. After each mission you are given a briefing of the deaths of both sides and whatever items that were recovered.
Firaxis did what they do best and stuck with their turn-based gameplay. Just like the original, each turn allows you to move men and set up shots and other skills. From setting up Overwatch, which allows your men to take a pot shot when an alien is running for cover, taking cover behind a flimsy tombstone, to using one of the four classes' special skills. In turn the aliens also get the same turn phase and follow in line of their own tactics. The game has a fog of war going on that limits the sight of your troops and the aliens. You can only see so far and you just don't know what is around the next corner until you turn it. You might find a nice safe spot to hunker down or perhaps a bolt of hot plasma to the face.
This is where a few of my issues start to come in. At times there can be massive frame rate drops for no reason. I also had issues with being able to shoot through walls or men just shooting in the opposite direction of their target. A larger issue that has happened was during the alien activity phase, more often than not, the game would just freeze when their turn was over. The game would pause for a few seconds with the music going before jerking back to life and going to your phase. I could go on with other small issues that only pop up once in a while, but the above listed are the ones that effect enjoyment the most for me.
Now to the core gameplay away from the battlefield. While you are not sitting in your omnipotent armchair watching the battles below, you take control over the operations of your base. From ordering up new troops to picking out what research project your scientists work on next, you are constantly encouraged to have projects going. The only limit is literally how much money you have and what items you have taken from the battlefield. The currency is some fancy credit system and Elerium which is some kind of alien alloy.
Keeping your gear up to date requires research and work. Research projects unlock new weapons and armour which gives you the ability to buy them. On the other hand, you can also just go out and capture aliens alive and take their weapons, but that requires getting your men close to the aliens which can easily result in their death and removal from the entire game.
Called the “ant farm” layout, your base is subterranean. You pick and choose (with limited space) what you want to build and where. You also manage power and collect bonuses from similar structures built near each other. All of the mentioned structures have upkeep costs that are taken from your monthly budget. I would not personally call this all micromanaging due to the fact you only need to keep the faintest eye to the exact progress of each item. You are given a very nice reminder every time something is finished and like I said before, encouraged to do something else. More busy work is given with each council report that rates your exploits on the battlefield.
Your money and support is monitored by a “Doom clock” via your situation room. If chaos goes unchecked in a certain region, they will pick to go at it alone and pull all funding and aid from the XCOM project. Managing chaos and funding is key at every point in the game. If too many nations pull out you’re left with little to no money and no way to support your base and the troops.
The game is addictive on so many levels. When will the next alien scout show up? What will I build next? What will the next “story” mission bring? My time in Xcom has taught me many things. Mostly that I might have spent way too much time playing it, and I may have a phobia of piano slide sounds now.
Xcom gets 5 out of 5 anal probes. While a few technical hiccups do plague the game, it is not enough to bring down the enjoyment I got out of it all. Here's to hoping for the remake of XCOM: Terror from the Deep.