loganhallfin's XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC) review

A love song to all things strategy and control.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (XEU) is a game that makes you feel incredibly in control. Nearly immediately into the game you are making big decisions, not just the movements and actions of your squad, but base location, satellite building/deployment, power needs, balancing a budget, meeting the needs of 16 nations, building an air force, training and equipping a squad of up to 99 soldiers.... its an incredible sensation that I wouldn't trade for anything.

XEU is very much two games in one, a squad turn based strategy and a military base simulation, but unlike most times this happens this is a wonderful combination of elements that seamlessly support each other. Some bugs and flaws do show themselves but shouldn't really detract anyone from leading their own personal XCOM force to a bloody victory.

In a world where we have largely separated into camps of hardcore, casual, old school, new regime, XEU may be a hard game for some to swallow, getting a bad dice roll in combat can quickly snowball to several (permenent) deaths. Not planning your base well can lead to a situation that you are completely unable to recover from, forcing you to restart the game or at least hours of gameplay.

I would really have to say, XEU expects you to start a game, mess everything up horribly and pick up the pieces and begin anew.

XEU does a more than decent job with its tutorial for combat and base development but that quickly leaves you to make several decisions on your own, I believe the actual problem with this is that we have become used to being able to ignore mechanics in games because we don't need them. "Oh I can just not do this thing in this game, because I'm progressing fine and I don't really need it." Every mechanic in XEU has a full purpose, and needs a lot of your attention. Failing to learn even one, will very likely cripple your force.

The graphics are quite nice, (trying not to say: For a strategy game) more a long the lines of tongue in cheek 90s Alien Lore than photo realism. Everything has a nice amount of detail, especially the environment, it quickly makes you feel like you are actually in a town, or hotel, or a spaceship, fighting off iconic aliens. The game runs very smoothly and very stable, I did not have a single crash or big glitch. That said I did experience some minor shading glitches, mostly during cut-scenes Also said cut-scenes, are often reused way too much but are also easily skipped by a tap from the escape key. As per a major failing with almost all recent video games the cut-scenes do fall in quality from the main game, I don't know why resolution issues like this keep cropping up but it is distracting and noticeable. Its not terrible, its just disjointed.

The sound and voice acting are fine, but really nothing to write home about, I enjoyed the sound effects and music that plays as you hunt down aliens, but I didn't really find my self connecting with the base staff NPCs, their personalities just seemed too shallow and focused, buts this is really grasping at straws to find anything to complain about.

The story is.... forgivable. It's not great, it defiantly gets you from Act 1 to Act 3 very well, and keeps you on your toes and making critical decisions constantly. It just might leave you with the feeling that they could of done a lot more. A surprisingly large part of the game is text, everything you research gives you a wall of lore text that has no real baring on anything and is just there for flavor. I personally found myself skimming through these quickly to get back to my decision making and combat.

If that wasn't enough XEU does have great replay value with multiple difficulties and a lot of inherent randomness to events, map selection, enemy placement and so on. The game comes with over 80 maps which use randomized placement, that alone would keep you're combat missions fresh for a long time to come. I hope to see DLC or expansion and the like for this game, while it is already a great value, I think it could all be expanded more to an even greater effect.

All in all XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a fantastic game that everyone alive should play, the strategy and decision making might even teach you some real life disciplines to better yourself. Any amount of nit picking and griping about minor bugs and problems or a bad dice roll... does not change the fact that I could not recommend this game more to everyone, that's what makes it a 5 star game.

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