Bringing an old franchise back from the dead can often be a futile exercise; 2011’s Syndicate revival failed to deliver convincing sales despite the original having a cult following and the jury is still out as to whether Deus Ex: Human Revolution gained enough sales to warrant a sequel. XCOM: Enemy Unknown set out to bring the classic tactical franchise back to the forefront of strategic gaming, and thankfully Firaxis has succeeded.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts you in the unsettling position as commander of XCOM, a paramilitary outfit charged with defence of the entire planet. As an alien invasion begins on Earth you will make decisions that will literally shape the future of the world as we know it. Will your pour time and money into research and development? Will you spend more dollars training an elite squadron of soldiers to send into battle? Will you upgrade their equipment to ensure their success. All of these factors and more will be weighing on your concience throughout the hefty campaign.
Sounds intense doesn’t it? Intense is about as good a word as any to describe the type of pressure that Enemy Unknown throws at you constantly, almost to the point where a small failure will seem catastrophic. Quite possibly the best aspect of the entire game is the fact that there never seems to be enough time or money to do everything – concessions must be made and the consequences will be felt across the globe.
For those new to the series, XCOM is a turn-based strategy game that first came on the scene in 1994. Over the years it gained a passionate band of followers, right up until its disappearance in 2001. Enemy Unknown has the hard task of satisfying the insatiable hunger that fans have been experiencing for eleven years, while still managing to remain open to new ideas and a new generation of gamers.
Enemy Unknown doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to turn-based mechanics; players will still be limited to how many actions can be completed during each turn, combat is based upon numerous variants depending on the situation and the only way to survive is to have a seriously strong strategy when entering battle. It’s all standard stuff, yet Enemy Unknown remains exciting simply because it puts you in the thick of the action.
Issuing a command for a soldier to dash to the next vantage point isn’t simply viewed from a top-down camera, instead the player is taken to a cinematic camera angle as they see their soldier at work. Same goes for firefights and various other actions in the game world, bringing a level of excitement that changes the feeling and pace of the experience significantly.
Enemy Unknown delivers one of the most exciting turn-based strategy games of recent times”
Depending on your performance during a mission, various items and bonuses will be unlocked, along with additional funding and research options once you make it back to base. Deciding who to promote, what research you should invest in and which missions to take will be paramount to your success. It’s certainly no easy task, especially when an invasion is taking place in two different countries and you can only react to one. You will need to weigh up how important that country is to the funding and progress of the XCOM program and make a decision that could possible sway the outcome of your entire campaign.
While Enemy Unknown delivers one of the most exciting turn-based strategy games of recent times, there are a few niggling issues that are worth noting. Enemies are often predictable; they will never move until you are within their line of sight which makes the otherwise exciting combat sequences seem a little pre-written. The illusion of the aliens scurrying around the environment is lost instantly, making the impending firefight seem a little flat.
The game can also feel like a tactical cover-based shooter at times also. Each area where combat takes place seems to be suffering from Gears of War syndrome; an abundance of chest high walls and containers are scattered around giving your squad a chance to hide from any real threat, and leaving you open to move around and take out your enemies. It doesn’t exactly take away from the experience, but it certainly become obvious the more hours you put into the campaign.
Firaxis deserve a medal for their work with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. They have managed to resurrect a beloved franchise and keep it true to its roots, while still offering a fresh experience that newcomers can enjoy. The gameplay is strategic and exciting, and despite a few niggling factors, should definitely be in consideration for game of the year. If you want to blast aliens, research a tonne of awesome technology, create bad ass soldiers and have the fate of the world resting upon your shoulders, go out and pick this one up today!