XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012)

           I finished playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown‘s single player campaign two days ago, and I am on my second modded playthrough using Second Wave options. First, a little relevant background about myself. I have never played the original games. I know, it is a hidden shame to have not experienced a widely praised classic in gaming such as XCOM: UFO Defense. If I were to guess, had I played the original XCOM games as a child, then there could have been a very high chance I would have turned into a strategy gamer. But alas, FPS games populated my childhood, turning me into the twitch FPS player I am today. Anyways, my point is my review comes from a perspective virgin to the XCOM series.
           XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a surprisingly addicting game. Ultimately it succeeds in a creating choices of strong strategic consequence, in both in and out of the base. In the base you will constantly face difficult decisions such as “Should I research beam weapons first for more powerful laser weapons? Or should is more hitpoints for my soldiers in the form of Carapace armor more important?” Or “Should I spend my money on satellites or on workshops?” On mission in combat every move could literally mean life and death, so the tactics favor the slow and careful. One wrong dash could mean three groups of aliens blowing up your squad next turn. Sometimes, but less often, the game presents a near no-win situation right from start of a mission, surrounding you with enemies with very little cover at your very first move. As you progress in the game and have better soldiers and gear, this situation becomes more manageable.
           There’s nothing like the feeling of destroying twenty aliens and finishing what seems like an impossible mission with no casualties, and it is this elated sense of achievement and progress in beating the seemingly insurmountable odds that XCOM can offer. And oh boy are the odds stacked against you. I was playing in Classic difficulty, non-ironman, which means that according to the forums the artificial intelligence is “unshackled” and thus allowed to operate to its fullest potential, and that aliens has their statistics such as aim and hitpoints boosted. Every mission is more than just “kill all the aliens”, it is often a fight for survival right from the get go. Also, your soldiers “level up” in the sense that they gain new abilities and stat increases as they are promoted. This RPG-like element can also be rewarding, and you sometimes can’t help but have an attachment to some of your best soldiers. After all, you’ve been through thick and thin in dozens of battles with them, and to see one of them die can be hard to swallow.
           XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not without a few glaring flaws. While the strategic game in base and in combat feels well fleshed out, the interception aspect of the game is sorely lacking in depth. There is really only one upgrade ship to research and make. There is so much more potential to explore. For example, what about a ship that is heavily armored and allows two weapons to be loaded, but is very slow and has trouble catching up to faster UFOs? Or the ability to launch multiple interceptors in different formations to combat bigger UFOs a la Homeworld? The interception game could use way more user interaction and upgrade paths. If thus improved, I can see this aspect of the game to be a lot of fun.
           The combat is also not without its issues. Because of the probabilistic nature of every shot and enemy encounter, sometimes it can be very frustrating to miss that ninety percent shot point blank. Which gives rise to another problem: the very alien you missed now critical hits your shooter, one hit killing him. Because of how unforgiving combat can be, and how the odds can feel like it’s stacked in alien’s favor, success becomes a game of minimizing risks. Which means minimizing alien encounters. One common strategy in doing so is sending one scout very slowly up ahead to trigger one small group of aliens, and immediately falling back to break line of sight. Then ending the turn hoping the aliens you’ve “aggroed” will walk into your oversight shooting gallery. Often times this is the best strategy, so combat slows to a crawl and becomes routine and tedious. The last problem of combat is due to a bug causing aliens to occasionally teleport right next to one of your squad members. An annoying surprise.
           The last complaint is that the campaign felt too short. I believe it’s likely due to the fact that research happens so fast, especially if you’ve been diligently capturing aliens. The “Marathon” option in the Second Wave mod should address this problem.
           I can easily say that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is thus one of my favorite turn based strategy games. Then again, I haven’t played much of the genre. I am certainly highly interested in trying out the original series, which looks to be even more complex than this remake. Perhaps after my second playthrough.

Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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