XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Steam usually comes through for me by way of holiday sales when I’m unable to obtain review copies from the developer, but this time Green Man Gaming hooked me up with “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” for just under fifteen bucks. Considering I’ve already put ten plus hours into this game, I’d say it was fifteen dollars well spent. So, what is this game and why is there so much controversy behind it? Is it worth buying at full price?
The main menu lets you play the campaign, play against others in multiplayer, load up an existing campaign, and adjust game options. Listing out all of the game’s options would take a while, but suffice it to say that it covers almost everything you can think of, so no complaints there.
The single player campaign takes you on an epic journey to save to world from an alien invasion. You’ll have a base of operations where you’ll manage your troops, develop new weapons, research upgrades, expand your base with new facilities, and more. The game starts you out with a tutorial that will help get you acclimated to the basics, but after that, you’ll be on your own in trying to save humanity.
Your main base of operations has multiple functions, but they all serve to improve your offensive and defensive might in some way. You’ll be able to dig out tunnels and buy new facilities when the time comes to bring in some extra firepower. You’ll have access to facilities like power generators, satellite uplinks, workshops, laboratories, foundries, and more. Each of them have their uses and it will be a challenge to find a balance between expanding your base and utilizing the features of the facilities you already have.
I won’t touch on all of the facilities, but the main ones are laboratories, workshops, foundries, and satellite uplinks. Laboratories allow your scientists to research new equipment while your workshops allow your engineers to build said equipment. The satellite uplinks allow you to deploy satellites all over the world, above particular countries. Doing so will provide you with bonuses, reduce their panic level, and help detect passing UFOs. Lastly, the foundry allows you to upgrade the equipment you already have.
Managing all of the above requires money and resources, which you’ll acquire as you play the game and go on missions. You do receive a monthly check from the council assuming your expenditures don’t outweigh your income, but you’ll also receive money when completing certain missions. Money is fairly hard to come by, so wasting it all on building fifty laser rifles isn’t necessarily for the best. Some of the items you’ll be constructing require alien parts and tech, which you’ll pick up from the corpses of aliens you dispatch during missions. Though, you are free to sell what you don’t want on the “Gray Market.”
On the other side of things, you’ll be tasked with various missions and on occasion get to choose which country you’d like to save from invasions. Saving a particular country from an alien invasion will reduce its panic level, but at the cost of rising the panic levels of the countries you didn’t save. If a country’s panic level rises too high, they’ll withdraw from the council, taking the funding they provide along with it. This particular mechanic has been met with mixed criticism, as some people don’t like the fact that no matter what you do, countries will panic and leave since you can only partake in one mission when given the choice of three.
Before you begin a mission, you’ll be able to choose soldiers from your roster, customize their loadout and appearance, and send them on their way. Most missions are the same…kill all of the aliens. There are three primary missions that are part of the story which are longer and more difficult than your average mission. Despite this, I never found the gameplay to be repetitive. I was engaged and drawn into every mission I played in, regardless of the lack of variety in maps and goals.
In-game missions are played over a series of turns. Each of your troops, in most cases, can perform two actions a turn. They’ll be able to move a limited number of spaces and perform various actions. There is a cover system at work, and it’s usually best to keep them behind some sort of cover to aid you from getting blown away too quickly. Even on easy, aliens will dispatch your soldiers with ease if you are not careful.
As your troops survive missions, their experience points will earn them promotions. Promotions allow you to pick skills appropriate to their class, which is determined randomly after their first promotion. I honestly would have liked the option to choose a soldier’s class, but this is a minor complaint. Promotions provide your soldiers with new abilities that aid them and their colleagues on the battlefield.
Combat is fairly complex, as the computer will factor in a number of things when you use an action to fire on an alien. Cover plays an important part, as does the location of your soldier in relation to the enemy. Health is displayed above every unit to give you an idea of their status. The main weapon types include rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, rocket launchers, grenades, and heavy machine guns. When firing on an enemy, you’ll be given a chance to hit percentage that is calculated from values like enemy defense, enemy cover, special perks your soldier may have, and etc. I found this mechanic to be a bit frustrating, as sometimes I’ll be right behind an enemy and fire at point-blank range…and miss, despite a 85% chance to hit percentage.
I know I didn’t cover everything in the game, but those are the hi-lites. I personally have found the game to be addicting and a lot of fun. I would have liked a way to play more than one mission at a time so that I could stop countries from dropping out, but I have a feeling that this was by design to give you a sense of impending doom. I also feel the game suffers from some incredible difficulty spikes, even on easy. Despite having plasma weapons and titan armor, enemies will rip you a new one before you can get close enough to negate their high defense and cover modifiers. The second campaign mission (about thirty to forty missions in) took me two hours to beat and I lost three troops in the process. Sometimes, the game can be outright unfair, despite a patch in November 2012 that supposedly made easy mode easier. I honestly don’t feel they made it easy enough, and those who complain about that should remember that there are three other difficulty levels for them to play.
Overall, this is an excellent game. There are some who are upset that it didn’t offer as much as the original XCOM game released back in the day, but I am honestly fine with the game as is. It is providing me with hours of entertainment, which I believe is the whole point…not whether or not it is an exact clone of a game released years ago. If you can afford to purchase “XCOM: Enemy Unknown”, then my advice is to do so. If you’re like me however and can’t afford to drop forty to sixty bucks on a whim, I’d recommend waiting for a sale.
Final Verdict: 9/10
You can see video play sessions here: