XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
XCOM: Enemy Unknown Box Art
System: PS3, Xbox 360*, PC
Dev: Firaxis Games
Pub: 2K Games
Release: October 9, 2012
Players: 1-2
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence
XCOM Dehyphenated
by Josh Wirtanen

Fans of the old X-COM games were undoubtedly excited when they heard that the series was slated to be revived for the current console generation. Of course, many of those fans had their hearts ripped out when they found out this new game would be a first-person shooter that took place in the 1950s. (Wait, what?) But fans were consoled once again with the announcement of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a title that is very much not a FPS, and one that returns the more strategic elements that we loved about the original series. Just in case that last sentence wasn't completely clear, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is indeed a strategy game.

Now, to call Enemy Unknown a sequel would be a bit misleading. You see, it's more of a spiritual successor to the old series, set in a completely new universe that's only loosely based on the old one. However, just like in 1994's UFO: Enemy Unknown (see what they did there?), XCOM is still the name of a secret organization that's building an army to eradicate the new threat posed by invading extraterrestrials (only this time the hyphen is missing). XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts that organization in your hands, allowing you to build it to its alien-mashing apex or drive it into the ground like a crashed UFO.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Screenshot

Let's not kid ourselves here; the plot does indeed jump the shark. The writers found an excuse to add zombies, and this is a fact that even the characters seem uncomfortable with. (The first time zombies are mentioned, the character who does so says something along the lines of, "As unprofessional as this sounds, we're looking at zombies here.")

Then again, the storyline isn't really all that important. Sure, games like StarCraft II have proven that sci-fi strategy games can have intriguing plots, but XCOM isn't that sort of game. It sets up the simple premise of "Aliens are bad; shoot them to death," and sends you on your way. Which is totally fine, because for all the shallowness of the plot, the gameplay systems have a wealth of depth to them that will keep you engaged.

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Enemy Unknown is a game in which you're asked to make tough choices. In fact, this is emphasized at the very beginning of the game when you're asked to choose between two missions, each one with benefits for completion and severe consequences for being ignored. No matter which mission you choose, there will be negative consequences.

And then there are missions themselves: You control a squad of up to six soldiers who are given a set of objectives. Most of the time, these objectives are simply "murder all the aliens," but there are some defensive objectives thrown into the mix, as well as some missions that task you with doing things like capturing a live alien so it can be interrogated and studied.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Screenshot

You play these missions on a strategic "game board" (there's no visual grid here, but the combat is obviously an evolution of that of grid-based strategy titles.) Combat is turn-based, and you'll spend your turn moving your soldiers about on the field and issuing commands. Interestingly enough, there is cover scattered across the battlefield, and a great deal of your time will be spent moving your troops from one piece of cover to the next. Standing out in the open, after all, greatly increases your chances of getting picked off by the enemy.

I played Enemy Unknown on Xbox 360, so I was forced to use a standard controller rather than a mouse-and-keyboard setup, but the gameplay is still quite smooth for the most part. However, there's no option to undo your actions in case you accidentally move a troop to the wrong location. This can be frustrating, but it does encourage you to slow down and think about every move before you finalize it. Still, I would have preferred there to be at least a tiny bit of wiggle room here. I tend to screw up a lot.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Screenshot

Your troops will gain experience and rise through the ranks as they tackle missions. But there's a caveat to this: Death is permanent. It's not uncommon to have leveled up a soldier to the cap, only to have him fall in the next battle, forcing you to start over with a new recruit. In fact, it's wise to shuffle your soldiers around frequently and to not rely on a core group of six fighters. You will lose soldiers over the course of the game, and you'll have to plan for that.


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