|System: PS3, PC, Xbox 360|
|Dev: Firaxis Games|
|Pub: 2K Games|
|Release: November 12, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Though the November 12th release is nearly upon us, developer Firaxis was kind enough to send us a preview build of XCOM: Enemy Within to play with. The expansion pack of last year's successful turn-based tactical RPG is full of goodies, including new classes, new enemies, a new rival faction, and tons of new customizations that makes the already challenging strategy game even more mind testing.
Straying from the typical expansion-pack formula that usually comprises of a completely segregated area with an exclusive storyline, XCOM: Enemy Within is actually integrated completely into the original campaign. You'll begin a new game as before, with your initial discovery of the UFOs and their sinister intent. Yet into just the third mission of the tutorial, I was introduced to one of the new features, a resource called MELD.
During most missions, you have the opportunity to acquire this precious material by capturing the few containers scattered around the field. The catch is that these containers have a self-destruct sequence. When the timer reaches zero, the material is lost. This adds an interesting element of brevity to each mission. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, advancing cautiously is a general rule of thumb, as to not expose yourself or become flanked by the enemy. Now with MELD, you must weigh risk versus reward, and decide whether the rare resource is worth possibly losing a soldier over. But remember, death is permanent in XCOM.
It's a tougher decision than you may think, considering the usefulness of MELD. After securing my first batch of the substance, I found out through a cutscene that MELD is the fusion of biological and cybernetic nanites, which can be used to "augment" humans. Of course, chief scientist Dr. Vahlen and chief engineer Dr. Shen are butting heads, as usual, about how to best utilize MELD. Thus, new facilities were made available for me to build–the Cybernetics Lab and the Genetics Lab.
The Cybernetics Lab allows players to create an entire new soldier class, Mechanized Exoskeletal Cybersuits (MECs). After choosing a troop with at least Squaddie rank, that person undergoes an irreversible procedure that amputates both arms and legs and replaces them with cybernetic implants. Afterwards, they can be outfitted with an MEC that has been researched and purchased. The initial MEC model is called MEC-1 Warden, with a choice of two primary abilities: Kinetic Strike Module, a heavy arm weight that lets you pulverize adjacent cover and enemies behind it, and Flamethrower, which unleashes a cone-shaped blast of fire, incinerating any creature and many obstacles in the area. MEC soldiers also receive a unique bonus depending on what class they were prior to the procedure, though they can no longer gain abilities in their former specialty.
The Genetics lab, on the other hand, is used to enhance the capabilities of soldiers while still allowing them to maintain their current profession. The brain, eyes, chest, skin, and legs are the parts of the body that can be augmented, with a choice between two upgrades per body part. Only eye and leg upgrades were available to me at the beginning, with others likely unlocked through future research.
Unfortunately, the two new MELD foci cannot intermingle. MEC soldiers cannot receive genetic augmentations, and soldiers already genetically upgraded will lose those benefits if they become an MEC class. Both new class modifications provide significant improvements to your roster, making your decision before each mission an even tougher, but more flexible, process.
At this time, I decided to play around with the more superfluous customization options for each character, of which Firaxis has added a bunch. As a global project, XCOM recruits from many different countries, and yet the only language spoken so far has been English. For XCOM: Enemy Within, Firaxis has added French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Spanish vocals, which can be changed for each individual soldier. As for appearance, there are now forty-one different hairstyles and helmets to choose from, and there’s a full spectrum of colors to personalize your crew. I found it quite amusing that I could take my male MEC, with only a head left that wasn't mechanized, splash his cybersuit with bright purple, and top him off with a fedora. All that was missing was a stogie hanging out of his mouth.
After a few more mission, I noticed the game had awarded me with medals, another new feature in XCOM: Enemy Within. There appears to be five different medals to gain, you can gain each one multiple times. For each medal, you must choose between two bonuses (a choice of two seems to be a recurring theme here), which becomes the permanent bonus for any future medals. You then present these medals to a soldier of your choosing, providing them with a permanent buff going forward.
My next mission revealed a new and exciting enemy called the Seeker. This flying biomechanical construct had the ability to cloak, revealing itself during a later turn and strangling one of my troops with its tentacles. Performing an autopsy on a Seeker revealed the ability to fabricate two new items: a Respirator Implant that prevents strangulation and a Ghost Grenade that renders your troops invisible. It also unlocked a skin augmentation called Mimetic Skin that camouflages a soldier to the surrounding environment.
I didn't make it too far into the campaign before finishing my preview, with only a couple of missions that hint at the new enemy faction called EXALT. These alien sympathizers are apparently seeking the advanced technology for personal gain and power, instead of global liberation. This new enemy ushers in even more gameplay features, allowing you to recruit spies and send them on espionage missions. You have to extract them afterwards and duke it out with the EXALT, which uses completely different combat tactics than the aliens.
Also absent in the preview build is any multiplayer, but we have been informed that there are improvements made on that front as well.
This just means that the review of the final version will have plenty of new things to critique. After playing through several campaigns with XCOM: Enemy Unknown prior to this hands-on preview, I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh the new features made the experience, even just in the early goings of the game. I'm excited to see how this new, human opposition affects the strategy as the campaign gets deeper, and how it will shape the story's conclusion. We'll all find out soon enough.
Date: October 23, 2013