XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review
Firaxis Games successfully revives yet another classic franchise
Not all turn based strategy games are created equal. UFO: Enemy Unknown was one such title, released back in 1994 and quickly gained a huge following thanks to its deep mechanics and unrelenting difficulty. Following a few expansions and failed reboot attempts, XCOM: Enemy Unknown has now made it on to store shelves, promising much of the same classic gameplay that the originals were known for. And who else better to reboot this series than Firaxis Games, developers that took another hugely popular Civilization series and updated it over the past few years. The new XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not as deep as the originals, but its essential elements of squad management and base building live on through punishing difficulty.
Enemy Unknown, like the original games, put the player in an alternate world history where aliens have invaded earth. You are tasked with commanding XCOM, an elite military organization that has been put together with the help of all major nations and your job is to protect Earth from this invasion. You’re given a choice of a base location, each providing various passive bonuses to your cause. Unlike the original games, you’ll just be limited to one base on Enemy Unknown, and will have to organize your buildings accordingly.
At the outset, the game feels quite overwhelming, but it’s not long before you are familiar with the base and its various sections. You start off with the basics, such as a research center where you pick what tech to unlock next; an engineering lab where you can order the construction of new buildings in your base; and the barracks where your troops reside. The main control room has a map of Earth, providing an overview of the situation and also used to advance time in the game. From there, you need to use money and engineers to create new buildings inside your base – space for which needs to be first excavated. Everything takes time, which you have to advance manually.
As you progress through the campaign, alien attacks will occur in various parts of the world, and you’ll often be faced with choices of which request to respond to. The missions come with a couple of different objective types (terror, bomb refusal, civilian rescue) and varying degrees of difficulty which usually translates to higher number of tougher foes. Also important to note are the rewards for completing a mission, as well as the panic level of the country that’s asking for help. The game’s progression heavily relies on keeping the aliens in check, meaning that if you don’t provide support to a country, their so-called panic level increases, until they eventually abandon their support for XCOM – and thus any funding you’ve been receiving from them will be gone, upping the difficulty.
And that’s one of the major concerns with the game. Or perhaps it’s a selling point – depending on the type of player you are. Even on medium difficulty, the game is a challenge, and it’s easy to see Earth’s hope slip away as overwhelming alien forces attack on regular basis and you don’t have enough satellites in the sky to help them all. Panic levels will spike, and it’s not long before there’s no hope left. In order to succeed, chances are you’ll need to restart the game a number of times in order to get the best build order – XCOM isn’t a game that allows for much freedom of development of playing how you want. Instead, it’s a very strict and punishing experience that requires players to understand what needs to be created and when. Build something else, and chances are the cascading effect of a missed opportunity for another satellite will take you down not too far down the line. Fans of the equally hard original game may rejoice, but this type of campaign design just seems outdated and prevents any experimentation for those just looking for a good time.