XCOM: Enemy Unknown – The Nerd Appropriate Review

Turn based strategy.  Are you still here?  If so, I have some great news for you, XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis) finally brings the woefully missed genre to consoles with explosive style for (almost) the very first time.  Taking cues from the original XCOM of the 1990s, XCOM: Enemy Unknown tasks players with the mission of stopping a violent alien invasion through a combination of base building, turn based combat, and research.  In a game where character death is very much permanent, the combat, while turn based, is actually quite tense and downright terrifying at times.  Get ready to reload old save games… a lot.  Set in the near future, XCOM places players in control of a global anti-alien task force assembled to keep the world safe from alien activity (see: butt probes).  Much of the game revolves around helping out all of the nations that are in need of aid while maintaining a positive relationship with the mysterious “Council.” XCOM is a game filled with difficult, life and death decisions, and by the time you finish the title… there will be caskets to fill (so dramatic!).

A Day at The Office:  There is very little hand holding or guidance in XCOM’s robust campaign. In the beginning, I was given a modest budget, a bunch of countries to keep happy, and a small task force of rookie soldiers to save the world with.  Once I was done with the tutorial, I was instantly overwhelmed by how much there was to do.  While the intro did a great job of explaining combat, the intricacies of base building and resource management were totally alien to me... sigh…  After a few months (which can take up to few hours each), I really started to enjoy the resource management and research aspects of Enemy Unknown.  Even after playing all the way through the campaign, it remained a challenge to keep my solider’s gear up to date and ready for action.  From the research of alien technology, to alien autopsies and interrogations, there is a ton to do at HQ.  Each and every time a new piece of alien technology is discovered it can be researched to improve the stats of your soldiers or your base.  Cool right?

Combat: Player units are organized by profession (sniper, support… etc) and can be further customized with specific abilities using a mini skill tree similar to what we’ve become accustomed to in almost all games involving XP.  Solider’s kits, weapons, gear, and appearance can all be modified making for some truly unique and funny alien busting squads.  Similar to Warhammer 40k, or even 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, each player unit has a certain number of actions he/she can take before their turn is over.  For instance, an assault trooper can move and fire, while a sniper has to remain stationary to take a shot.  Memorizing who can do what only takes a few battles, and even novice players will feel comfortable with combat in little time.    As soldiers unlock new armor, guns, and skills they quickly move from rookie scrubs to terrors on the battlefield.

Graphics:  Having had the pleasure of hearing Firaxis talk about the production of this game on multiple occasions, I know that much effort was made to make Enemy Unknown faithful re-imagining of the 1990s original.  While many of the creature designs are similar to the old XCOM, the look and “feel” of the creatures have been modified to make more sense to a modern audience.  Great work was also done with the cameras to make the turn based battle feel quite visceral and brutal.  Head-shots end with a brutal *pop*, spiny aliens burst out from within their hosts, and explosions explode with explosive explosiveness !  To be honest, I almost guarantee that you’ll forget you’re playing a turn based strategy title.

The Story:  Sadly there isn’t a whole lot going on in the story department.  The game revolves around an increasing alien threat and a possible “end of the world” scenario for mankind.  While there are a handful of NPCs, none of them are entirely memorable as they stay behind at base and rattle off exposition and research notes.  The real story lies with your squad and their adventures  in the trenches.  Stories like the time when Sgt. Buck “Buckshot” Wayne got mind controlled and pulled the pin on his own grenade sadly blowing himself, and several civilians, to tiny bits. Or the time that Lance “The Finger” Percival fired his plasma sniper across an entire map to get a critical head-shot on a rampaging Berzerker who was inches away from taking out his squad leader.  The real “story” of Enemy Unknown is the story that the player forges himself… Creativity at its finest.

Nerd Appropriate:  XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a bold take on a classic genre that hopefully brings new players into the fold.  With a ton of depth and customization, players could easily find themselves spending hours upon hours tweaking their squads armor, colors, heads, and haircuts before sending their tiny soldiers out to face their inevitable brutal slaughter (unless you reload).


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Dibol

    Dibol here, as much as I enjoyed my first playthrough of XCom, there are some major flaws with the gameplay system. As it is, beating the game is completely reliant on LUCK rather than skill, considering that the computer is known to cheat, A LOT. Enemy constantly moves while your soldiers are in the middle of their turn, cover rarely helps, and oh yeah, the Sectopods are the worse, for the WRONG REASONS. Seriously, each Sectopod (the late-game mechs) has three free turns to kill your soldiers while the player only has one turn to attack for each soldier in his/her disposal, which I find to be complete bullshit. Even killing your enemies relies on luck, since you could miss a 100% hit chance, or if it’s in the 90% range for example, the 10% chance of mission happens, 4/5 times. BTW, your soldier’s classes are completely randomized, so that means you may have a platoon full of snipers only.

    I really wanted to love this game. Hell, I wanted to nominate it as game of the year, but the flaws really ruined my enjoyment of the game up to the point I didn’t want to do any more replays. I also don’t see the point in doing Iron Man mode if the computer is a cheating bastard, so that alone is a problem. Sadly, the 1990s franchise got plagued with a similar set of problems, especially when your own units have friendly fire related problems, and they’re worse than today’s XCom. I honestly feel that Firaxis should have focused more on actually balancing the game than developing the game with nostalgia/fanboy/fangirl goggles on.

    1. Dibol

      Oops, meant to say 10% chance of missing.

      1. Ash

        Heya Dibol! I agree with a lot of what you said here. I did have some gripes that didn’t quite make it to the review and I felt as though it was more important to sing the praises of a dying genre rather than focus on some of the things I didn’t like. Because you’re right.. I’ll add some stuff.. haha. 1) Yes, the enemy does seem to have an unfair advantage much of the time. 2) Yes, Sectopods are crazy difficult and until I discovered the stealth/shotgun doubletap tactic, they gave me many problems. 3) The random soldier assignment bothered me as well… I was waiting for a female sniper for the entire game and never got one. You have to admit, it’s the best turn based strategy title to come out on consoles in quite a while. Best!

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