XCOM: Enemy Unknown review

X-COM: Enemy Unknown has been around forever, or at least since I played it in 1994. The fresh isometric graphics, great atmosphere and crushing difficulty level made it an instant classic. You could even name your troops after your friends and family! The plot was simple; Extra Terrestrials attack earth, abducting innocent people and destroying property, possibly scaring the odd baby in the process, the rotters. As the head of the XCOM organisation, it was up to you to tackle the invading scum and give them a ruddy good seeing too.

Jump forward 18 years in the real world (cue low budget wobbly screen time travel effect) and here we are once again with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Guess what? Aliens – that’s what. They’ve only gone and invaded Earth again and abducted plenty of poor unfortunates. This time around you are called The Commander, because it sounds way cooler, and gives you a licence to kill E.T. et al. What more could you ask for? Oh right, a task force. Well don’t worry; here’s one The Council (made up of the main countries of earth) made earlier, and they’ll be watching your progress.

Once again you get a (fully expandable) base of operations from which you can send out fighter jets to down pesky UFOs, troop carriers to send your soldiers to said downed UFOs or possible abduction/terror sites. Once there you enter a much sexier looking world of isometric goodness, except this time you have some control over the camera. Your squad of up to six soldiers have to explore the current area as you point out where to go and issue orders. Each soldier has a finite amount of distance they can move before taking a shot at a baddie, healing or crouching, reloading or other tactical cleverness.

Keep level headed to level up your head.

As they level up (according to how well they do in each mission) they gain from a choice of perks according to their skill as a particular type of combatant. A sniper could get a perk to lose the penalty of not being able to shoot after moving, whereas a heavy gunner might get a perk to fire two rockets per mission instead of one. It all adds to the sense of customisation Firaxis has kept from the original game. There is something sublimely satisfying in going to battle with soldiers named after friends and family; watching them with pride as they pull off that perfect kill shot or suppress a rather ornery adversary to enable a flanking manoeuvre from your grandmother. We all know she can kick ass when her brood is threatened: Just don’t swear in her presence.

Completing a mission gives you treats to take home to the geeks in white coats such as gooey alien corpses and artefacts of unimaginable power. So unimaginably powerful in fact that initially the eggheads can’t imagine what they are. Possibly Martian pleasure objects, then again perhaps not, but after you task your boffins with a research assignment they will tell you how long it will take. Once research is completed it can help by giving bonuses to other research or enable the manufacturing of something useful. Mayhap some chic clothing that protects the wearer against a plasma attack with panache or allows you to hover above the less well dressed masses.

Every bit of new tech and a lot of luck will be needed in the fight to save the Earth from little green men. I mean, it’s not like they don’t fight back. What do you think goes on when your turn has ended and the words “Alien Activity” appear across the bottom of the screen? No, you won’t catch them taking part in Yoga or playing video games. They’ll be doing their utmost to flank you in turn and help you become test-tube soup. And quite good they are at it too, with a few different types with varying skill sets to keep you on your toes, from huge berserkers to waif like extrasensory killers.

Don’t forget your Tinfoil hat!

Later you can train those of your soldiers with an aptitude for psychic shenanigans to hit back at the aliens that try to mess with your head by doing the same to them. If that doesn’t work a little bit of psychic protection may be in order for the poor unfortunates without any powers. Of course if it all gets too much for you, just take a shot at the multiplayer side of the game if you can get online (which I couldn’t) or even with a friend if you have any. When playing against a human your moves have a time limit so you have to think on your feet, or – more likely – backside.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is as good as any fan of the original game could ever have hoped for. It is fun, exciting and the managerial aspects never feel overly complicated or dull. Yes, at times the difficulty level is as painful as a plasma blast to the face as you try to keep your long serving, high ranking soldiers alive (which can become an obsession; one I’ll gladly admit to), but boy is it addictive. All we can ask for now is a re-imagining of Terror from the Deep!

Game details

Game title: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Reviewed on: PC
Available for: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Strengths: Good crisp visuals and atmospheric sound. Very addictive gameplay.
Weaknesses: Camera can be very temperamental in tight multi-level spaces leading to frustration.
Score: 9 out of 10

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