‘XCOM: Enemy Unknown’

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By Kristofer Hammer

For the first time in a long time a game that has promised so much has actually made good in its delivery. Hoping to stay as true to the original XCOM as possible, Firaxis Games has done an amazing job of bringing an archaic franchise back into the spotlight in a refreshingly modern way.

It is important to note, before I go into more detail, that I was playing this game on PC, which means that I played a slightly different version than the console releases.  It seems that the difference between the two are the controls, although the console versions may have a lesser range of interaction due to the nature of the controller (compared to the versatility of a keyboard and mouse).

In XCOM, you are the commander, you control the organization and you are going to stop the alien threat that is the harbinger of doom…or not.

Death is an unavoidable aspect of this game, and it showcases the consequence of your decisions and actions. Permanent death is a lost concept in most games these days, as a simple reload or checkpoint can revive a player.  In XCOM, on the other hand, death is a consequence that reminds you why all your choices should be thought out carefully and methodically.

You control a squad of soldiers (that can be replenished) for each mission.  This squad can be custom-picked depending on your needs and the goal of each mission is to essentially neutralize the alien threat as best as you can.

So why does death matter so much in this game? While you can get more soldiers, you cannot get them to a higher rank immediately, blocking off some of their capabilities and damaging your future endeavors in the short run.

Every time you send in your squad you risk losing a lieutenant, a colonel, a major or even the lowly squaddie. By sending certain people to combat, you risk the deaths of those individuals as well as having to replenish your squad with inexperienced soldiers, making combat a healthy mixture of chess and checkers.

How is that so? Since combat is turn-based, the amount of time you have in between moves is unlimited; however, the amount of set moves you can make and the ground you can cover is determined from the onset, and rank determines a soldier’s worth, importance and strategy.

For a more demanding challenge I suggest “Ironman mode,” in which you have one save file that prevents you from going back when a soldier dies.

Like any good strategy game, XCOM is built from the sum of its parts: combat plus micromanagement, in this particular case.  Soldiers can be customized from name to appearance to load out. You are given a six by four grid to build facilities that will aid in your quest to conquer the alien threat.  This grid includes anything from item upgrades to satellite uplinks. This particular feature becomes more important in your pre-meditated late game, as similar structures have adjacent bonuses and it costs more power to fund those structures the further you go down the grid.

On that note, you have to pay to keep your base running (don’t worry, you do get funding each month and there are other options for credits). You also have research assignments in order to upgrade, to unlock further advancements and to make sure your troops aren’t fighting fire with water pistols on the battlefield.

Good graphics have become the standard, and XCOM lives up to this.  Everything is flawlessly smooth with a great semi-cartoonish look to the character and alien models. The screen is as clutter-free yet streamlined as possible, making the battlefield details visually digestible.

The audio is also great, with a non-invasive soundtrack. The only time when this game is not up to par with other modern games is during certain combat sequences where your character shoots through buildings (in ways they shouldn’t since there are destructible environments) to neutralize the threat.

XCOM is an incredibly polished game and achieves the developers’ goal of bringing back the turn-based strategy game to its former glory. I was never disappointed with this game.  Not only does it provide a fun experience, but also includes unique stories and provokes thoughtful deliberation. Join the fight and save the world.

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