Russia is on the brink of panic. There’s a downed alien craft in North America. Japan wants more sectoid corpses for research. Whatever mission you decide, you know some of your squad isn’t coming back. Who do you bring? What mission do you choose? What resources do you need? XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the latest turn based strategy game from Firaxis, makers of Civilization V, and it contains just some of the above decisions for players. The game is as much about tactics on the battlefield as it is off, and the fear it conveys won’t be found in any ghost stories.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a reimagining of the classic X-COM franchise, one that lives fondly in many PC gamer’s hearts. While the new game embraces consoles equally as its PC ancestry, it does so without sacrificing any gameplay and depth. XCOM is broken down into two segments - there’s a resource management section which puts players in control of a base commander. Here you’ll build up your underground facilities, research new technology, recruit and upgrade soldiers, and build weapons and armor to outfit your squads for missions. You’ll also have to carefully choose between available scenarios and balance the risk vs reward factor of choosing one over the other.
The randomly generated missions are the second half of the tactical equation. Its here you’ll take out a squad of four to six soldiers into a turn based battle against the alien menace. The game carefully ramps up the difficulty on these missions over time, introducing new and more difficult alien types along the way. Each soldier can move, fire, cover, or use some sort of special ability in each turn. You’ll have to balance your soldier’s positioning (cover, flank, line of sight) with each turn, while not only fighting against the visible enemies, but the ones that you can’t see yet hidden in the fog of war.
Perhaps the greatest feature of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the ability to name your soldiers. Something that sounds so simple adds so much to the attachment that the game yields to your squad. As soldiers level up and unlock abilities, the attachment you feel to them, especially when named something familiar like friends and family, becomes even greater. You weigh your options going into a mission - do I want to bring my experienced college roommate into this battle, risking losing him, or bring up some rookie and hope for the best. Naming your soldiers not only helps with the attachment, but it makes it easier to remember and recognize their roles in battle. I know for a fact that a certain friend of mine is a badass assault soldier and can count on him to defend a position with his shotgun.
Like I said, you grow attached to these soldiers. If you make a mistake leaving someone vulnerable only to watch their head explode at the other end of an alien laser rifle, you feel bad. You feel responsible. Such a simple thing adds so much. I share war stories of the game with my friends who I’ve created, talk as if they were the ones doing the actions. "Last night you managed to take out 3 Chrysalids in a single turn!"
If I had a complaint about XCOM it’d be the lack of polish in a few areas. The controls with the mouse and keyboard can be annoying at times, with the “snap to” option being a little too aggressive. It actually seems a bit more forgiving with the gamepad so you won’t have to fight the cursor for a certain grid. It can also be difficult to perceive the battlefield at times, even when rotating the camera, and you end up putting yourself in a position you didn’t mean to go to. An “undo” option on the first move would be a god send.
All in all, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an incredibly addictive strategy game, one of the best to come out in years. I think it does something very few “remakes” do these days, it feels and remains faithful to the original series while still modernizing itself. That’s no easy task, but XCOM definitely succeeds.