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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review – Tinfoil Hats Recommended
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by Jamie Fletcher on October 22, 2012 in Gaming

It’s been a long time coming. Developed by the fine folks at Firaxis, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a reimagining of the classic strategy game, but without the genre-bending tactics of other ill-fated titles. Will veterans of the original rejoice? Does it remain fresh for a new audience? Have I really been mind controlled? Read on to find out!

What’s the plan, Commander?

So with tactics sorted, what’s the strategy, what’s the big picture, and where’s my coffee? Behold, the latest in civil engineering and fancy 3D planning, the Geoscape Ant Farm! Hmm, thought it would be bigger…

This is where the magic happens: weapons are manufactured, base utilities administrated, otherworldly research that’s far beyond our understanding, unraveled in a matter of days. The bustling heart of our last line of defense against the invaders. So, uhm, where are all the people? Those two have been running on treadmills for months now.

I admit, visually, this is a step up from anything I’ve seen before, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with a lot of the hype that Firaxis made over this. I was kind of expecting a little variety, maybe more people wondering around as the numbers of staff grew. Once you’ve seen it all, that’s it, it just becomes another overly graphical menu system. And I really wanted to throw a get well soon party for poor Snyder who took a plasma bolt to the… elbow. At the same time, what else could you do?

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

A lot of planning is spent in engineering, deciding what to build, what to upgrade, and which facilities to construct. No matter what you do though, you will always face two reoccurring problems; not enough resources and not enough engineers. This is something that’s boggled my brain for a while. Soldiers are easy to get, you just pop down to your local military depot, point fingers at a bunch of people and congratulations! Your army is twice the size! When it comes to scientists, and especially engineers, you have to wait for them to be given to you, or spend a fortune building workshops and labs, as well as wait for construction to finish, to add 5 at a time. It just seems artificially restricting.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

The Geoscape is hard to miss, the big blue orb we call Earth, bang in the middle of the complex, a reminder of what we’re protecting. It’s just unfortunate that no matter how many times I search for activity, nothing crops up, or at least very little. When something does, it’s often multiple choice, three choices, three rewards, but you can only pick one – the other countries will fall further into decay. This is one thing that really bugged me after a while. I complete every mission that’s thrown my way, yet it’s never enough. Panic continues to escalate and I have no means to do anything about it. Then these countries threaten to pull my precious funding. If only I could do multiple missions simultaneously…

This is when a very ugly truth slaps you in the face. You only have one base. This particular issue has been repeated so many times across many reviews and comments, and it’s not just rhetoric. XCOM is meant to be a globally-funded organization, right smack in the middle of an extinction level event, and the best the world can offer is a single base. Sure, you have hangers in five other continents, but all your personnel and resources are tied up in a single base. What could possibly go wrong?

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

OK, I’m being a little harsh and over-dramatic, but the fact remains, this was a major disappointment. Having multiple bases meant multiple squads, A teams and B teams, even C teams, providing multiple opportunities to train individuals. Maybe you want one base to concentrate on manufacturing, another on research. It provided a means to react in multiple locations simultaneously – kind of what you need in a crisis.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Instead, we’re given a couple satellites with insufficient means to coordinate them, and hangers in countries with no intel. Perfect. Also, for 2015, intel on alien invasions not via one of your satellites is extremely poor for a globally funded, international organization… I guess the aliens took down the entire Internet and communication network, but left the satellites and power alone. OK, I’ll stop there. Something for an expansion (pretty please, Firaxis).

There are multiple types of missions, and a fine addition from Firaxis. Rather than the usual tag, bag and eradicate, there are on occasion ‘special interest’ missions. Save and retrieve a foreign dignitary. Stop a bomb from exploding within a limited number of turns. Escort a civilian to safety. A nice little variety from the usual abduction and crash landings.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

One mission that is both old and new, is the dreaded terror missions. These were the bane of the originals and in all successors, and what really defined the series. Aliens, stirring up all kinds of trouble in big, populated areas. It’s not just about killing aliens, it’s also about protecting civilians. That fear when a Crysalid bursts out into the open, and then charges towards a civilian – yeah, that fear is still there… backed up with Floaters that are actually dangerous for a change, and Mutons that know how to use a grenade. If you screw these missions up, or worse still, ignore, then all kinds of hell will break loose.