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!
One thing that Firaxis really deserves major credit for, are the little cut-scenes and animations. Shoulder-cam sprinting, down-the-barrel long-distance shots, slow-motion rag-doll collapses, heavy weapons deploying and letting rip, soldiers breaking down doors, bursting through windows and rolling to cover, ducking for cover when under suppressive fire, using a grappling hook to perch a sniper on the roof. It’s all these little cinematics that bring an element of action to an otherwise static tactical interface.
It’s not just your soldiers that steal the camera either. Whenever a group of aliens are uncovered, they scramble every which-way in surprise, each with their own cinematic. From the Gorilla-like chest-thumping of the Mutons, to the eerie descent of the mobile weapons platforms – Cyberdiscs. The drama really does make an adventure out of the story.
There are a few things that break the illusion though, and the big one is the voice acting. Everyone is an American in another country’s colors. Sorry, but that pseudo-German accent from the doctor doesn’t fool me either. Firaxis even hired a cinema trailer guy as your CO, being all mysterious with his shadowed face and heavily dramatic and sinister voice. Homage to the 90s maybe?
There are a number of things that stick out as unpolished or under-developed though. The interceptor dog-fights for one. It’s one ship vs another and you have almost no control over it bar a couple disposable buttons you can push to temporarily increase aim or dodge. You can’t send multiple interceptors after a single target, just one after another for a tough ship.
There was an attempt at soldier customizing, for which we should be thankful for. Those that pre-ordered though got something that should have been in the game anyway, armor color customization. If you bought the game and didn’t get a pre-order bonus, then I’m afraid you are stuck with all your soldiers looking the same. This really should have been a standard feature for all versions, since telling different soldiers apart when they are 90% covered in armor, all glowing the same colors of red or green – it’s a little difficult. There is no DLC available yet to unlock this.
Despite my criticism of the Strategic overlay and the base management – the core of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the down on the ground with your troops tactics, is a fabulous piece of work. The different interactions of soldier skills, the balance of kill vs capture, even the AI on normal is challenging enough. If you really want to feel what you did with the old games though, you have to play on Classic difficulty – preferably on Ironman.
What’s Ironman, you ask? A single save version of the game. Something bad happened and you lost your colonel, tough, deal with it. Think of it as a self-imposed anti-cheat mechanism to stop you rolling back when things turn sour. Losing good men and women under your command is part of the game. There is even a memorial wall for you to cry over, cursing the day you lost your best Sniper – if only they were there in your last mission, half the team wouldn’t be in sickbay.
I could write so much more about this game, the idiosyncrasies, the little gripes, the moments of unexpected delight, the shock on my face when I first saw a pack of Mutons burst out of a door and nearly slaughter two of my men. While there is some mild negativity, I still think and feel that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a worthy successor to classic. What the future holds is beyond me. Maybe Apocalypse without being limited to a single city; Terror from the Deep, this time with proper diving gear instead of brass helmets from the 19th century. Who knows?
If you are new to the franchise, or a veteran like me, there’s something for everyone here. This is one for the wishlist, and ready to be delivered by a jolly red fatman. With that in mind, I’m very happy to give this an Editor’s Choice. Thank you, Firaxis, for not pulling a Syndicate.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
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