Taking an old classic and remaking it into something new, while still staying loyal to fans of the original can be a tricky task. Yet, Firaxis Games, the team behind the Civilization games, has managed to do both.
You are the commander of the XCOM Project. A special organization tasked with defending the Earth after an alien invasion. You’re in charge of expanding your base, commanding units and assisting nations around the world.
From the start you’re taught how to move around the battlefield and take cover, but also that each decision you make can have consequences. Just because a soldier has and 80% chance to land a hit doesn’t guarantee they will. If they miss, and there’s no one else around to make up for it, you’ll have to wait through the next turn and hope they survive the counter-attack, or watch in horror as your unit is gunned down.
Cover is vital as you send units around the map. Soldiers will earn half-cover from standing behind small objects like garden walls, cars and fences and full cover from larger objects like walls and bookcases.
However, keep in mind that some cover can be destroyed. Cars can be destroyed after so many hits, and the resulting explosion will kill any nearby units.
You really feel the weight of responsibility for every action you make. If a unit dies, they’re usually gone for good. However, higher-ranking units can sometimes be saved. If you can get to them in time and stabilize them before the end of the mission they’ll live to fight another day. But, they might become demoralized and more likely to panic the next time they’re caught in a tough encounter.
Injured units must also take time to recover and heal after the battle, which is another thing to keep in mind. A hard-fought battle might end with some of your units severely wounded. Those that are, will have to recover and you’ll be stuck with replacement units while they’re out.
An RPG element comes into play after each encounter. Your units will level up after so many kills and be assigned a class such as sniper, heavy, or support. From there they will earn new abilities to be used in combat. You can also customize your units further by renaming them, changing how they look and deciding their armor color and loadout.
But the strategy doesn’t end after the battle. You have the entire world to look out for and each country is counting on you. They all provide valuable funding to XCOM, which you need to fund your projects. So you have to do your best to keep them all satisfied. While scanning the planet you may come across multiple attacks across the globe. However you can only assist one at a time and the choice you make will impact you later on. The country you decide to help might award you with additional funds and support, but panic will spread to those countries you ignore. Let a country become to panicked and they will pull their funding from you.
Units can improve with research from your laboratories. Items you find through each encounter can be researched and then sent to engineering for construction. But again, you’ll have to make each decision count. Do you go for improved armor or better weapons? Or do you expand your base to operate more efficiently and launch more satellites? Can you afford to do either? It’s decisions like these that can really impact the final outcome of the game.
There’s a multiplayer option for or those with a competitive edge. Two players square off using aliens and humans with units can be customized through points. Through my experience though, I found that the winner is usually determined by who get’s the first kill. (Unless you’re lucky) It becomes increasingly one-sided after that. Ranking and leaderboards are not supported either, so I don’t see a lot of incentive to keep playing.
The overall visuals in XCOM might look dated to some, and I’ll admit, it’s not the prettiest game out there. Fortunately though, this is all overshadowed by it’s nail-biting and addicting game play! Taking down an enemy unit feels rewarding every time and the game forces you to stay on your toes and calculate each move you make both in and outside of combat. It might sound like a lot to manage, but Firaxis has done a great job of making sure it never feels overwhelming.
A lot can be said for the soundtrack as well, which really complements the atmosphere of the game whether you’re in combat or back home at base. Voice acting in the game is hit or miss in some parts. Those you interact with at the base are well voiced and portrayed, while your soldiers tend to be very generic.
Strategy games usually work best on PC, but that’s not the case with XCOM. Since it’s turn-based strategy it lends itself to the use of a controller because you don’t have to perform rapid actions. So feel free to choose whichever platform you prefer.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers a unique and fresh take on the turn-based strategy genre. It’s not often for games nowadays to both reward and punish you for choices you make. If you’re on the fence about getting into strategy games or want an awesome turn-based experience, this is one game that shouldn’t be missed.