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Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

by on October 21, 2012
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XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the long awaited reboot of the 1994 PC game. For fans of this classic franchise this is a must buy. Beware, this game is not for people who get frustrated easily or for someone looking for an easy game. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is by far one of the most unforgiving games I’ve played since the original was released. If you’re looking for a challenge and you like turn based strategy titles this is the game for you.

 The first step is choosing your base location. This is a very important decision which I will return to. The game is much like the original except they give you a little tutorial this time around. After a few tutorial missions the game takes off the training wheels and throws you right into the mix. You can skip the tutorial and get right to it, but this isn’t recommended for first time players of the series. As soon as you are in complete control over the XCOM HQ it’s up to you to decide how to handle the alien threat. Will you focus your efforts on gaining engineers to increase the rate at which construction projects are completed or will you staff the research lab quickly so you can speed up the time it takes to research new weaponry? The choice is yours but choose wisely, if you allocate resources irresponsibly you will pay dearly in the late game.

XCOM Enemy Unknown has two distinct parts to it. On the macro side you have the Geo-Scape. The Geo-Scape for all intensive purposes is your base. Here you will conduct alien autopsies, build weapons, train soldiers, expand the XCOM HQ, and outfit you squad for battle. While in the Geo-Scape you can look at the world and see the 16 member countries of the XCOM project and their panic levels. In the macro game you must decide which countries you want to protect and which you can sacrifice down the road.

The game gets increasingly harder as time goes on and each country offers benefits to you if they can be protected. Where you choose to place you base will have a great impact on your game; different continents offer different starting bonuses which will give you that extra help in the early game. Where you place your base also has other consequences that can become apparent in the mid game. A large part of the macro game is building and positioning satellites over member countries. Satellites increase your monthly income and reduce panic in those countries. The position of your base will provide the general area with coverage from your 2 starting interceptors. If you place a satellite too far from your base early on, you will be unable to defend that satellite from being shot down by a UFO. As you gain more funding you can build and place interceptors on each continent to defend your satellites.

The action is very fluid for a turn-based game.

Before you can get boots on the ground most of the time you must choose where to set down. The game usually gives you a few choices as to where you can defend innocent civilians from those terrifying aliens. If you decide to do a mission in the United States you will reduce the panic there, but countries which you ignored will have their panic level raised. Once a country has its panic level at its highest point it will leave the XCOM project and you will lose monthly funding. Countries that leave cannot be regained. If eight countries leave the XCOM project you will fail the game and have to restart; yep that’s right you can lose.

Once you choose which country you want to defend you can pick the squad you want for the job. You can bring up to 6 soldiers with you which is significantly less than the 1994 version allowed.  Once on the ground the game plays better than the original. They’ve added a cover system which the original lacked. Although it’s turn-based the game is extremely intense. The combat is quite satisfying to watch. The game has a nice action cam that springs to life for most actions your squad takes.  The game is very tactical more so than the original. There are four different classes, support, heavy, sniper, and assault.

Each class can be leveled up seven times. Each time you level a solider you have a choice between 2 abilities. This allows you to have a squad with a very mixed set of skills. I personally like to take 2 heavies, 2 supports, 1 sniper and 1 assault.  Finding the right squad composition is key to victory in XCOM. They’ve also added a multiplayer death match mode which is just decent. It’s fun to play as the aliens but it feels kind of tacked on and it looks like they didn’t spend any time on it at all and just put it there as a bonus. It’s hardly an issue because  XCOM is about the single player.

The good old days in 2D.

The series has come a long way since 1994 and XCOM Enemy Unknown is definitely a good game. The only places I found it to be lacking besides the multiplayer were a few game freezes and frame rate drops during the computer’s turn.  Overall this game doesn’t fail to deliver on what the franchise has always promised, a badass unmerciful game, that will make you cry.


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  • bleachorange
    October 22, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    I seemed to have issues with vertical levels. often the game would swap my level even though I did nothing, and it got some soldiers killed as a result. suffice it to say, i learned iron man was a no-no due to my proclivity for mis-clicks. for instance, on the final level the background looked black instead of the alien ship, unless I zoomed in or out all the way (cant remember which one). still, this type of thing usually only happened on certain levels, so for the most part I was okay.

    Great game, needs more map variety. after 2 go throughs it got stale very fast.

  • DC101
    October 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Overall I agree with this. I think the game did suffer from some minor hiccups as a result of a programming fat finger or whatever. To name a few (and I hope whoever reads this also somehow gets the updates to Firaxis):

    1) Soldiers disappearing all together (they re-appear later but it freaks you out)
    2) A constant alien indicator in the upper left corner saying your sqaddie can see an enemy even though they cannot…
    3) The vertical scrolling issues addressed above
    4) Infrequent Freezing which results in a complete system shut down and re-boot.

    Other than these few minor glitches I love the game and it is definitely a Christmas must have and gets a 9.1 from me.

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