XCOM: Enemy Unknown, summons you to lead the XCOM initiative against E.T. and his aggressive kin. For veterans of the XCOM franchise – which traces back deep into the 90’s – it is likely to be a call they have answered many times before, but never quite like this. Enemy Unknown can best be described as a present-day reimagining of the game that started it all, UFO: Enemy Unknown. The Skyranger, the dreaded Mutons, the Globalscape… everything you know and loved from the original is there, and then some.
Almost like your average First Person Shooter, XCOM throws players right into the action. As soon as the opening cinematic ends, you are dropped onto the battlefield with the task of finding – and disposing of – your first aliens. Firaxis’ modern take on turn-based gaming may take some getting used to, but once you do it is difficult to go back to more traditional forms.
You and your Rookies root out the alien menace under the watchful eye of an able instructor that guides you through the first mission one step at a time. Feeling frustratingly inadequate, you see your men being cut down and the realization dawns that a true challenge lies before you. You vow to do better during your next mission.
With the first mission under your belt, the game starts introducing gameplay elements in rapid succession. Your Rookie has been promoted to Squaddie, an event that immediately debuts one of the most dramatic new changes to the format of the original games: classes. Every soldier starts with a clean slate but is assigned a class as soon as he or she has gathered enough experience in the field. Their aptitude for a specific discipline is revealed upon their first promotion, opening a simple class specific tree containing seven special abilities that can be selected at future promotions.
The classes are determined by the game but the player gets to choose between the two abilities on offer with every promotion. Your choices will have a profound impact on your soldier’s effectiveness on the battlefield and some abilities are true game changers. The squad-sight skill, for example, extends the visibility range of snipers by the extent of the sight of every other member on the team. Support Class sergeants can select the Field Medic skill that triples the amount of times that they can treat a wounded soldier in the field.
Let’s make it better
The one surviving Rookie brought back some dead aliens, making it possible to study the enemy up close. The science department, headed by the ever so charming Dr. Vahlen, is in charge of investigating the relics and alien carcasses brought back from the field. She will also handle the interrogation of any live specimens as well as find new and better ways to annihilate them using the knowledge gained.
This knowledge will then be available to Chief Engineer Raymond Shen and his crew, who will be able to manufacture equipment for you in order to make your soldiers and fighter craft more effective in the field. With the right research, you can produce better suits of armor, more lethal weaponry and all kinds of gadgets scopes and medikits. The engineers’ usefulness is extended even further by building a Foundry which enables you to improve many of the items that you can produce.
One base to rule them all
Both research and production can be sped up by acquiring more scientists and engineers which trickle in via sponsoring countries and as rewards for successfully completing some of the missions. Some of the more advanced technologies require additional laboratories and workshops. These can be built in your underground base, of which you will only have a single one. To cope with UFO sightings outside of the range of your main base, underground hangars are available on every continent from where you can launch your fighter craft.
Your sponsors are organized through The Council – represented by an anonymous Dr. Xavier wannabe – that initially consists of sixteen nations from different parts of the world. In order to keep the money coming in, you will have to make sure that they sleep soundly by fulfilling special council missions, launching satellites over member states and shoot any invading UFO from the skies. Deciding what to do when is not easy as time and resources are limited, especially early on. Unrest in the nations that you chose not to aid will rise, increasing the likelihood that they will withdraw from the council and stop their funding.
It's XCOM, what more do you need?
Infuriating camera behavior during one of the key missions.