by Derk Bil
reviewed on PC
Back on the battlefield, you’ll quickly learn to appreciate the many changes that this new XCOM brings. There is a strong emphasis on using cover. Your mission may be to take out the alien presence, but first and foremost you need to bring your soldiers back home and the best way to do that is to keep them (partially) obscured and harder to hit. Unlike the original games, you cannot purposely target cover with guns but it can be destroyed by inadvertently hitting it instead of the intended target, or by using explosive weapons such as the Heavies’ rocket launcher. The only exception to the rule is the Assault guy’s “Flush” ability.
Time units and the somewhat immobilizing energy units have been replaced by a system that gives two actions to every combatant. Firing a weapon, using an inventory item or putting a soldier on guard spends both turns but before doing so, you will usually want to move your soldier to a different position. One of the most crippling aspects in the original games, darkness, has been eliminated for good. Whether you fight in the suburbs or in the Black Forest, day or night, visibility will be excellent and not hamper your progress in any way.
The intense musical score and excellent voice work of your soldiers will keep you in suspense as you move your squad through the environments and on the lookout of the next encounter. Things heat up quickly when battle ensues and you will spend many a turn on the edge of your chair, despite being ‘only’ in good-old turn-based mode. To keep the action pumping, soldiers will pick up sounds from aliens that are still in hiding, showing them where they can discover the stragglers and drastically reducing the time you would have to spend on the cat-and-mouse aspect of alien hunting.
Not so fast
It’s not all ‘sunshine and flowers’ out in the field. Some minor, and some not so minor gripes exist. Even in the midst of your own turn, spotted aliens get a free move and run for cover. While soldiers on overwatch will take a shot if any of the running aliens come into view, it is a weak event that takes away from the suspense.
A more serious issue occurs in one particular UFO that should never have left the design table. Navigating through the craft is made excruciatingly difficult by a wildly bouncing camera that refuses to adhere to your wishes. Between that and an equally jumpy mouse cursor, soldiers end up somewhere you did not want them to go more often than you would like and leaving them either exposed or excluded from the action. This can be particularly painful for people playing in ‘Ironman’ mode which does not allow you to save or load.
The trade and inventory systems have been streamlined, and not always in a good way. We’re happy to see that it is no longer necessary to transfer resources between bases and – if we’re totally honest, and we are – we think that the removal of ammunition in soldier inventory is a real blessing. Both these were micromanagement headaches in the original games and it is good to see them gone. On the flipside, we need to conclude that everything else in this area is a total copout. You will only bring back a handful of items from your missions and selling them is not really an option as you will need even the dead alien bodies to produce many of the items that you will need to survive. And unless a country sends a (rare) request for you to send them something, any items you produce yourself are unavailable to sell. In the original games, the stress of reduced funding on the XCOM organization could largely be alleviated by selling of your inventory. Not so in XCOM: Enemy Unknown as there’s simply not enough to trade.
It is XCOM
None of these gripes take away from the fantastic experience that XCOM: Enemy Unknown has to offer its players. You will ‘suffer’ many a nail biting moment and feel elated when a difficult mission is completed with your squad intact. For the first time too, we have cut-scenes that propel the storyline forward and paying homage to one of the great classics from the early days of PC gaming. If you grew up, playing UFO: Enemy Unknown and XCOM: Terror from the Deep, or if you didn’t, but all this has whetted your appetite for some top-of-the-line turn-based foo-fighting action, you cannot afford to let this one slip by. It’s the best thing since Roswell.
It's XCOM, what more do you need?
Infuriating camera behavior during one of the key missions.