by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on X360
Familiar, yet strange
Cover is one of the main gameplay mechanics in Xcom: Enemy Unknown. Your mission may be to take out the alien threat, but keeping your men alive is the absolute highest priority. It isn’t an easy task and bringing home the entire squad is an accomplishment that will feel like a major victory for the good guys. Every time.
Missions can yield rewards beyond pleasing the local government and securing the funding they give you. In one of the missions, the government responsible for the invaded city offers you some scientists. Completing it successfully means you can start researching an alien object but it also means leaving the other nation in the dark, causing their panic factor to rise. Once the panic level rises to 5 stars, the nation will be lost to your cause. Lose too many and you will lose the game.
That one surviving team member of the first mission got a promotion for staying alive where no one else did. This allowed me to move him up a notch and granted him access to a rocket launcher which I put to use in the following mission when an alien Grey took cover behind a shipping container. I blew up the container, taking out the tiny bastard in the same swing. Almost every object in the game can be destroyed, the damage done depending solely on the power of your weapon. An assault rifle will chip away at a wall but won’t blow it to pieces. A grenade will almost always do the trick. Still, chipping away at a wall may well destroy your foe’s cover, leaving him exposed enough for someone else to take him out.
Close, but no cigar
While I enjoyed the hour I spent playing Xcom: Enemy Unknown, I walked out of the room with the uneasy feeling that it was not Xcom. It has the right vibe, the Xcom lore has been faithfully brought over, the base building is there, research is still a big part of the game and the loss of the action point system did not bother me too much, so what was wrong with it? After two days, it finally dawned on me that Enemy Unknown relies too heavily on its cover mechanic for it to be an Xcom game. And it is not that I don’t want my squad members to take cover or that cover does not work.
No, the issue is that your squaddy no longer stops in his tracks het spots an enemy but will move towards his intended designation regardless what happens. Should he spot an alien - or an alien spot him - the alien will be given time to take cover too, resulting in a kind of trench warfare that is still fun, but absolutely not in keeping with the original spirit of Xcom. There are times that it works out a little differently and you find yourself two steps away from an enemy, but not often. As it stands, the cover system removes the feeling of dread when your soldier stumbles onto an alien while he is a little too far away for help to be there in time. It alsonegates the overwhelming sense of urgency that you get when the others - are - close enough.
That’s not to say I won’t enjoy Xcom: Enemy Unknown when it comes out. I did during the hour I played with the game and I am sure I will enjoy playing it for many more hours in the future. There is a lot to be excited about and if you are starved for a turn-based strategy game, Xcom: Enemy Unknown is guaranteed to satisfy your hunger. Firaxis created a fun, squad-based game that is bound to draw you in and keep you pushing that turn button time after time.