Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hunting Game(s): XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

Hi all!

So, it finally came! The game I've been eagerly anticipating since I heard about it is on my computer and I've had a good chance to play the crap out of it.

My initial though? Well, if I had to say, I'd probably go with...


Ok, a little dramatic, but I'm really enjoying the game. In general, I'd have to say that my favorite genre is Turn Based Strategy (TBS), followed by Role Playing Games (RPGs). XCOM is the former, and one of the only recent TBS titles to come out (especially on console!).

I can't say exactly why I like them so much, though there are some basic reasons:
  • Being turn based gives you time to think.
  • You plan a strategy and then have to react to the opponent.
  • There are (usually) a diverse group of units that you have to know when to use.
But, really, I don't know what exactly what draws me to them. 

Hint: the enemy are aliens

XCOM not only has the turn based battles I love, but it also has an additional strategic layer, where you have to plan your base layout and how your resources are spent/used. Do you upgrade your armor, weapons, or ships? Or do you buy more satellites? Or focus on upgrading your soldiers/other items? Those are just a few of the questions you have to deal with.
The base, where you navigate through the strategic layer of the game. 

The biggest choices you are faced with, however, are usually about which missions to take, and which to skip. Abduction missions come three at a time: each option gives a different reward, but the two you don't choose will have their panic increased. If they panic too much, they might back out of XCOM and pull their funding. When that happens eight times, you lose the game.

Beyond Abduction missions, though, you have to choose if you're going to engage UFOs (some might be too big for you to take down initially) or if you should attack a landed UFO (this could be a problem if all your good soldiers are in sick bay), or if you should embark on a bigger mission, such as assaulting an alien base (if you're troops are strong enough, they won't be making it home).

Unlike the original X-COM: UFO Defense, this game has a more dedicated soldier development aspect. Your soldiers start out as rookies, ranking up to squaddie only after they gain enough experience. At squaddie, they are assigned one of four ranks: Assault/Support/Heavy/Sniper. From there, each level up nets choice of a new perk, each of which can dramatically change how you play. Eventually, you also gain access to psionic abilities, which can enhance some of your soldiers even further (provided they test positive in the Psionic Lab, first).

There are four different difficulties: 
Easy - for newcomers to TBS games
Normal - for standard TBS players, offers a mediocre challenge
Classic - for XCOM veterans and people who want a challenge
Impossible - as far as I'm concerned, aptly named.

Your basic Sectoid group
Each level of difficulty adds additional enemies and increases their statistics. This can go from normal, where one soldier can take down a Sectoid (basic enemy), to classic, where it will take at least two of your soldiers (or a critical hit) to take the little alien out.

There is also an additional mode you can toggle on, called Iron Man. This makes it so the game saves after every action you take. There are no take backs. If your favorite soldier dies, you can't reload an earlier save and try again. 

I personally suggest NOT using Iron Man until some of the game's bugs are ironed out. I've personally noticed that some explosive attacks don't always do the damage they're supposed to, and sometimes the game can get line of sight wrong -- I moved a soldier right next to an enemy and, for some reason, he couldn't "see" him. 

Beyond a few bugs, I've really enjoyed the game and have no issue with the changes they've made from the original. Most people complain that the max amount of soldiers being six instead of the mass of soldiers you could have before; I think it provides more strategic gameplay (and is also easier to manage).

Your friendly neighborhood Muton
Your mission is to protect the Earth from alien invaders, and that's about it. How you do it, however, is completely up to you. The aliens are reasonably diverse, and it can be really heart pounding when you end up surrounded by a group of nine Mutons before you've taken your second turn...

One other boon in this game: you can name your soldiers anything you want. You could name them after your friends, family, coworkers, etc... In that way, you might even become emotionally invested in them enough that it hurts even more to lose them than it would normally.

Personally, I've named all mine after Marvel characters. Cletus "Carnage" Kasady just became my first ever psionic soldier, and he's already a max level assault. Yikes!

On my lovely arbitrary rating scale, I give XCOM a 9/10. If they ironed out the bugs a bit more and patch in a couple fixes to some of the overly punishing mechanics, I'd give it a 10/10. It might not have the deepest story that I usually require, but the story elements they added to carry you from plot point to plot point are beyond welcome. I played yesterday for HOURS, and did not remotely get bored. I'm easily hooked and thinking about how to handle my next campaign on Classic difficulty...

My favorite moment so far was getting the psionic soldier. It actually felt like something really impressive just happened, and this was just the beginning. I've had some fun matches, but the little cinematic from the Pisonic Lab takes the cake (for now).

I suggest this game to anyone who enjoys TBS games. Specifically, I suggest Normal mode at first -- Classic will burn folks out pretty quick. If you are NOT a TBS fan, I really can't suggest XCOM. It's a touch on the difficult side and doesn't hold your hand as much as some other titles do (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance would be my entry level suggestion) and it doesn't have a deep story to carry it.

I do say that XCOM: EU has far exceeded any of its predecessors  and I am VERY happy to see a TBS game become a major release.

Note: there IS a head to head multiplayer mode, though I haven't tried it yet. You create a squad out of humans or aliens and then fight it out as you would on any mission. There are no additional objectives and only five maps at the moment, so it doesn't interest me especially. I look forward to see what modders can do with it (which is why I picked this up on PC).

To help you get a taste of the multiplayer (and basic format for regular battles, sans time limit), here's a match between Greg Laabs of 2K and Pete Murray from Firaxis:

I may have included this because they reference something I said during the livestream at 1:08:53 (Silt44 is my screen name for everything)...

If you end up playing XCOM, let me know what you think! I'd love to see a non-TBS fan's perspective (among with everyone else, of course!).

Otherwise, I'll see you here on Friday!


  1. This game looks well worth the challenge. On top of that, I think the graphics are awesome. The first chance I played was a demo version over at a co-worker’s house from DISH, and I enjoyed it. I’ve found in my experience that I end up saving a ton of money on games by just paying a flat monthly fee renting, instead of buying all the great games out there. I haven’t had the chance to play it all the way through yet, but I did add it to my Blockbuster@Home queue and I can’t wait to start playing.

    1. Some months I 100% agree with you; renting would be the way to go. But then there are some months where I'm better able to control myself and buying makes more sense (at least, that's what I tell myself). I actually didn't know Blockbuster had that service, is it similar to Gamefly?

      And, as much as I'm loving XCOM, you could absolutely beat it during a rental period -- I've already beaten it on Normal and Classic and plan on working on the rest of the achievements I've missed now.

      If you haven't, I'd also suggest adding Dishonored to your queue; it's been fun, even if I don't think it has as much of a substantial replay value as the developers said.