Back in the 1990s, turn-based strategy games were everywhere on consoles but most predominantly on the PC.
They were 2D cartoony style due to the hardware limitations and lack of technological advancements available in that era, one title that ruled the roost was XCOM: Enemy Unknown (or XCOM: UFO Defence as it is sometimes known) released in 1993. Developers Firaxis Games and publishers 2K Games have brought the game into current times upgrading graphics, strategic elements, upgrades and locations without compromising too much of the gameplay resulting in one of the best yet most frustrating strategy titles available.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s story remains the same, Earth is being invaded by extra-terrestrials complete with their UFOs and little green men and Earth has devised an elite unit to defend it called XCOM (Extra-terrestrial Combat) containing big burly blokes, petit yet tough broads and big shiny airships. After a walkthrough mission to help find the players feet, the game soon leaves you to your own devices which is where things become confusing and difficult. The difficulty spikes with intelligent AI and difficult enemy types that at first you will know nothing about and what attacks they have in their arsenal. XCOM: Enemy Unknown isn’t all about the field combat however, base management and global defence is key to success in this game and, oh my, is it deep!
Your starting base is but a few rooms including a hangar, engineer’s workshop, research lab and communications room among others to which you can visit each room at any time. Research labs allow you to research new equipment, study alien life forms you encounter, create new weaponry and armour, engineers’ workshop then creates these researched weapons and armour or health kits as well as builds new rooms or labs, hangars allow management of your fleet of fighters which enable them to be kitted out with new payloads, and the communications room allows you to view each country and monitor their panic levels and how much they are co-operating to your efforts.
To monitor more of the world, you have to build satellite uplinks and deploy them to a particular country so their air space can be monitored more closely. On top of monitoring the world, you also have to sort out your squad of soldiers whom you will be taking on missions, levelling them all up so they can obtain more powerful skills. It’s this micromanagement that brings the game down significantly, it’s stupidly easy to forget about some elements as you’re having too much fun going on missions and kicking alien butt. It all requires a serious amount of thinking and management skills to go far in XCOM, going all out gunplay is cementing a course for failure, researching and building and helping other countries is important if you are to go far.
Missions range from rescuing abducted humans, taking out invaders to infiltrating and searching shot down UFOs, and capturing a live alien to place in your newly built containment room and every mission is different which makes XCOM a wonder-what’s-next kind of game urging players to continue on. You begin each mission from your ship directing each unit where to go and what to do, if it’s an escorting mission, a box is outlined near your ship indicating where to bring your rescued VIP.
If you direct a unit to go to a specific location and the patch runs through a door or a window, your soldier will burst right through it triggering a short cut scene. Another cut scene is triggered when discovering a group of aliens and also when the player last turn is taken, this makes missions more fun as it gives each mission a cinematic feel and highlights the games graphics. The turn based gameplay remains and the aliens are very smart, luckily though the battlefields don’t grow to huge sizes so it’s easy to keep track. The biggest frustration in XCOM is the levelling up system, you can level up a soldier to make them super soldiers, they will have all the special abilities, they can kill aliens with a single shot, they will be able to move greater distances and provide better cover ... only to be shot by a single enemy and killed and once a soldier dies, they are gone for good. This induces serious gamer rages at first but then you become less bothered about it and levelling up becomes less of an achievement.
The graphics could be better, they are by no means amazing but strategy games have not been known for their outstanding visuals. Soldiers look bold and bland and only differ by their faces, you can alter how they look but this feature is useless, aliens look stereotypical as little grey men with lasers and the games locations don’t provide any detail. Buildings are just blocks with doors and windows and vehicles are just obstacles providing nothing more than cover and explosions are not very exciting, air battles are shown as little illustrations rather than full on combat. The visuals disappointed me profusely.
Firaxis and 2K Games have managed to bring a 1990s classic to present day with well thought out gameplay elements and updated visuals, however frustrations bring this game down somewhat along with its drab visuals. Levelling up soldiers and customisation options are pointless time wasting activities and micromanagement is a pain, overall the XCOM experience remains intact making alien busting a blast!
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Developers: Firaxis Games
Publishers: 2K Games
Genre: Turn Based Tactics
Release Date: 12th October 2012
Story – 3/5
Gameplay – 4/5
Graphics – 2/5
Overall – 3.5/5