For those of you who are unfamiliar with this title, I will give you a little bit of background. The original X-COM game from Microprose (also known as UFO Defense) was released in 1994. It is a turn-based strategy game in which you must defend the Earth from an alien invasion.
The primary interface was known as the geoscape and from here we micromanaged our organisation. The game required players to not only search for and shoot down enemy UFOs, but also to micromanage equipment, personnel and research alien technology to advance in the game. It is widely regarded as one of the best games of its genre to be released. It has also spawned numerous offspring including the sequel Terror from the Deep, UFO: Aftermath, Xenonauts, XCOM Interceptor and UFO: Extraterrestrials.
This week saw Firaxis Games’ reimagining of this 90s classic and as you can see it has a lot to live up to. I spent many hours, probably months of my life playing the original so I was very keen to get my hands on this new version.
I was pleasantly surprised by Firaxis’ efforts – the game is definitely a spiritual successor to the original with the majority (if not all) units maintaining their original names. There have been some changes to the Alien races, such as the addition of the ‘Thin Man’ species which was not present in the classic version but the Sectoid, Muton, Chryssalid and Floater species are back with a number of major improvements.
In this version we are required to launch satellites and station interceptors around the globe to ensure that global panic remains minimal. If a country or region is regularly ignored, or if we do not station units there, the country will withdraw funding.
Funding is how we accrue in-game currency, and apart from the occasional mission that rewards us with currency, keeping the nations of Earth happy is the only way to ensure we gain adequate funding from the mysterious council. Funding is based on a country’s panic level, the higher the panic of the general populace the less funding we will receive and eventually the country will develop a general panic and funding will be withdrawn.
It is a delicate balancing act to keep the various nations happy. The most efficient way of maintaining a low panic level is to conduct operations within an area.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown follows the lines of its predecessor with turn-based combat. Each player unit can move up to twice, with the option to fire on enemy units on either turn. Abilities that are acquired as soldiers gain ranks and soldier specialisations, such as Sniper or Support can effect what abilities can be used. Movement is relatively fluid and cover is a major part of gameplay as it offers soldiers (and aliens) protection from attacks and lowers the chance of incoming attacks finding their targets.
The primary interface when not on an active mission has seen significant improvement over the original game. We can see a true representation of our subterranean base and the facilities it contains. From this primary screen we can access Research, Engineering, Soldier management and the situation room, where the mysterious council reviews our progress and offers special missions.
As with the original, there is no real control of air-to-air combat as you attempt to shoot down alien vessels. In fact so far there is less control than in the 1994 version, where you could assign attack profiles such as max range and aggressive.
While it does not have the haunting eeriness of the original, where alien movements were obscured in darkness yet their actions could be heard by players, leaving us with lingering footsteps and the screams of dying civilians, this iteration has an excellent combat engine. Alien movement outside of our units’ line of sight is hidden as it was in the original – we do not receive the echo of their actions in our ears.
The aliens react to our presence as they are uncovered and in most cases seek cover immediately. The AI of the alien forces is once again amazing – enemy units will coordinate and attempt to outflank player’s soldiers as well as opting to launch grenades if our units are clustered. Enemy units also retreat and regroup regularly making the higher difficulty settings a steep learning curve for those new to the franchise.
Firaxis’ edition of Enemy Unknown continues the XCOM series’ excellent customisation abilities. Players, depending on their preference for research can equip soldiers and craft with alien technologies throughout the game as well as customising appearances and names of soldiers.
Bases are customisable in their layouts to a degree, however the bonuses for having similar facilities adjacent to one another discourages it.
The difficulty settings also offer a degree of customisation within the game – on the higher difficulty settings, particularly classic (a nod to veterans of the original) sees amazing reactionary movements and strategy development from the AI.
It’s fairly obvious that I was a huge fan of the original XCOM game, and indeed the majority of the series. As I mentioned earlier in the review I was very keen to play this version of one of my all-time favourite games. I have put aside WoW to a large extent over the past week to play XCOM, which will give readers an idea of how much I am enjoying this game. It also offers a nice introduction to new players to a genre that has been largely absent from the gaming community for a long time.