XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review
It seems that reboots are common this generation. From Prince of Persia to Syndicate the Xbox 360 (and the other formats) have seen their fair share of remakes and many yielding mixed results. Fortunately for us, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of the better reboots in recent memory.
XCOM as a brand is a strange one. Many current generation console and PC gamers may remember the older titles in this franchise, but almost as many may not. This in turn made life difficult for developer Firaxis as they were tasked with remaking a mainly PC based game for consoles that had to also appeal to new players. Thankfully they have succeeded (for the most part) and XCOM: Enemy Unknown hits all the important notes and only misses the smaller, less important ones.
The story here is simple. Aliens attack and you assume control of an organisation built out of Earth’s greatest resources. Your objective is to simply deal with the Alien threat in whichever way you see fit. This is achieved via building small squads and completing small, skirmish type missions whilst building up your research and defences back at base.
Little time is spent on exposition here and characters are extremely two-dimensional but that’s not what XCOM is all about. The brilliance of this reboot is in its structure and game play and not so much in its narrative or characters. You will be invested just enough in the story to not feel disconnected and that is all XCOM needs.
Enemy Unknown’s genre is a difficult one to pin down. It seamlessly blends elements of turn based, tactics RPGs with the force and base management of an RTS. If you are a PC gamer you may have played something similar in the past, but the likelihood is you will probably be relatively new to a game of this type.
This serves to show off XCOM’s frankly amazing level of optimisation for consoles. I was expecting this game to feel like a PC port that had been mapped to a pad, however it turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the tutorial missions to the end game content, I never felt like I was not in complete control of every shot fired and movement made by my squad.
When you are stalking your alien prey across many maps all over the globe, the controls and interfaces are great. When you are back in your base they are arguably even better. Sure it’s not as exciting setting up new research or building a foundry, but the way in which the system works should be just as highly commended. All elements are easy to use and although you must keep your eye on many different elements at once, the management is perfectly streamlined.
Don’t be fooled however, this game is far from easy. Sure you probably won’t struggle on the lower difficulties but from normal upward the game can be very challenging, especially for those who are new to the genre. In fact if you turn on the games infamous Iron Man Mode (a mode in which the only time the game saves is when you quit) you can find yourself failing and having to restart the campaign after many hours of game play.
This is compounded by the way your squads and base work in game. You are given a set of soldiers at the start and are then able to hire more (providing you have sufficient funds) or win more via certain randomly spawning missions. These soldiers come in a variety of classes and can be customised in both look and name and will level up over time. Unfortunately if a soldier dies, they stay dead forcing you to not rely on one person to carry a squad or mission.
As well as this you have to also make sure you have enough money, scientists, engineers etc for research and building as well as keeping the council happy. With so many ways to fail, you would think frustration would creep in but amazingly it doesn’t. This is because XCOM does not punish you for no good reason; it is simply built to teach you to be a better player.
Another area where XCOM succeeds is the multiplayer. Players build their squads from a pre-determined points value allowing for many variations in strategy. While I’m sure that it won’t reach the dizzying highs of many other console titles with its online offering, it does provide a refreshing break from the normal competitive, FPS heavy multiplayer titles that can get a little stale nowadays.
Unfortunately there are a few areas where XCOM could be improved. Graphically it is definitely stylised but is sure not to win any awards and character design is extremely generic. It also contains some of the worse voice acting in recent memory, which is a real shame as the other sound work is crisp and high in quality.
As well as this there are also some balancing issues. Snipers are incredibly over powered (especially at higher levels) and can seemingly hit almost any enemy from crazy distances, regardless of cover or positioning. The AI has some issues too. Enemies can act erratically on occasion and will move to cover as soon as you see them but move very little before. This in turn means that there is no way to sneak up on your enemy. I understand that the maps are small, however it would have been nice to have some kind of stealth options available.
The other minor criticism is with the mission structures. Although the game as a whole is very well paced and never feels dull, there are a few standout missions that seem to come along a little too fleetingly and could have been used more.
Having said all this, the pros certainly outweigh the cons here. XCOM is something we don’t get too often nowadays; a challenging, different, bold game that is not afraid to try new things and also a successful reboot. Yes it has some issues but not nearly any bad enough to stop you playing. And yes, it is hard but that should be commended. No one said saving the world would be easy.