Review: XCOM: Enemy unknown

Combat is difficult, but wins are exhilarating.
Read time 2min 50sec
Combat is difficult, but wins are exhilarating.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a reboot of a 20-year-old PC franchise. 2K, the new publisher, announced the game in early 2010 and left diehard fans salivating at the thought of the new game - and it hasn't disappointed.

The story of XCOM follows an alien invasion of Earth. The player is a commander of the newly formed XCOM organisation tasked to eliminate the alien threat. Players oversee the XCOM command centre and send troops out to locations all over the globe to fight the alien invasion.

There are two completely separate aspects to the gameplay. The first is a resource management game. As the commander, players have to manage the resources at their disposal to strengthen and expand the XCOM headquarters. This isn't as simple as it sounds.

Cash, engineering, personal and power requirements must be balanced against the need to build satellites, hire more troops and develop better weapons and armour. The player also has to manage the panic level of every allied country by responding to alien incursions with a limited set of soldiers. The game is finely balanced and always makes the player feel like there aren't enough resources to do what needs to be done.

Once players are ready, they scan the planet for alien activity to find a mission and send their troops to eliminate the threat. In typical turn-based gameplay, the combat takes place on a grid. The player starts off with four soldiers and moves each soldier in turn. Once engaged with the baddies, players can either fire their weapons or perform special class-based moves. At the end of the round, the baddies have the same opportunity to move or attack the player directly. Combat ends with either party completely eliminated.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is by far one of the most additive games of the year.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is by far one of the most additive games of the year.

As the player's soldiers gain experience, they unlock promotions that customise their in-combat skills. Some skills are designed to go well together. For example, an Assault soldier has the ability to fire a shot that forces a baddy out from behind cover, while another soldier can fire a reaction shot if anyone moves. I used this combination to successfully flush out baddies.

In summary

Pros: Extremely difficult - but satisfying, balanced combat, resource management is fun, varied soldier skills Cons: Terrible graphics and repetitive in-game videos, weak storyline Rating: 9/10 Time to completion: 25 hours RRP: R699

The combat is tactical and there are two components to victory: selecting the right mix of soldiers, skills and experience level, and adapting strategy to the situation. One of the best dynamics of the game is how dependent players become on their experienced soldiers and how a real sense of loss is felt if they perish in battle. In fact, I found myself constantly reloading if either I lost a critical soldier or if I got my strategy completely wrong. Combat is tough, but winning a massive skirmish is hugely satisfying.

There is little focus on graphics or even story, but the game more than compensates with great turn-based gameplay. While some might find the lack of fluid action a huge deterrent, I found the difficulty of the combat and the high of etching out a victory move-by-move quite exhilarating. It is by far one of the most additive games of the year.

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