XCOM: Enemy Unknown PS3 Review
Publisher – 2K Games – Developer – Firaxis Games – Genre – RTS – Players – 1-2 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – Xbox 360
Real Time Strategy games have become somewhat of a rarity these days, seemingly put aside in favour of more action focused experiences. Take XCOM itself for instance, which was set to get a run and gun FPS re-imagining until an outpouring of complaints from fans resulted in the developer attempting to make a squad based shooter that is more of a cerebral and authentic XCOM game instead. Years later, that particular game still remains unreleased, though XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which was always intended to be truer to the beloved series’ roots, has just arrived.
The story of XCOM: Enemy Unknown sees the world being invaded by aliens, spurring the creation of the XCOM project, a multi nation Task Force set up to rid the earth of the alien scum. It’s up to you, as the XCOM commander, to keep things running smoothly both in and outside of battle situations.
Managing your base of operations is of equal importance to blasting aliens. Weapons, armour and other items can be created, whilst enemies and items can also be researched, which results in new equipment becoming available to develop. Soldiers can also be customized and new ones recruited to your cause.
Many of your actions will take time to come to fruition, whilst funds are also limited, so you must carefully decide of what you want to splash out on. As an example, should you equip your squad with higher quality weapons or armour? or should your monthly funds be spent on new facilities? Saving the world certainly is a business full of hardships.
You’re also able to monitor the panic levels of the member nations of XCOM, something that must be done, as if a country’s panic level reaches the maximum level, they will end up pulling out and, if so many of them leave, our world is doomed. Keeping all countries happy however can be easier said than done, particularly on the harder difficulties, as you’re often forced to choose which nation you want to send your troops to defend to decrease their panic, though, at the same time, those that you leave without assistance will see their panic levels rising. Also worth bearing in mind are the contrasting rewards that each country offers up on mission success.
All of the above is absorbing enough, but it’s the combat where XCOM: Enemy Unknown really shines. Fighting is turn-based and elegantly streamlined, and some dramatic camerawork frames the action, often satisfyingly zooming in when a soldier kills an enemy, leaps through a window or kicks open a door, adding some cinematic excitement to an otherwise visually drab game.
Soldiers can perform two actions in a single turn: move and attack or move twice. Dashing meanwhile spends both turns and allows a soldier to cover larger distances, as well as granting them a lesser chance of being hit by an enemy, but sometimes revealing enemies ahead that are waiting in ambush.
There’s an emphasis on keeping your troops in cover. The effectiveness of each cover point can easily be determined by a shield icon, with a full icon determining strong cover, whilst a half icon means any soldier placed in that cover is more likely to be found by the gunfire of their enemies, whilst a yellow shield means that the soldier is being flanked, which certainly isn’t a pleasant situation to be in for any of your squad.
The game on the normal difficulty rewards smart decision making but brutally punishes mistakes. Your soldiers are a flimsy lot that are able to sustain scant damage before they’re killed and, once dead, they’re gone for good, sort of. Through killing enemies and the successful completion of missions, soldiers will get promoted, allowing you to choose one new skill from a choice of two for them to learn, and there’s nothing worse and more infuriating than losing a high ranking soldier due to one horribly misjudged decision.
Such mistakes can be easily rectified through loading an earlier save, but not so in the Ironman mode which restricts saving to one autosave file. This is unquestionably the best and most beautifully tense way to play the game, as you no longer have the luxury of an earlier save file to go back on, granting more weight to every decision you make, and dead soldiers really are painfully rubbed out of earthly existence for good.
Whilst the focus is on the solo play, two player head to head multiplayer is also supported. It sees both players getting credits, of which they can assemble a squad with. It’s not very comprehensive in its options, but its mechanics nevertheless function well for engaging multiplayer.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a meticulously constructed strategy game that might very well be streamlined, though in this particular case it is so in a good way. At the same time, Firaxis Games hasn’t went completely after the masses, and have instead crafted a game that has enough cerebral strategy and depth to live up to the seminal earlier games in the series.