Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I’d never heard of XCOM and gave it a wide birth at Eurogamer, which in hindsight probably did it some favours as playing XCOM in an expo environment wouldn’t do it justice.  Never the less, persistent mention of it on Twitter peaked my interest and i’m so glad it did.

I could go into detail about how great XCOM is and to some extent I will, however, let me open with the following image:

 

You know that feeling you get when you play a really solid game?  Solid in the way you can overlook the game’s flaws, like graphics, and appreciate the gameplay elements on offer.  XCOM makes little to no effort in re-telling the alien invasion story and is literally one cliche after another until you hit the credits.  After a while I paid no attention to any of the cut scenes, opting to skip them to get right back into the action.  The same can be said for the game’s aesthetics, visually satisfying and competent for this type of genre, but by the same token, nothing to write home about.

XCOM’s sheer brilliance is in the gameplay.  Right from the off you will have you pick a continent of operation, each continent will grant you different bonuses and then it’s off to save the world.  Starting with a squad of four hard ass bastards, who can be completely customisable using a series of presets, you will be required to systematically thwart the alien invaders in a series of different mission scenarios.  The majority of the time it will be as simple as extermination, killing everything on the battle field although sometimes the randomly generated encounters will have you rescuing VIPs, disarming bombs or performing a civilian extract.  Although the variety of missions, locales and commands are relatively limited, I never felt that I was churning out the same old stuff.  Hours of my life disappeared into this game and my only regret is that it’s not longer.

Replay-ability is  also an option as XCOM offers a variety of different difficulties to test your strategy.  I played through on Normal and found it incredibly tough in places and what with your characters staying 100% dead after the battle makes for slow progress in training new recruits.  Harsh but fair.  There is also an Iron Man mode which will update your progress after each action meaning you can’t undo or load a previous save.  This will have you tearing your hair out.

Combat plays out in a very paper scissors rock type fashion.  Certain classes of soldier will have strengths and weaknesses against the enemy.  Choosing the right mix of classes and skills is crucial to the survival of the team.  I found it significantly easier on the maps that didn’t feature buildings as my sniper had a jet pack and the ability to aim at anything any of the team could see.  Great for picking off the alien campers.

I’ve not played any of the multiplayer though I’m hoping Tard will get hold of this soon.  From what I can gather from sitting around in the lobby is that you can create a team, kitted with any equipment in the game.  The limitation being you can only spend a certain amount of points, with each piece of equipment and class being worth a certain amount.

If you were on the fence about XCOM and like the sound of my text message to Tard then go and buy it.  I was pleasantly surprised.

 

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