If you’re a fan of high-level strategy games and want to kick alien butt Will Smith-style, you’ll be excited to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The game, out in two weeks for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, is a reboot of X-COM: UFO Defense, a 1994 strategy classic gamers still reminisce about. The new game, like the original, is made by Firaxis, and will be published by 2K Games.
Aliens have invaded Earth, and a shadowy council has organized the world’s major powers into XCOM (Extraterrestrial Combat Unit) to fight the global siege. If you fail, the planet is toast, so you’d better put your strategizing hat on.
Mashable spent some quality time with Enemy Unknown on the Xbox 360, and it has high potential to satisfy fans of the series and those entirely new to the franchise.
Good for Strategy Newbies
If you aren’t very familiar with turn-based strategy games, Enemy Unknown is ready for you. You’re quickly dropped into the action with a small squad, and the game takes you step-by-step through setting up your troops, finding cover, and shooting a variety of weapons all without dragging you through a burdensome tutorial.
The game absolutely rewards strategic decisions, and doesn’t allow you to run headlong into a fight without really feeling the repercussions. Each soldier’s route is clearly laid as you move them, so you can see if you are running them past danger or if your cover is protective enough. You can gauge almost every decision on statistics, and decide what weapons to use from there.
The fighting is really satisfying and flows well. You are given so many ways to use your squad, especially given the variety of terrain you’ll fight on. Soldiers can run in and out of buildings, and use the roof to take down aliens with a sniper or a rocket launcher. Your squad can also play more defensively thanks to a function called “overwatch,” which allows you to spend turn actions waiting for an enemy to come in range or out of cover so you can fire on it.
The most important thing the game drills into your head early is that the soldiers you send out for missions aren’t a nameless, expendable force. You’ll need to keep them alive so you can promote them, and train them with new skills. It’s all part of the broad asset management system that takes the game to the next strategic level.
More Than One Game
XCOM: Enemy Unknown doesn’t stop at the battlefield, though. Your base can also provide hours of potential gameplay. Once you arrive, you’re greeted with a view referred to as “the ant farm” — a bisected version of your base where you can voyeuristically watch your staff doing their jobs.
You’ll use your base to level up almost everything. You can promote and train soldiers in the barracks, research the alien technologies you’ve collected in the lab, and build new equipment in the engineering room. The number of staff you allocate to those posts determines how quickly you can accomplish objectives, because new equipment is vital to winning battles on the ground.
You’re also given a screen showing the levels of distress of XCOM member nations as they are attacked by aliens. If you let any of those countries boil over, they’ll leave the alliance, and you need their resources. But you also have to weigh that against what countries are offering the best rewards for your help. As you can see, every action has a consequence, and you can take wildly different paths during each playthrough.
The game content doesn’t stop there, because Enemy Unknown also offers a multiplayer mode for a 1-versus-1 battle. Players can pick human or alien soldiers to fill out their squads, then outfit them with weapons based on a certain point buy. Players can even save dream teams for future matches. Playing versus another person wasn’t something available in the original titles, but it allows players to really experiment with unique play styles against their friends.
For fans of the series, the refresh should be welcome, and all the improvements made to the game seem to add to its depth. After playing on a console controller, I think I would probably prefer the accuracy of a mouse and keyboard for this game, which makes sense for a strategy title. Some of the console controls seemed a little loose or non-intuitive, but that can also be attributed to only playing for an hour and a half.
The free demo of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is available on Steam, and a console version will follow. If you want to relive your nostalgia, or compare the gameplay of the two, X-COM: UFO Defense is also available on Steam for $4.99. The full version of the game is out Oct. 9.
Are you excited to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown? Let us know in the comments.