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“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
These words, quoted from Arthur C. Clarke, flash before your screen when you begin XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a new video game from 2K Games. An alien invasion is shown shortly after, and you take command of what is ultimately the only true hope for humanity. When you first pick up your controller, you get a very real sense of how a young David must have felt when he saw a certain towering Philistine charging towards him, but when you put it down, you’ll wonder where the last couple of hours went. Welcome to the Top Five Reasons to Get XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
This was long overdue for an update
Classic PC gamers have already heard of this series. UFO: Enemy Unknown, the first in the series was released back in 1994 by Mythos Games and published by Microprose, and had five sequels. The original was turn-based combat and base building/management in equal parts, and like a good bartender, these components mixed well. In fact, when designing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the new developers, Firaxis Games, (well known for Sid Meier, co-founder of Microprose and creator of the popular Civilization series), actually designed their entire initial build as a brick-by-brick recreation of the first game. From there, they tweaked it into the reimagining you can find on store shelves now. The respect for the original is easily visible to anyone who played it before.
This half of the game is just as important… and fun
Turn-based strategy may be new to most 360 and PS3 gamers, but for those who like something more than mindless first-person zombie-slaying, this is a good new. Base management affects many aspects of the turn-based battles, and vice-versa. Let’s say you want to cauterize holes in the pesky intergalactic visitors… great! Researching Laser Weapons is as simple as going to the labs and confirming the project. To stock your weapon kitchen with the right ingredients, you need to break some eggs (or egg-headed looking alien) in combat. Simply bring a Sectoid health bar to zero, and out pops two weapon fragments to build Laser Rifles with. However, while you research Laser Weapons, there are other projects you’ll have to wait to start, like Carapace Armor for better health, or Autopsies to make killing the next one easier. With every move comes some consideration.
In the Combat section, you control up to six elite soldiers as they go into battle against a new alien threat in one of sixteen different countries. With fog of war and limited visibility, each move could expose a new threat to your squad. Using cover, positioning and ever-increasing class abilities, you fight to clear the nasties from your home planet. Be careful, as these brutes have tricks of their own and more than fifteen types of soldiers. Even the easiest ones, in the right numbers, can swing the battle in their favor with just a few unfortunate shots. Nothing a tactical player like you can’t handle, right?
Soldiers will die… and in greater numbers
Remember that last game you played, the one you thought was so easy, even on the difficulty they called Impossible and you laughed at? If you seek a challenge, this game will accept and take your pride along with it. This is not a cosmic battle again Tribbles. XCOM games are notorious for their degree of difficulty, and Firaxis made no exception with its new IP. Even on Easy, if a soldier has no health or an Interceptor is shot down, that’s it. No Sick Bay, no Repair Dock, though soldiers do get their name, number of missions and confirmed kills thrown on a memorial wall, which I’m sure will inspire the lowly Rookie you’re stuck replacing him with to keep his head down better. On Normal, or the cruelly titled Classic difficulties, enemies get boosts where you get debuffs, like health, accuracy and damage. Want to be thoroughly thrashed, tough guy? See if your bravado stands up to an Ironman game, where you have one auto-save file which updates every combat round. Oh, and this game also has an Impossible mode, though it would give most other games’ highest difficulties fatal coronaries. It’s possible to beat these modes, but might want to start on Easy, just so you don’t take a serious baseball bat to the ego.
Each of these choices will affect the growth of your XCOM unit
Though the storytelling is done well, it is loose enough that each time you play it will feel like a different story, at least for the imaginative of you. Each soldier is customizable, from their hair style and skin type, to name and nickname, even armor specs and colors. Replacing stock characters with the name and likeness of friends can endear you more to them, though it also frightens a little more when you see a trio of Chryssalids closing for the kill with your oldest childhood friend. And that can be a great source of fun in itself. It’s easy to have your in-game Sniper (maybe a work associate) manage an incredible long-distance shot that saves you (a precocious shotgun-wielding Assault with one health left), and imagine your avatar paying for his savior’s night at the bar with the hazard pay he’s alive to spend. The potential for these stories is near limitless. Try on your first playthrough and use your imagination like you haven’t since you were a child. Just don’t write a fanfic.
Dear me, I love the late-game on this one
#1: A New Gaming Frontier
Number one kind of takes all the other points into consideration, and adds them to this. The distinguishing feature of this game is while it may be based on an old game, this kind of game is unique for Console gamers. There’s only so many times you can fight Nazis and Russians from a first- or third-person perspective, only so long you can drive around a city seeing how many people you can run over before SWAT is cleared to use rocket launchers, and only so many virtual girls you can date before wanting a real one (that last one was based on stories I’ve heard from Japan, not personal experience… I think). This game breaks boundaries, and unlike other Console strategy games that have tried and failed, this game is intuitive and natural. Sure, at some point there may be clones and sequels, and in the future it would feel as repetitive as some games feel now, but like GTA before it, all of them will be classified as “XCOM Clones”, pale imitations of the original. It may not be, as sales numbers only reached 114,000 sold (NPD numbers as of Nov. 8), but there is still hope. With some adventurous gamers willing to pick up a game with 89-90% overall score on Metacritic, we may see the making of an impressive IP worthy of the acclaim it has received.
And there you have it for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a game that deserves its praise. It has been a while since I have played a game that has impressed me on pretty much every level like this one. It’s not perfect, with an abrupt ending, occasional glitches (like shooting through walls or in the opposite direction) and ridiculous build times (satellites come to mind), but if perfection is what you seek, you will always be disappointed. Publishers and developers rarely try something new over something proven. Most sequels fall prey to this unfortunate fact. Pick it up if you support taking chances and want a game with great replayability. Unless you’re one of those big-ego guys I was talking about earlier. You might want to get something else.