The day after I blogged about how a lack of free demos can sometimes make it hard to finalize which games to get, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Xcom: Enemy Unknown demo available on Xbox Live. This week continues to "come up Millhouse," and the demo makes a great (and unfortunately late) case for considering Xcom in your fall shopping list.

The demo is short but sweet, with two playable tutorial missions that steer you towards learning the suggested strategic approach to the game - place your agents in cover, avoid open ground, use elevation to gain an advantage in combat. You squads are composed of four members (but it's implied you can have up to six later on,) and while they're chosen for you in the demo, it looks like you'll have an assortment of gunners, heavy weapons experts, snipers, and others to choose from.

Slow walk to the transport is optional, but highly recommended

Combat is turn-based on a square grid; your agents get two moves, which can be movement, combat, reloading weapons, etc. Special abilities like throwing grenades or using rockets supplement your arsenal of assault rifles and shotguns. At the end of each mission, you also recover items; damaged alien weapons or corpses can be brought back to home base for use in researching upgrades.

Very good, sir. We'll begin using the whosiwhatsits to upgrade our thingamajiggers.

Speaking of home base, you're asked to choose a continent to operate out of, and each continent offers a different perk or bonus. In the demo, you can choose from North America (reduced aircraft and aircraft weapons cost) or Europe (reduced cost of research labs.) The base serves as a hub in between missions, where you can use those recovered goodies to research better weapons and armor, study captured aliens, and upgrade your troops. Promoting an agent brings you to their skill tree; you only get to see a glimpse of this in the demo, where you can give your heavy weapons expert a rocket launcher upgrade, but a branching skill tree implies you may have some decisions to make when promoting your squad. It seems like it'll be a good idea to recruit and level up several squad members; agents killed on a mission are gone, and have to be replaced with new recruits. Agents injured on a mission need to heal a number of days before being combat ready again.

I'm assuming you can hide behind more than just cars in the full game.

One thing to note is that you're given a choice on the second mission: there are two hotspots being attacked, and you can only respond to one. The situation / nation you choose to come to the aid of will grant you a mission bonus, but the one you cannot respond to will see its panic level increase. One of the loading screen tips states that if a certain number of nations leave "the council," then Xcom will be disbanded. So it sounds like there will be a certain amount of risk/reward involved in deciding which missions you go on, as you try to keep the world stable enough that you can complete the game. It's a nice change of pace from other decision making games like Mass Effect 3, where you sometimes only need to decide what order to complete all your tasks in.

You get a feeling in this demo that you're only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and unfortunately you don't get any playtime when it comes to upgrading your facilities (which looks like it will be A LOT of fun.) But what you do get in the demo is quite good, and if review scores are to be believed, indicative of a great finished product.