The lights are on
I'll date myself a bit here, but was a junior in high school when the original XCOM released. I wasn't privileged enough at the time to have a computer, but spent many an evening playing through it, Civilization, and Master of Orion at a more fortunate friends house. In many ways, the stable of games from what was then called Microprose introduced me to turn-based strategy and, with newer installments, cemented my love for the genre.
Firaxis's re-invention of one of my teenage favorites in XCOM: Enemy Unknown has, and will for some time, to take up the space in my PS3's disk drive. After several starts and re-starts I can finally say I've finished the main campaign and would like to give some (story-spoiler free, expect game-play spoilers) thoughts on the over-all experience.
It's a simple combination of relatively basic resource management, base-building, and tactical turn-based battles. The story is simple. Aliens are raiding Earth and you've been given command of an international organization who's sole duty is to stop the invaders. With a combination of leveling troops, researching new technologies, upgrading said troops with newer, more powerful armaments, and taking them into battle against over a dozen varieties of aliens, XCOM offers a huge amount of re-playability and, aside from overuse of maps, a ton of variety to each play. The combination of dealing with very real decisions ranging from simple things like which nations to prioritize satellite signals for, to the difficult like what my squad make-up be for this particular battle, will have you shaking your head and agonizing like few games have. You'll also be doing your fair share of pointing victoriously at you TV and cursing as you re-load a save.
I'd say 'everything' and move on but that wouldn't be a very good review. Firaxis managed to put quite a few moving pieces on the table with XCOM and most everything came out smelling roses. The base-building, while relatively simple, is satisfying and the resource management is done well enough that I rarely felt the lack unless I started blowing things up or impatiently selling off goods. Some of the base navigation could have been explained a bit better, (It took a bit to figure out how to modify my planes, or that there were three tiles of purchasable items in the engineering section) but for the most part navigating the world they throw at you is smooth and intuitive.
The same goes for the battles. Once you get used to them. Expect to die a fair amount on normal, and a lot on classic until you get all the nuances of cover, line-of-sight, fog of war, and weapon ranges figured out. When the tactics start to flow and you're using the powers granted to each class to their fullest the game truly shines. There's nothing quite like setting up two heavies on overwatch and using an assault troop to flush an enemy from cover. He starts running, the bullets start flying, and another alien body ends up waiting to be researched back home!
(Get ready to see this screen. A LOT!)
The Less Good:
I won't say bad because truly there's nothing about this game that deserves the moniker. Three things do stand out after the experience as being less refined or polished than the rest of the game. First, the shoot down mini-game is simple to the point of being unneeded at all. It doesn't take away from the game, but neither does it add anything (excepting more things to research and buy). Secondly, the end-game felt rushed. The first half of the game ranging up to the point of lasers and captured aliens took a while with numerous battles between each 'upgrade' to the strategic meta-game. After that, the game just seemed to fly straight towards the ending with barely any time to examine the psi-powers and new tactics that come with them. It's a minor gripe, and one that's likely to be addressed with DLC, but I'd still like to see a bit more meat to the end of the game when their given the green-light for a sequel. The last minor issue I have is with the story. Not the aliens raid Earth and you defend it premise, but the narrative used to get us to the end. Throughout the game you hear three story-related voices. At the very end a fourth is added to the mix. It's very cool and has a ton of promise. Then the game ends on a lackluster note with no explanation to the bits of ending dialogue and a mountain of credits. (Why should I see voice actors from Russia and the like? Region encode this stuff already!)
Strategy doesn't get any better than XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It's got a lengthy and varied campaign with four difficulty levels for those interested in even more challenge. It even offers basic deathmatch online with players setting a 'points cap' and then spending their way towards a team of six to match against each other. With all of the alien types as well as all of the upgrades available, strategy deathmatch nuts will be at each others virtual throats for years to come!
Don't let my minor gripes about the story encourage you to hesitate whether or not to play this game. It's fantastic and my personal pick for game of the year! With dlc on the way, (the last update revealed new trophies) it may end up being my pick for next year as well!
Thanks for reading and I hope you all like it as much as I did!
Nice review; I've heard a lot of good about this one, can't wait to get my hands on it.