I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of the strategy genre.  Sure, I have fond memories of a few select titles, but until I killed my first sectoid in XCOM:Enemy Unknown, I never experienced such a great, wholesome strategy game in my time as a gamer.  The tough choices you make on and off the battlefield define XCOM and set it apart from other strategy games in recent memory.  

Succeeding with the XCOM project requires strategic management both on and off the battlefield.  Managing your base well in XCOM is essential, and players will have to make do with the limited time and money to make sure each XCOM soldier is outfitted for combat and that each member country’s panic levels are low.  Controlling panic levels are also a key component to the game.  Once panic levels rise too high, a country  will drop out of the council, taking their money and supplies with them.  Losing too many countries means the cancellation of the XCOM project, forcing players to start anew.  Purchasing satellites and uplinks help alleviate panic and are one of the most critical resources in the game.  

While keeping your tech up to date is critical for success, your project will go nowhere without highly trained soldiers backing up your arsenal.   Recruited soldiers are divided into 4 distinct classes, being the heavy, support, sniper and assault.  A balanced mix of classes are crucial to victory on the field, support soldiers are vital for reviving and healing your troops, heavies are great for breaking through cover and suppressing fire, assault soldiers act as offensive vanguards, and snipers are masters at pulling off those ever satisfying one-shot kills.  As your grunts level up, soldiers unlock class tokens which allow players to customize each soldier to their liking.  These tokens allow for even more experimentation with your fire squad, I found that medic support soldier and a support soldiers with suppressive skills work in tandem.  As my time with the game progressed, my skills improved at a tactical level, rather than having to struggle with internal components present in other strategy titles.  The AI in XCOM is intelligent and doesn't make any poor decisions for the most part, and skirmishes between you and the AI feel like you are battling an actual person.  The game balances all these key components components into minimal, yet informative interface.  Never once did I feel like too much information was thrown at me, while at the same time the game gives the player enough stats so that they don’t have to play a guessing game with internal math.

I did however, run into a few bugs during my initial playthrough.  During a few sequences, I experienced some texture pop-in, but this glitch is little more than cosmetic.  Other glitches are a bit more severe.  On a few occasions, aliens would appear almost out of thin air, in the middle of my soldiers, leaving most of them flanked.  I’m not sure if these enemies were the product of an untimely glitch or were “hiding”, and popped out of cover.  If the latter is the case, this was not well explained during the course of the game.  Luckley, my XCOM unit suffered no significant losses from these events, aside from a few plasma burns.  These glitches are fairly uncommon and leave little impact on XCOM’s solid technical performance.  

While most players will spend their time in the excellent single player mode, XCOM also offers a multiplayer component, albeit with much less success.  Multiplayer consists of a basic deathmatch mode with a few maps for you and a friend to toy around with.  XCOM’s multiplayer comes off as a little bland and uninspired, and is redeemed only slightly by the ability to customize your squad and control a team of aliens.  These two features are cool, but do little to change the mode too drastically.  Controlling your own aliens is cool for a go or two, but I don’t see any reason to stick around for more than a few matches with a friend.  

Possibly my favorite part of XCOM: Enemy Unknown was my emotional attachment to my soldiers.  While my XCOM squad displays little signs of emotion or personality, creating my own stories for my squad was a high point during the game.  XCOM is the ultimate water cooler game, as every playthrough is bound to play out differently.  While you may tell you friend about the tragic death of your best squaddie, he may mention the new research project his team recently uncovered.  Whether I was describing the valiant sacrifice of my best assault trooper or mentioning the multikill my heavy scored, I always had something to talk about with XCOM.

Few games can make you rack your brain like XCOM.  Whether you are deciding where to spend your scarce resources or deciding if taking that 30% shot is worth the risk, there are no right choices in XCOM.  Rarely does a game pull off such a high level of tension and execution, making XCOM a title you won’t want to miss.