Xcom: Enemy Unknown is one of those games that is immensely fun to play, but terribly frustrating other times. What gives Xcom such an advantage over other strategy games is the uniqueness that it possesses. Turn based strategy has become a dying genre being replaced by the ever increasing real time strategy genre. As turn based strategy games become spread far and thin between one cannot but wonder why this is so. People generally find turn based strategy to be boring, strategically lacking, and just a drag to play. Xcom, however, proves that not all generalizations are true.

Xcom’s storyline is a rather simple one, aliens have invaded earth and the various countries of the world have set up project Xcom, a paramilitary group, to stop the alien invaders. Throughout the story you will receive priority missions and side missions. These priority missions can be done at any time, but there is a catch. The longer you wait, the more panic rises in countries. If a country becomes too panicked they may withdrawal from project Xcom. If too many countries leave project Xcom, you face complete destruction by the aliens and you lose the entire. Fret not; however, panic levels can be lowered by doing various missions in the country or by setting up satellites over panicked countries. Deciding on which country to aid is always an difficult decision and you always have to take into account the long term and short term affects of your decision. If that wasn’t enough, you have to constantly attempt to maintain air dominance with your fighter planes to prevent alien UFO’s from wrecking havoc on earth. A word of advice; if you don’t like multitasking, don’t play this game. Personally I find it to be a fun challenge trying to manage everything.

As for the gameplay, one would think that it’s impossible to make a turn based strategy game exciting, but Xcom masterfully proves this to be false. Xcom has a double action system for soldiers. You can choose to move within a movement area that allows for another action to be performed such as an attack or you can choose to “dash” a further distance to cover more ground while sacrificing the ability to perform another action. Other aspects of the movement system such as the ability to move through different height levels such as from ground level to the top of a building or the cover system also provide more strategic options to the game. Even some of the more subtle aspects of the games such as the ability to open doors to increase vision range make the strategic experience of Xcom that much more enjoyable. What makes the game so exciting, however, is the fact that if you lose a soldier, they’re gone……forever. There’s no respawning, no extra lives, nothing. You constantly have to face the repercussions of your actions. This formula of actions that Xcom uses allows for dynamic and risky play that provide far more excitement than many RTS’s could ever even attempt.

Movement is, however, only part of what a good turn based strategy needs. Combat mechanics is what makes or breaks almost all strategy games. Xcom’s combat mechanics excel in so many ways, but fail in other ways. In order to attack in Xcom, an enemy must first be in sight range (of course). Based off your soldier’s weapon, you then get a certain percent of hitting the enemy. This is where the problems come in. Often times a soldier will have a near perfect chance of shooting his target, but then somehow misses the shot. Frustration does not even begin to describe the feeling I get when my highly trained sniper misses a 95% hit chance that would have saved the life of a fellow squad mate.  

Despite this major flaw, I still consider the combat mechanics of Xcom to be a success based solely on the strategic options and variety of combat. Each soldier gets a specific class and as they survive missions, they gain ranks and thus gain abilities. Each class has its own unique perks and special abilities that change the way they play. These abilities are what make combat so intricate and great. For example, the sniper class possesses the strongest gun in the game: the sniper rifle (bet you didn’t guess that one). This rifle takes out most enemies with a single shot and can make the sniper the most deadly soldier on the battlefield if used properly. After a sniper class soldier ranks up, he can also gain the ability to fire twice in one turn or even increase his sight range to include his squad mate’s sight range too.

One thing Xcom is not lacking in by any means is variety. Every aspect of the game has massive variety options associated with it. At the main Xcom base of operations you have access to advanced research and engineering. In research you can create improved weaponry, perform alien autopsies, build new armor types, and invent many other types of gear. You are free to research whatever you see appropriate at the time so it’s completely up to you how you play. In engineering you can then buy the items that you just researched. Through engineering you can also expand your base as you see fit with new facilities such as satellite uplinks or even alien containment facilities. This freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want makes for an addicting experience.

All of this variety, however, requires one thing: resources. Much of the technology requires salvaged alien tech and of course; money. Money makes the Xcom world go round. Absolutely everything requires the right amount of funding. Funding can be obtained in various ways such as payment for missions, selling alien tech, or receiving money from the council’s monthly report.   

The Xcom project is not the only thing with options; the aliens have tons of variety also. The alien enemies will vary from frail, stereotypical “greys” to massive, hulking mutons. Most of the time these aliens will have some sort of an advantage on you so you have to be extremely resourceful and tactical to come out of a skirmish unscathed.

All in all, Xcom: Enemy Unknown is a breath of fresh air for gaming, even if it is a reboot. The feeling of a mission going unhitched is unparalleled because just one false move can result in a total strategic catastrophe. Constantly being on the edge is what I think makes Xcom so appealing. If you want a new and refreshing gaming experience, then Xcom: Enemy Unknown is the perfect game for you.