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DownPlay Reviews #5 - XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Honestly, I’m feeling kind of at a loss here, this being the first strategy game I’ve played in about three years. But with the last being Civilization V, and with XCOM: Enemy Unknown being made by the same people, I can say with confidence that XCOM has some pretty hefty talent behind it. Hopefully, Firaxis’s legendary strategy game-building reputation has continued. Short answer, yes. Long answer, YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES. If you didn’t catch my point in the last sentence, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a fantastic game. It manages to introduce the classic feel of turn-based strategy with a modern presentation without having to cut any corners. As it turns out, all you need to do is give the camera a new pair of shoes and mop up the interface to something a little less than the United States healthcare plan. But I’m a reviewer, so it’s my job to go a little more in-depth than that. XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts you in the shoes of a faceless, voiceless, military commander designated to rid the world of an increasingly persistent alien threat. You are in control of both the organization’s field operations and operations at the base. And when I say you’re “in control”, I mean in control to the point where the schlubs down in R&D will sit around scratching their scientific butts until you give the order to do something. Literally every aspect of the game is under your control, and this creates a sense of immersion like no other. The only thing in this game that is automatic is the reactions of the soldiers which requires you to plan out your moves to ensure the job is done correctly. You can even control the names and appearances of the soldiers and I’m deathly positive this function is in here so that the player would name the soldiers after their friends and family, creating a powerful band between player and soldiers despite the fact that they have no personality whatsoever. Now let’s get down to the gameplay, because that is where XCOM: Enemy Unknown truly shines. They’ve taken everything that made the original XCOM so engaging and perfected. The camera is positioned beautifully in a birds-eye view with the complete freedom to see every part of the battlefield that you need to see. The tactical interface has been cut down from hotkeys filling entire halves of the screen World of Warcraft-style to a measly one unit selection tool and five or six function keys. But honestly, that’s all you really need. The minimalist approach makes everything so much easier to handle and your not left scrambling around to figure out which unit is doing what. It makes the turn-based combat more approachable and easier to learn. Which brings me to the second half of the gameplay, the base management. Between alien encounters, you as a commander are in charge of everything going on at XCOM headquarters. Using their trademark “ant farm” viewpoint, you are in charge of research projects, construction, and managing relations which member nations. But what really boggles my mind is how well the two halves of gameplay go hand in hand. Your actions in the base directly affects your soldiers’ performance in the field and your soldiers actions in the field directly affect the performance capabilities of the organization back at HQ. It manages to be completely balanced in both aspects without one mechanic feeling tacked on to the other. Fortunately, the game starts of small with just tiny baby aliens during the first few missions with more advanced units later on to somewhat mirror your capabilities, so as long as you’re prudent, it stays fairly evenly matched throughout. And the randomness of the alien encounters requires you to be ready for anything which builds a great atmosphere of tension as you never know which units you may see next. But sooner or later, the aliens begin unleashing the giant spider droids that can decimate your entire squad in one turn and they’re not around for you to put your big boy pants on. So the game’s difficulty increases regardless of your performance, meaning that if you don’t put enough time in at the base, you could become mincemeat later on. Overall, the staggering amount of atmosphere and immersion in XCOM: Enemy Unknown creates one of the best strategy experiences of all time. It’s a worthwhile addition to any veteran strategist’s library and for an introduction to the genre, accept no substitute. XCOM is the apex of what the strategy genre can achieve Final Score: 97/100 Next Week on DownPlay Reviews: Sine Mora Also check out my blog for reviews and more! Sincerely, DownPlay Reviews
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