The lights are on
This game baffles me. It should be a slam dunk. Take a
classic strategy franchise, add a great developer and you should get something
amazing. Instead, we got XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
ConceptMesh long-termand tactical strategy into an uninteresting mess
The player leads a mysterious international organization
called XCOM. S/he must repel oncoming alien invaders and save earth. There's no
real story, although the voice acting is excellent.
The real point is the strategy. As XCOM commander, the
player manages resources and troops. Time, material, soldiers- everything is
limited. This forces hard choices. When the aliens attack multiple countries
simultaneously, which do you save? The rich country that can reward you with
advanced technology? The developing nation that can send recruits?
Salvaging a situation is where XCOM: Enemy Unknown shines
brightest. At its best, the game makes researching alien tech, training new
soldiers, and expanding the base into a compelling race. Every action requires
time to complete. Productivity requires good planning. Fall behind the
merciless difficulty curve and perish.
However, those plans change around periodic alien attacks
that require XCOM intervention. The player deploys a squadron of soldiers to
handle intrusions from E.T., and the game switches to a local tactical battle.
S/he explores the area, eliminates hostiles, and rescues civilians.
Battles are fun and frustrating. Moving troops around the field
and taking down aliens entertains. I enjoyed building a resilient team of scouts
supported by two lethal snipers. When everything goes according to plan and the
aliens explode into mist, XCOM feels great.
When something goes wrong, it's often because of bad luck.
Each shot fired in XCOM has a chance of hitting. This chance changes with
distance, weapon, soldier skill, and elevation. Good tacticians take advantage
of it. An elevated sniper works wonders.
This system frustrates, though. It bonds random chance to
the game. This devalues skill. Careful planning means less when success leans
so heavily on die rolls. Losing a high-level operative to bad luck is
The real problem with XCOM: Enemy Unknown is it's not that
fun. It lacks the depth of a serious sim and the entertainment of a good
strategy-lite. The result is something less amusing than Halo Wars but without
the complexity of Civilization.
After the first few honeymoon levels, XCOM turns into a
slog. Too few resources plus uninteresting upgrades equals endlessly grinding
battles, hoping that bad luck won't kill off your squad leader. Planning
research and upgrading the base becomes tedious. The exciting race against the
aliens becomes a tiresome cycle of upgrades.
Nothing about XCOM is special or interesting. The game isn't
unique, entertaining, deep, clever, or original. It bored me, and I love
strategy games. This should have been great. It's a shockingly mediocre effort
from a talented developer.
Better luck next time, Firaxis.
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