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.

Mesh long-term
and tactical strategy
into an uninteresting

Muddy and
bland, although
character models
look nice 
The voice
acting is
Solid. The game
never gets in the
way of the action 
I encountered a
lot of graphical
glitches and clipping.
Lots of environmental
Moderate. You can
replay the campaign
or try multiplayer 

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 infuriating.

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.