XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review: The Perfect Gamer’s Game

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review: The Perfect Gamer’s Game

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
2K Games

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a strategy game that relies on clever and well planned tactics to be successful. Aliens have invaded the earth and it is your job as commander to lead the XCOM project to help take on and destroy the alien threat. You have a host of nations in all regions of the earth that support the project and if you are not careful in helping to protect each nation, you will be in danger of losing them from the council. This game is based off of the 1994 version of XCOM which the developers had a strong tie to, so they did everything they could to give you that similar experience.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown provides you with a tough challenge that can become nearly impossible even on the normal difficulty level; it’s not an easy game. It has a total of four difficulty levels to enjoy; easy, normal, classic, and impossible. There is no shortage of challenge in this game as every move you make will have consequences if you are not careful. Every soldier you lose and every nation that goes into panic all lead to your failed leadership as commander. It’s a truly fun and incredible feeling to play through this game knowing those things. It may be interesting to read about, but once you experience the situations you get thrown into, it’s awesome and sometimes awesome in a sucky way. My first playthrough took me about 10 hours of time and it ended in defeat. There is no restart button; you start over from the beginning – a brand new game. Must I say it again? This game has consequences and you will want to do everything you can to keep every single one of your soldiers safe.

As commander of the XCOM project, it is up to you to lead the fight against the alien threat. You are responsible for giving orders to build new facilities such as power generators, satellite uplinks, laboratories, workshops, and more. You will also learn new things such as how to construct new weapons and armor in the research labs; this will then allow your engineers to build those items so that you may use them on the battlefield. It is important to make sure you stay on top of what you can construct to make sure that your soldiers have the best advantage. You will then be able to edit the soldier’s weapon loadout, changing what weapon and what armor they use. You’ll even get a multiple choice option to pick their new ability when they rank up. For those who want to have an even greater personal experience, you can edit your soldier’s names instead of using their randomly given ones.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown revolves around a simulated time. Each day there are things that take place that require attention. Each project that your engineers or scientists are working on will take a specific amount of days to complete. As days go by new threats appear and you’ll have to head out and take care of business. At the end of each month you’ll be paid by the council and able to purchase new products, facilities, and more. You’ll even be able to purchase upgrades for aircraft giving them a better advantage when you scramble them out to shoot down UFO’s.

The gameplay is a ton of fun. It’s not overly complicated and it’s very easy to manage. The complication comes with the difficulty. You’ll need to set up your troops in cover positions to give them a better opportunity to survive. The control of the game is simple when selecting where you want your troops to go and when you want them to attack. I love the different options that are available as well. You can move a little bit and then fire on a target or set-up in overwatch, or you can move further along and set up shop in that location. Overwatch is probably one of my favorite options to use, especially when enemies are making advances on your position. When you select overwatch, whenever an enemy moves within your soldiers sites, that soldier will then fire upon that enemy. It created a lot of fun moments for me in game.

The maps are good and contain a lot of positives about them. There are numerous objects to hide behind, though weapons and explosives can destroy your cover, so you will want to have an exit plan as well, just in case. I thought the maps where good and fun to play on – each designed fairly well, but nothing that really stood out except for a select few. This is an area I would like to see additional maps become available through downloadable content. Still, there is a good amount available and it’ll take some time to get through them all. They do start to feel the same after a while, but the situations that you deal with will never be the same.

Now, let me tell you a story about someone who meant a lot to me. Col. Carrie ‘Chops’ Welsh came into my command near the very beginning and quickly became one of my favorite soldiers. She owned the battlefield having many kills in her first few missions and that’s where I first took notice of her. Her skills during each mission are what led to her promotion to the highest level any soldier in the XCOM project can be, a colonel. She was the first under my command to reach that rank and had reminded me why on many occasions, some that ended well and others that did not. There was a mission where we had to save a VIP from alien hostiles. I lost 5 of 6 squad members during that mission and Col. Carrie Welsh was the last one standing, killing a large number of aliens in that one mission and successfully completing that mission by saving the VIP. By far, she served in more missions than anyone under my command, a total of 19 missions with 42 enemy kills. Here is the video of that mission.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Rescue VIP Mission (Full Mission Gameplay Video)

These are the stories that you are going to create for yourself when you play this game. XCOM: Enemy Unknown has a fairly simple ranking system for your soldiers. The missions can be difficult and it’s hard to keep your soldiers safe and even harder for them to reach the level of colonel. The game’s perma-death feature is a game changer. By losing Col. Welsh I lost my best and toughest soldier. My entire team was knocked out in that mission forcing me to continue the fight with all rookies, guys that have no experience and no special abilities because they have yet to gain experience to be promoted. This is one of the best features about the game as it makes it incredibly challenging, but it also makes it more realistic and changes the way you play. It’s also fun because it creates a bit of a history that you can remember. You can view the memorial which lists all soldiers lost, and as you read their names, you can remember all those moments you had with your top soldiers.

It’s very interesting how that can change the way you play the game. The more missions that my Colonel was involved in, the more I began to hold her back from forward positions. I began to set her up in a more central position and place her on overwatch. You tend to start favoring your experienced members more than the rookies, though you will always do your best to set your team up in a prime tactical position. Sometimes though, it just doesn’t matter what position you have as the mission itself can overrun you.

It’s a great experience to go through this game. You’ll fight a large number of enemies and every time you come across something new, you are a bit worried about what they can do, but you usually figure out a good tactic right away because you want to protect your squad. This is something that makes this game as great as it is – it actually causes you to worry about your soldiers. Like I said, if they die, you lose all progress with that soldier and have to start with a new rookie in their place. So when you come across a new enemy, you are insanely cautious.

At the beginning of the game, you can handle most enemies and when something new comes along, it doesn’t take long to defeat them. However, it got to a point where I encountered a new enemy that took out one of my members with ease and overkill. When I stumbled upon that enemy a sense of fear overcame me like nothing else I’ve experienced in a video game. All of a sudden I’m in a bad position and I don’t want to lose my Colonel. This new enemy encounter was mowing through each of my members, one at a time, with ease. So before the mission actually ended by death to all my squad members, I took the two characters I had left and set up one in a position that the enemy would attack first and took my Colonel and ran back to the extraction zone. You will want to do whatever you can to keep your Colonel’s alive, and thankfully there is an extraction zone where you can evacuate if the situation is not good.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Successful UFO Landing Site Mission (Full Mission Gameplay Video)

Consequences rule this game. It’s an interesting feeling and once again makes it a game like no other. If you abort a mission, more than likely it will end up leaving that country in panic, or at least the panic level will increase. Now, if I hadn’t of aborted the mission, I would have lost my best soldier and would have led to an even more difficult time in the next few missions. It’s such an incredibly fun game in that aspect, heck, in all aspects of the game. Speaking of the panic level for all countries, there will be times where alien activity is being reported in multiple locations. When this happens, you are usually given a choice of three countries to visit. Each country has a reward that it will give you such as more engineers, scientists, or money. However, sometimes it doesn’t matter what the reward is. If one country has a higher panic level than the others, then you better make sure you go to that country and take care of business. Otherwise the panic level will increase even further and possibly to a point of no return and you will lose that country from the council.

As you get deeper into the game and more situations arise, the game goes from being a tough, but manageable challenge to a difficult and nearly impossible challenge. It’s crazy how tough this game becomes, even on the normal difficulty. It makes you look at your research closer and wonder what type of equipment you need to have for your soldiers to start being more successful again. It’s awesome to think that I need to further my research team in order to better combat these threats.

Also, if you are not careful, there will come a time where the situation is just too dire to overcome and that will lead to defeat – game over. That’s exactly what happened on my first playthrough. I went 25 missions into the game, winning 18 and losing 7. I pretty much lost the last 7 rounds in a row, except for one victory in that spell. This means that I didn’t develop enough equipment for my squad to better protect them against the new enemies; therefore I wasn’t able to protect nations and ended up losing their support for the XCOM project. This is just another part of the game where if you fail a mission or two, you will pay the consequence. I must also mention that the moment I lost my Colonel and other high ranked soldiers, that is when things got a lot more difficult for me. You will need to play smart and be careful with each one of your soldiers, because playing late in the game with a bunch of rookies just won’t work and it will help lead to your doom.

Before I score this game I should note that it may not have the best visuals and can become a bit repetitive from time to time on some missions. Also, the maps can get a bit tiresome after a while, but it’s always a different experience on how the situations play out. It will be nice, however, to see more maps introduced in the future. This is a game that will eat up many hours of your time, especially if you are not successful during your first mission or two. Once you beat the game you will easily want to play it again, and again. You’ll probably even want to challenge yourself with the highest difficulty level and see how far you can get. Also, you’ll be able to take the fight online against friends and use a team of both soldiers and aliens equipped with whatever weapons you can afford. Even with its small issues here and there, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the best game I’ve played so far this year.

It’s the perfect gamer’s game.



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  1. Why were 5 soldiers lost in that first video? There were still two standing when the VIP entered the extraction zone. Do your troops have to enter the extraction zone first to avoid the skyranger taking off without them? Or did I miss something?

  2. I was curious as well when I first played it, but when watching the video you can see what happened. Near the end, one of my soldiers walked through a cloud of poison when he had only one health bar left and it killed him at the end of the turn. You can barely catch it at 19:44 on the video.