Monday, July 8, 2013

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC)

Reviewed on PC, available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game, based off of the classic XCOM: UFO Defense, and developed by Firaxis (popular for its addicting Civilizations series). In this game, the player leads a small force of specialized soldiers against the alien threat attacking various countries. The enemies are stronger, smarter, and in greater number, but can XCOM rise to the challenge? It should be noted, this game is fairly violent, despite it's appearance.

The goal of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is to defeat the alien menace while defending various countries in the world. The combined countries make up a mysterious group, known as "The Council", who funds the player and provides objectives. If a country is frequently attacked and XCOM fails to defend it, the country will drop out of the XCOM project, and cease to fund the player. If too many countries drop out, the game is over. The catch here is that multiple countries are always invaded at the same time, and its only possible to defend one, so managing defense can be frustrating and require significant planning.

Soldiers are highly customize-able, and level up by killing enemies.

At your disposal initially are basic soldiers, equipped with your standard body armor and assault rifle. After a mission or so, they will choose a specialization and become either a Sniper, Heavy, Assault, or Support class. Their stats will gradually increase, and players can choose which talents to unlock with each soldier's individual talent tree. This is all possible only if your soldiers survive, since death is permanent and frequent on harder difficulties. Your enemies will have stronger weapons from the start, and it becomes apparent when your favorite troop's face is melted by a plasma rifle.

Enemies are various and very, very powerful on the game's intended difficulties. One true aspect of the game is how desperate the fights will feel, and how conflicted players will be gambling on the lives of soldiers they have invested in. Your soldiers will feel the pressure too, and if things start to go badly, they will panic and attempt to flee or open fire without orders. No matter how perfect you play, some losses will be unavoidable, which is a very praise-worthy piece of the game. This is war, after all.

Enemies are wide in variety, with different strengths and weaknesses.

In order to improve your chances against the alien threat, the player must choose to research gathered materials from the enemy. In time, the player can unlock some impressive technology, including new weapons, armor, robots, and even aircraft. The catch is that research is painfully slow, and only one research project can be done at a time. Would you rather improve your soldier's weapons and ability to fight, or your soldier's armor and ability to survive?

Visually, the game looks fantastic with an excellent color palette. Structures and forests are detailed, inside and out. Alien ships are well designed, and feel mysterious and threatening from the inside. Walls will crumble under fire and cars will explode, as nearly everything is destructible in this game. Finishing shots will bring the player's camera into a kill-cam view, bringing great satisfaction (or great disappointment depending). The sound effects are top notch all around, with the exception of some absolutely terrible voice acting during randomized escort missions.

Foes will maneuver to get the best shot on you, while keeping themselves protected.

Gameplay - 8/10
The combat is highly entertaining, while also being highly frustrating. Research and development is exciting, and customizing your troops is satisfying. Enemies are smart and challenging, with excellent AI. The global and base management elements of the game are great, but felt like there could have been a lot more to do. Mission variety is a little stale after a while.

Design - 7/10
Visually, the game is high quality, but stages are recycled too frequently. In a full game, a player may play the same stage 3-4 times. Missions in different countries do not differ from each other, and always resemble an English-speaking city. Similarly, troops from different countries speak perfect English with no accents whatsoever, which hurts the immersion. Voice acting is notably bad by escorted NPCs, and they honestly sound like they were done by random people with no acting experience.

Replay - 8/10
With the popular Second Wave features unlocked (various select-able changes) this game has greatly improved replay value. Harder difficulties will challenge the player significantly, but only add so much. An additional point is granted for the optional "Iron Man" mode, which auto saves the game and prevents the player from reloading to provide them a better outcome. Multiplayer is 1v1 versus only, which is a significant oversight. Mod support is surprisingly poor as well.

Final - 23/30 Good
There is a great experience to be had playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown; especially now that the price has dropped a bit. The gameplay is smooth and satisfying for strategy fans, but may leave players wanting at the end of the day. If you are on the ropes about this game, try the demo and see how it feels. Although I personally enjoyed it, this game is not for everyone.

Recommended Buying Price: No more than 40$

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