Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

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Saving the world is all in a day’s work for gamers. It’s easy to pop a round in an enemy, but what if you had to file paperwork and budget in expenses as well? XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers the world’s resources, asks you to fend off an alien invasion and I answer the call.

Gangsta

Let’s be honest, strategy is not the most accessible of game genres. Even though it has evolved over recent years, strategy games tend to create a deeper and more immersive experience utilising potentially overwhelming micro and macro-management systems. Unfortunately, this level of complexity doesn’t lend itself to newcomers. For those who don’t live and breathe strategy, initially, such concepts can feel daunting and alienating.

The problem is that there’s no middle ground. Make it too easy and you’re likely to  turn away hardcore fans as an overly simplified strategy game feels more like checkers than chess and where’s the challenge in that? XCOM: Enemy unknown aims to fix this problem. Not only has developer Firaxis Games rebooted one of the oldest and most loved strategy titles of all time, but the team is aiming to make it an accessible game that just about anyone can enjoy. Here’s why.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts you in command of a secret government project hastily thrown together when the world comes under attack from an unknown threat, seemingly from outer space. Your goal is to manage Earth’s forces and drive this foe off the planet and back to wherever they came from. Not the easiest job, but the team at Firaxis has spent a lot of time making sure the game slowly eases you into your new role. Once you  make it past the tutorials, you’ll be pitted against small scouts and perform simple rescue operations to get acclimatised to the gameplay before the real invasion begins.

Meet Cpt. Badass

Your job is two fold. Between missions you handle the business side of the XCOM project. Aside from managing your troops and vehicles, players are asked to decide which research to develop, items to manufacture, which upgrades to apply to your base and  work to slowly cultivate relationships as you control the world’s defence forces. Sound difficult, right? Thankfully these jobs are added gradually to ensure new players don’t feel too overwhelmed. In no time at all this juggling act feels completely routine and your focus moves to the war at hand.

As you scan the  planet for troubled hotspots you’ll face missions both in the air and on the ground. Air battles are short but crucial if you want stop the population from panicking and causing more chaos. Once the attacking ships have been brought down, you dispatch ground troops to mop up and this is where the game truly shines.

Pew! Pew!

From the moment you begin the missions you’ll notice that focus is on presentation. The use of cut scenes and varied camera angle options offers gamers a more interesting and action packed experience compared to almost all of its strategy competitors. Your squad is comprised of up to six specialised soldiers ranging from heavy troops, excellent for supression and support, to deadly long range snipers, each with their own perks earned from time in the field. Though the game is turn based, the speed and simplistic control system keeps each turn short and sharp, removing that grinding feeling usually associated with turn based games. The mission objectives are varied enough to ensure gamers won’t get bored or feel irritated.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown has pushed it’s way into my top picks for game of the year, though it has to be said that there are some issues with clipping and an, at times, infuriating camera system. It offers hours of fun, plenty of replayability and shows that there is still a place for turn based strategy, especially on a console. Those willing to give it a try will find it a ridiculously addictive experience within the first hour and be grinning until the final credits roll.

8.5/10

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Joshua Philpott

Tech MacGyver
Games writer, podcaster and tech wizard. Obsessed with obscure horror films, crazy gadgets and caffeine. Passionate, argumentative and open minded. Freelance writer and co-founder rawDLC.

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