X-COM: Enemy Unknown Review

X-COM: Enemy Unknown is a refreshing turn-based tactical game and a fantastic re-imagining of the classic title.

As the an elite member of the X-COM initiative, you’re in charge of commanding a group of soldiers to try and annihilate the alien force that has recently invaded different cities around the world. That may sound like a generic premise, but X-COM: Enemy Unknown is a refreshing turn-based tactical game and a fantastic re-imagining of the classic title.

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This is what combat looks like most of the time.

The core of the game takes place in grid-based environments where you control the movements and actions of the X-COM team which is formed by a group of soldiers equipped with state-of-the-art technology and weaponry that can kill the alien invaders. The basics of most battles are remarkably simple, your team is deployed and you need to swipe the place off of enemies, though from time to time, you might need to capture a specific enemy, rescue survivors or recover a piece of equipment. Surrounding objects (cars, trees, trucks, buildings, poles and so on) provide partial or full cover, depending on their size which is important if you want to reduce the chances of an enemy hitting you. You move characters individually and this usually translates into two actions per turn: you can move, dash, shoot, use special abilities or overwatch. At any given point, there’s a lot to pay attention to (shape of the terrain, available weapons and equipment) so there’s a lot of micromanaging both in and outside of combat.

Combat might be the heart of X-COM, but your center of operations is as equally important as shooting aliens in the face. In the base menu, you can access the research, engineering, barracks, hangar and situation room. With the resources you obtain in the missions, you can investigate new weapons and equipment, perform autopsies on captured enemies and investigate alien technology which gives you advantages in battle. Engineering lets you buy new items (weapons and equipment to use in battle,) as well as build new facilities. In the barracks, you can see your current lineup of soldiers, purchase permanent upgrades, see all the deceased soldiers and hire new ones. Here, you can also edit the name, gear, equipment and personal appearance of your crew. But I wouldn’t get too attached to them, since X-COM has permanent death (more on this later.) In the hangar, you can see the space crafts you own and deploy them to different continents which is helpful to stop alien invasions. Finally, the situation room shows you all the countries that are part of the X-COM project, you can launch satellites, see how much money those countries provide, their panic levels and more.

One of the most engaging parts about Enemy Unknown is the fact that once your soldiers are gone, they are gone forever. Even when they barely speak, you grow attached to them because every kill they perform, gets you closer to eradicating the alien invasion. At the same time, permadeath makes the game unforgiving at times, something that not even easier difficulties mitigate. Those that aren’t seasoned strategy fans might need to restart a failed playthrough and learn from all of their mistakes, but casual players might get frustrated by the high difficulty. At least, the game lets you save manually pretty much whenever you want, so you should save often if you want to avoid headaches.

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The third-person camera positions behind the characters when they perform an action.

There’s also a multiplayer mode where you can participate in one-on-one battles. This varies from the single-player campaign though slightly. According to your budget, you spend points on your six-men squad, but you can also play as aliens or a combination of both humans and extraterrestrials. A more basic version of the perk system from the single-player mode is also present in this mode. Although a nice diversion, I barely touched the multiplayer portion and I preferred the pace and rhythm of the single-player.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown isn’t for everyone. There are so many elements that come into play at any given moment and some of the encounters can be so unforgiving that I can see a lot of frustration from some players. At the same time, this is a game that rewards patience, planning and a careful study of its mechanics and if you’re willing to put some time into it, Enemy Unknown can be incredibly gratifying. Ultimately, that’s for you to decide, but if you’re hungry for a tactical strategy game, X-COM will deliver that and much more.