XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a near-future turn based strategy game which features a global force of elite military banded together to face an alien invasion. Published by 2K Games and developed by Firaxis, the eighteen year old franchise has been dormant for awhile but is now making its triumphant return.
The game tells the tale of panic-stricken populations who have made first contact in a very negative way. Facing abductions and a visually bizarre extraterrestrial force, the world’s population pools all of its resources and places them in your hands. Throughout the course of the loosely guided plot you’ll have the opportunity to address missions as they arise and face enemies on their own turf – though just how quickly all of that happens is up to the player’s dogged pursuit.
As you assume command of a collective planetary defense force, your actions and spending decisions determine the course of the game. With limited resources you will be tasked with defending every country comprising the council of nations, where you are beholden to protect each and every one of them in order to loosen purse strings. The difficulty comes in managing a global level of panic in deciding where and when to respond to requests, as the aliens’ coordinated attacks often force you to choose saving one ally’s population while neglecting another.
Outside the ant-farm styled base of operations, your troops spend quite a bit of time with their boots on the ground, facing the unwelcome guests in cover-based combat. Taking turns moving, attacking, reloading or utilizing special abilities unique to troop classes, the aliens clearly have a technological advantage which can only be overcome with cunning and strategy. Though capturing creatures and technology to research and build upgrades gives you the fleeting hope that you can theoretically level the playing field, the game’s difficulty curves steeply and you frequently feel one step behind.
Graphically the game suffers a bit from limitations on the Xbox 360, where action cameras panning on slow motion kill shots are more likely to look implausible than cool when parts of your character or weapon clip through the environment. (And don’t ever try firing at anything from point blank range unless you want to lose any remaining shred of the “action shooter” illusion.) The fact that such negative things can be said about a game’s appearance while still maintaining that it is hugely addicting to play means that all the basics are in the right place though.
Owing to the fact that all your decisions are so dynamic, generating countless permutations across randomly generated battle maps (even dying and starting a mission over doesn’t mean you’ll see the same battlefield twice), XCOM has a huge amount of replayability. Where the game most conveys the direst circumstances of humanity’s near demise, it does so by effectively forcing you into the realization that you cannot see, do, or save everything. So while a session of XCOM may be composed of a bitter series of compromises, of giving ground to an invading force with total reluctancy, for fans of the strategy genre this outstanding title never leaves you with real-world regret.