XCOM: Enemy Unknown should have been a disaster. It's a turn-based strategy title, a style of play that the editor said was "just out of date" just last year. It's also a remake of a classic '90s PC game loved by such an inconsistent audience that a modern version should be the most offensive entertainment product of the year.
But it's not. Despite all the adversities, XCOM is something special.
XCOM is about as perfect as remaking an old game as I'd hoped it would be, since while changes have inevitably been made, they're mostly for the better and anything that's really new is just there to make things happen improve.
At its core, XCOM is still the same game that captured hearts when the original was released in 1994. It's a near-perfect mix of strategic management and ground combat that lets you take command of Earth's last line of defense against an alien invasion.
During half the game, you'll run a base, fund research, build new weapons, manage a fleet of fighter jets, and generally try to make a small number of rich and powerful funding nations happy enough to keep funding you. For the other half, bring a small group of soldiers into the field for turn-based combat.
You Should Know (Editor's Note, Catrachadas): In rating this game for one of our GPU / CPU performance reviews, we saw no point in writing an article about XCOM. Maximum graphics with 2560 x 1600 are playable on cards of the middle generation of the previous generation.
So the changes made to the game do not affect the overall structure of XCOM. They're obvious when you notice a knack here, a blockage there, places where things are going smoother now than they used to be, a little too smooth in some cases.
WHY: XCOM: Enemy Unknown takes a classic PC strategy game, improves it and then makes it playable for console owners too.
XCOM: enemy unknown
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Released: October 9th North America, October 12th Europe & Australia
Type of game: Strategy
What i played: Single player campaign completed in approximately 22 hours. Tried briefly in multiplayer.
My two favorite things
- A considered and respectful remake of one of my all time favorite games.
- The strong sense of bond and responsibility that you develop for your soldiers.
My two least favorite things
- The fight needs a "simulate" button as you need a break after 10-15 hours.
- Your means of progress are sometimes vague.
Back-of-box offers made to order
- "Rest in peace, Captain Valdez." – Luke Plunkett, Kotaku.com
- "Defeat the alien threat from science, combat and cruel German accents." – Luke Plunkett, Kotaku.com
Two of the most important are the way XCOM handles player feedback and the way the game's combat has been quietly revolutionized.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, since this game was developed by the same studio responsible for the mainstream-friendly Civilization series, it is as far from a "dry" strategy game as it gets. There is characters, dialogue, and most importantly, a continuous and palpable sense of progression that shows in the frequent cutscenes that are seen on major breakthroughs. Your 19th scientific discovery might just be another tick on a menu screen, but when you see it trigger a cutscene where a room full of grown men is cheering and high five, you need to be a little proud.
The fight looks the same, but it isn't. It's much more tactical and engaging now, aided by a number of perks and skills your soldiers possess, but mostly because of the way you interact with your surroundings. In the new XCOM, the previously important cover is now everything. Those who have played Relic's strategy games will be right at home as your soldiers must take full advantage of cover for their own defense and try to flank the enemy when they attack. If you don't, you will die quickly and horribly.
Which leads me to the game's greatest achievement: dealing with the life (and death) of your soldier. The feeling of attachment and grief for lost soldiers was a big part of people's love for the original, and those feelings will only be stronger for veterans of this 2012 campaign. You can customize almost every aspect of your soldier's life, from names to faces, armor schemes, weapon loads, and even the skills he will acquire as he progresses through his level.
This makes you love them while they are alive, but in this game, death is around every corner. It doesn't matter whether one soldier survived a mission or a hundred, they can all die in a single moment of inattention. The feeling of loss when a veteran, a loved one, goes down is overwhelming. In the right sense. Not many games are going to steal your best toys away from you so quickly and permanently, and so not many games really force you to care for and cherish them like XCOM does.
I suppose as we near the end of this review I should tell you that it's not all high fives and tears of memory. The fight, despite its joys, can feel like a chore 15 hours after the game starts with no real way to take a break without incurring penalties. It can also feel a bit too streamlined at times, which will be disappointing if you're hoping for a more open experience like the original (building multiple bases, having full control of their floor plans, etc.).
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XCOM has been one of the most important strategy games for years. It's a great remake for sure, and that's enough for most long-time fans, but it's clear to everyone else that this is a really accessible strategy game. To the point where if you own a 360 or PS3 you can play this with a controller and not miss a thing.
In the end, long after veteran XCOM players appreciate the effort and move on, this will hopefully be the enduring feat of this game. That this was a project that only noisy hardcore PC gamers should take care of, and that through window decorations, UI tweaks, and some changes in combat, made it a game everyone can enjoy.
Republished with permission. Luke Plunkett is an editor at Kotaku.