XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Dissecting the Multiplayer

Firaxis unleashes XCOM's online alien battles.

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XCOM: Enemy Unknown lead designer Jake Solomon has been keeping a secret.

Game designers are good at secret-keeping, of course, but Solomon has had an ace up his sleeve for a while, and during our visit to Firaxis' Maryland studios last week, he finally got to play that ace. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis' highly anticipated strategy game, will ship with online multiplayer. In fact, the game was planned from the beginning to have multiplayer--and we had a chance to play it ourselves during the extensive tour.

Most notably, Enemy Unknown's multiplayer matches are generally quick and dirty, in direct contrast to the extensive single-player strategic marathons. Online matches eliminate the strategic layer completely, pitting two players versus each other in a single combat skirmish that's likely to last around 10 to 15 minutes. The setup is pretty simple: each player is given 10,000 total points to spend prior to the match on various units and inventories, and once the match begins, each player has 90 seconds to take their turn. (That's true of ranked matches, at least; you and a buddy can customize these and other options in unranked play if you want to experiment.)

The point limitation is the game's primary means of balancing, though Firaxis is abundantly aware that once the game is released into the wild, players might find creative ways to steamroll their opponents. There's good news in that regard: the studio can adjust point thresholds on the fly without patching, so if those cyberdiscs you like so much are overpowered (and a few members of the team suspect they might be), numbers can be tweaked without constant patches and hotfixes.

Oh, right: cyberdiscs. You see, you aren't limited to controlling human soldiers; your team can be a mix of human and alien units, each of which has some kind of weakness to exploit. Curious about what some of these units are, and how they behave? Take a look at some of the ways you can exercise your military might:

Soldier

These are the most flexible units in the game, as they come in various classes and can be outfitted in various manners. A soldier in a ghost suit can go invisible for a turn. Some armor types include a grappling hook, allowing the unit to gain a height advantage quickly. Archangel armor allows a soldier to fly for a limited time. Various weapons, armor, and inventory weapons add to the cost of your soldier, so outfitting a single unit as an armored angel of death could use up a sizable portion of your point allotment.

Sectoid

Sectoids are the weakest alien units, and thus come at a low point cost. They may not do a lot of direct damage, but they're capable of mind merge, which allows them to grant bonuses to more-powerful units. They can also lay down suppressive fire, which can potentially damage an enemy unit that dares wander in its path.

Sectoid Commander

As you might suspect, the sectoid commander is a beefed-up version of the sectoid, coming with more hit points than its lowly counterpart, and capable of a more effective version of the mind merge. The commander can also perform mind control, which allows you to take command of an enemy attacker. But the cost is much higher than a normal sectoid, given its powerful psionic abilities.

Click to page 2 to see even more units, and learn more about XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Thin Man

Thin men are also relatively weak, coming with very few hit points and doing little direct damage. However, they can turn the tide of battle when used effectively. Not only are they highly mobile, but they can spew poison, in addition to annoying enemy targets with suppressive fire.

Chrysalid

The chrysalid is a fast, high-cost melee unit that has a very special effect on the battlefield: its human victims turn into dangerous zombies. In turn, those zombies turn into more chrysalids. Firaxis can't take total credit for the crazy visual design of the chrysalid; after all, chrysalids were present in the original X-COM. But they did an outstanding job on their version of this storied unit, and watching a zombie morph into a chrysalid is one of Enemy Unknown's grossest pleasures.

Cyberdisc

Cyberdiscs possess the ability to fly, making them completely invulnerable to melee-only units like chrysalids. Watching them in action is a treat: like previous games in the franchise, Enemy Unknown features highly destructible environments, and cyberdiscs are capable of bringing down walls, cars, and plenty more in a blaze of fire and debris. These hardy units are immune to psi abilities, do high damage, and perform a powerful area-of-effect attack called the death blossom. As you can imagine, cyberdiscs are the single most expensive unit in the game.

Berserker

Berserkers are strong melee brutes with a ton of hit points. Their most powerful attack is the bull rush, which damages any unit in its effective area. The berserker's high point cost isn't its only drawback, however: if your opponent brings nothing to the fray but cyberdiscs and floaters, you are simply a lamb brought to slaughter.

There are other units--floaters and mutons among them--and in our matches we tried various setups to see which would work, and it became immediately clear that the best teams were the most flexible ones, at least to a point. An all-berserker team might sound like a good idea at first, but without a ranged unit or two to back them up, a single airborne soldier could prove unassailable. Good strategies usually require some flexibility, to be sure, but don't discount the support abilities. In multiple circumstances, suppressive fire and overwatch (that is, a free defensive shot) proved immensely valuable, particularly when used by a cloaked unit.

We played every match with an Xbox 360 controller, and indeed, it was this version we played during our studio tour. This might come as a concern to PC players, who feel rightfully possessive of X-COM and its successors. Solomon reassured us that Enemy Unknown is in no way less deep or challenging just because it appears on consoles--and additional comfort came from none other than Sid Meier himself, Firaxis' director of creative development. Meier is the beloved designer behind Civilization, Alpha Centauri, and other renowned strategy games, and he's all too aware of the stinging criticism of passionate PC gamers. One of Firaxis' many goals was to retain the elements that made the original X-COM so memorable--and bring them to as many players as they could.

It's an admirable goal indeed, and there's no reason to think XCOM: Enemy Unknown can't erect the same tent poles that supported the original game. What we played left nothing but positive impressions, though snap judgments aren't the most valuable kind when it comes to games as long and involved as this. On October 19, 2012, the game's release date, we'll have a better idea of whether Firaxis' revival is as enthralling as the game that spawned it.

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Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

0 comments
Gwarpup
Gwarpup

Firaxis are all board game nerds, they love wargames and tactical board games like Earth Reborn, Twilight Imperium (Master of Orion 2 anyone?), Warhammer 40k, etc.  They made this addon for people like us that love these games against our friends.

Gwarpup
Gwarpup

I'd really like to know if you can destroy the ground underneath you in multiple floored structures, or the ceiling above you?  Also can fire spread like in the original?  i hope to see some flame throwers for drawing out enemies running from fire.  But somehow I doubt this will happen since everyone will then start burning down entire maps, unless there's a penalty to damaging structures like in XCOM apocalypse which actually fined you for the damage you caused.  

jamesjgraham
jamesjgraham

After playing co-op games such as Ghost Recon, Left 4 Dead and Men of War, I was really hoping this Xcom game would be co-op as well. The idea of relying on bots to complete a mission is not as fun (IMO) as a real peson to whom you can communicate over Skype and plan your attacks.  I'm sure the game will be enjoyable to those who love playing by themselves or against each other.

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

I'm thinking of this MP like Mass Effect 3 MP: totally unnecessary and completely irrelevant to my desire to purchase the game.  In fact, maybe even worrisome.  And yet hopefully like ME3 multiplayer, it will be a modestly entertaining sideshow and not really screw up the main game.

Gruug
Gruug

If the multiplayer included the Strategic game then I would be more interested. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. I will most likely only play the single player game and nothing more.

tweezzzy
tweezzzy

PLEASE DONT FUCK THIS GAME UP. IM TIRED OF RUNNING THE ORIGINAL XCOM IN DOSBOX. MAKE THIS ONE WORTH THE MONEY PLEASE.

Darkeus
Darkeus

Meh, I could care less about the multi-player and will pretty much never use it.  But if they want to add something so basic to the game, so be it.Won't affect my decision to buy it.  I don't have to play the MP to get "the best ending", unlike a certain third installment of a trilogy so I am okay with it....

Kisalon
Kisalon

I'm just wondering here... not that there is anything against what they do just wondering.. Why is it tthey put Multiplayer into what has been a Single Player game for as long as i have played em ( i havnt played all of em granted but i played the first 4-5 of em ) people will just complain about how something is OP in MP and then it will get nerfed and screw up your SP cause you cant do that anymore.

AlphaWolF_J
AlphaWolF_J

WTF when did Xcom go back to its roots, I thought this was looking to be a massive fail  of a weak FPS cash-in like syndicate was so i wrote it off!. But unlike  that syndicate train wreak it looks like the devs finally saw sense  and listend to the fan base and made the game a lot closer to the originals play style.

It looks like im intrested in this game again after all :)  

 i juest prey all the research and intercepting and shooting down ufo,s is still intact ANd ofc the creepy music.

Munstable
Munstable

Ok, my expectations for this game has just dropped down a notch. I am going from "I will probably buy this" to "I'm having serious doubts about this remake".

 

Game devs today aren't willing to trust what is the best part of a franchise and focus fully on it, instead they like to dilute its gameplay and yearn to attract as many casual players as possible.

 

Thanks for potentially saving me some cash on this one!

M-S-M-S
M-S-M-S

I think this will be one of the rare times I pre-order a game on Steam before the reviews come. Looks amazing.

Unholy123
Unholy123

I don't really care about the MP though as it is what it is, but to me x-com is ALL about the SP and to put in a MP makes me think "oh great what time didn't they put into the SP dev to put this in and balance" 

 

Points being simply a cheap and dirty fix to get around having to pay for patching on consoles with whatever becomes OP will get a price increase which I applaud them for realizing this is going to happen and taking steps to be ready to deal with it

 

 I get why people want it but w/e if it works and the SP is great then power to them only time will tell.

kingcole225
kingcole225

To many this may look like a thrown on feature (like many recent games), but XCOM fans have been enjoying multiplayer via mods etc for years, and if you were to look at the XCOM forum you'd see just how often the multiplayer question is asked. I'm still very excited (this has done little for my excitement though)

tgwolf
tgwolf

So long as they have more than a mockery of multiplayer...I was raised on the dairy in that the games I associate with the best multiplayer have no appreciable difference in multiplayer or single, such as Baldur's Gate games and even coop FPS, so I haven't much tolerance for nerfing, especially for what I consider to be the most enjoyable part of the game.

ZOD777
ZOD777

Probably 75% of the XCOM fanbase doesn't want or care about multiplayer.  I don't understand why great single player games get multiplayer thrown in, and why great multiplayer games get a lame single player campaign slapped on.  Games should remain true to what they are known best for, and what they excel at.  I will be skipping the multiplayer on this one.

Martyr77
Martyr77

Betrayal. Betrayal. Betrayed me.       Nah just messin.

holy06
holy06

online gaming is looking better each every day man i cant wait for school to be over to jump back in the action

Atheosis
Atheosis

There's multiplayer too?  Holy crap I want this game...

blackothh
blackothh

i REALLY hope, this one captures even half of the charm the first one had!

2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

This needs to just go ahead and come out so I can play it.

VonZrucker
VonZrucker

Man, I've waited so long for this. I played the original for 2 summers straight when I was a kid. Thank you Jake Solomon and Gamespot!

 

Also, I totally love how Kevin VanOrd calls people out! LOL! Cheers!

Yukeshime
Yukeshime

 @Kevin-V 

I believe you misprinted the release date in the final paragraph, otherwise an excellent preview.

SpartanEdge
SpartanEdge

 @jamesjgraham I'm with you.Multiplayer doesn't interest me one bit.It would have been so cool to have been able to play with others on or offline against the aliens in the campaign & surlely wouldnt have been difficult to impliment.How hard could it be to take it in turns with other players on a different joypad? Very disappointed..

Gwarpup
Gwarpup

 @jimrhurst If you were a fan of the original back during the 90s.  You would know we would have killed to be able to play our units against another live player in multiplayer maps.  This is something fans wanted for so many years and with a few mods tried to create it but those mods barely worked and nothing like with this cool point system.  This is essentially adding a tactical multiplayer board game to the rest of the game which is so AWESOME for people who play board games.  I just hope there's a way to hotseat play it.  So we can play on one system.

SpartanEdge
SpartanEdge

 @jimrhurst The big difference is,the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 is Co-Op.In this game sadly,it isnt.

LesserAngel
LesserAngel

 @jimrhurst From my knowledge of Firaxis, they're not the type that screws up a game. The MP shouldn't mess with the SP because like most (all) Firaxis games, the MP plays the same as the SP, only differences here being that there is no Strategic play in MP, and you can use Alien units as well as the Human ones... Actually, the concept of the point system being used in multiplayer reminds me of the system used in the old 'Army Men' games.

Poidad
Poidad

 @Kisalon I didnt think anyone actually played enforcer or interceptor.

Ultramarinus
Ultramarinus

 @Kisalon Point-budget system will prevent that, adjusting costs is enough to maintain balance. No need to buff or nerf.

lukelimkaichong
lukelimkaichong

 @AlphaWolF_J there are actually two x-com games in development both published by 2k games. One by 2k marin (FPS) the other by fireaxis (rts)

Gwarpup
Gwarpup

 @Munstable Look All the fans were crying for this option since way back at the beginning we wanted a turn based option to play against other live people cause its the perfect tactical board game to play against your friends using the same engine.  That only happened in some crapily done mods, but people played it alot anyway.  Board Gamers are XCOM gamers and we all wanted this option.    God Bless them for finally listening.  So please dont let that stop you from a great game.

LesserAngel
LesserAngel

 @Munstable It's Firaxis, all they make is strategy games, and with all of them, the Multiplayer doesn't detract from the Singleplayer at all, mostly because it's the same game either way, but if Firaxis can't do it, no one can.

Atheosis
Atheosis

 @kingcole225 Don't tell ZOD777.  He seems certain no one wants it.  Mainly because he doesn't...

Atheosis
Atheosis

 @ZOD777 So you are going to buy the game and not at least try the multiplayer?  Okay...

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

 @Yukeshime It is indeed a typo! We are in the process of moving servers, but as soon as my internal tools come back up, I will get it fixed.

Atheosis
Atheosis

 @Gelugon_baat It'll likely work just like ME3 MP with a P2P system working in conjunction with stat-tracking sever, and server-side .bin files that can be edited easily by a balance team.  Here's hoping they are better at balance than Bioware...

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

 @Gwarpup I was a fan in the 90s and I actually did try one of the mods that let you play as the aliens, which was pretty fun for a novelty.  I don't remember it letting you play against one another though.  So far the MP for this game looks interesting and like it had very little impact on SP design choices.  So I'm cool with it.  I'll probably even give it a whirl once or twice, though I'll be surprised if it holds my interest.  To each his own.

Kisalon
Kisalon

 @Poidad Yeah well if i liked at least the 2 first in a series then i'll buy and play all in the series just to give it a chance.. granted some of them were crap.

Kisalon
Kisalon

 @Ultramarinus That may be but you never know now adays :) The simplest taskes always seem to screw something up if you know what i mean :)

ZOD777
ZOD777

 @Atheosis Not interested.  I don't buy games like XCOM that are built as single player games for the slapped on multiplayer.  It just doesn't intrigue me enough to even want to try it.  I would not play Deus Ex multiplayer if it had one, nor would I play Metal Gear multiplayer if it had one, Fallout 3 etc.  

SpartanEdge
SpartanEdge

@Gwarpup @SpartanEdge @jamesjgraham Yes,you can do that,& i have done that.I played through the entire campaign like that with the G/F,& it does work,but its hardly ideal.Look at Gladius by Lucasarts on the PS2/Xbox1 for instance.Player one ran the game,but during combat,it accommodated up to 4 players on their own pads.It was excellent.

SpartanEdge
SpartanEdge

 @Gwarpup  @jamesjgraham 

Yeah,i know what your saying lol,& thats probably what i'll end up having to do,but it would have been nice if they implemented it to recognise a second pad,ot the option to take turns over 2 joypads or assign squad members to 2 players to save passing the joypad.Also,online Co-Op,where passing the pad isn't an option..

Rovelius
Rovelius

 @ZOD777 Metal Gear does have multiplayer. Or at least it used, they just got rid of Metal Gear Online in MGS4's last patch.

LesserAngel
LesserAngel

 @Gelugon_baat That's a good question, Firaxis has been all buddy-buddy with Steam lately, so that's a valid concern. Eh, I trust Firaxis enough to not screw it up.