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Review

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

  • Game release: October 8, 2012
  • Reviewed: October 8, 2012
  • X360

Tension runs high in the excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, victory is sweet--but it's so much sweeter when it arrives after a heart-wrenching standoff. With each turn, the newest entry in this beloved strategy series heightens the sense of tension, and each defeat of a hovering alien craft thus becomes cause for celebration. But don't get too intoxicated by the faint scent of triumph: nothing is certain until you've ripped your last enemy to shreds. Getting cocky and rushing ahead is a fool's strategy, and until the alien threat is eliminated, your guard must remain up.

Enemy Unknown isn't a simple remake of the original X-COM: UFO Defense, but like that game, it cannily instills a sense of fear. Earth is under attack by aliens, and the game makes no attempts to humanize the attackers. This isn't District 9--it's The War of the Worlds, and extraterrestrial invaders are to be annihilated, not welcomed or bargained with. This might be a modern rendition of an older game, but developer Firaxis relies on old-fashioned fears to drive its narrative. Almond-eyed greys and floating saucers ripped from popular culture need no explanation: they're clearly not of this world, and they're clearly out to destroy us. And so it's up to you, the commander of the super-secretive XCOM organization, to make Earth a safe haven once again.

Gameplay is divided into two portions: base management and combat scenarios. Near the beginning of the game, you select a location for your base of operations from one of several possibilities. The choices are more limited than the ones in the original X-COM, and this is the only base you manage through the course of the game. If you're a fan of the original, being limited to a single base might seem cause for concern, as might the subsequent loss of the oft-challenging base invasions. It may not share the full breadth of the game that spawned the franchise, but it would be difficult to accuse Enemy Unknown of "dumbing down" the core gameplay. Nevertheless, if you crave a relentless challenge (if not quite as relentless as the nail-biting X-COM: Terror From the Deep), you should play on classic difficulty, rather than the default difficulty level.

And so there are some changes to adjust to, but once Enemy Unknown is in full swing, you will be enthralled by its turn-based combat missions. Upon learning of an alien threat, you select units from your barracks to fill out your squad, and you are whisked to the point of contact. You eventually command up to six squad members--and in time, you might replace them with robotic SHIV units--but even in the early hours, the eerie atmosphere and faint sounds of skittering alien feet get you immediately invested. Upon discovery, the aliens are introduced with a burst of discordant music and a close-up of their ugly faces, and thus the stage is set for battle.

It's just as much about preparation as it is about execution.

The basic concept is simple: get squad members behind cover where damage is minimized, and then take aim. Each squad member gets two actions per turn, though some of your soldiers will earn ways of extending this basic number. When possible, you want to move from cover to cover, diminishing the enemies' chances of landing shots while flanking them to lessen the benefit of their own cover spots. In the early hours, your options are few. But the soldiers that survive the mission level up and gain access to new abilities that you assign back at base. Additionally, you spend funds on better weapons, upgraded armor, and other enhancements. Simple grunts become trustworthy killing machines--and when your killing machines are fully leveled and decked out in your finest equipment, you'd best keep them alive.

But soldiers can, and do, fall in battle. The units don't have much personality apart from their battlefield quips, but you can customize them beyond their loadouts, giving them names, changing their hairdos, and adjusting the color of their armor. (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners be aware: some cosmetic customization features require that you enter a code that comes with brand-new copies of the game.) But while you may not develop an emotional connection with your soldiers, you'll certainly come to rely on the skills of your most senior combatants. Losing an effective soldier in battle is a tragic turn of events, though in some cases, a downed soldier can still be saved if you have a soldier with a medkit in battle--or if you are lucky enough to conquer the enemy before the unlucky victim bleeds out.

So you want to keep your soldiers alive. And that means treading carefully, even before you have encountered hulking berserkers and speedy floaters. As you close in on the game's final hours, you'll have discovered that managing the fog of war is as vital as performing the right actions once combat has commenced. If you move too quickly into the fray, you risk alerting more enemies than you can handle at once. One of your greatest adversaries in Enemy Unknown is your own patience, and this battle against human nature is part of the tension that builds from the moment you enter the map. Where are your foes? Should you risk flanking a cyberdisc if it means uncloaking a portion of the map? If you're already in over your head, you may not want a trio of pointy-legged chrysalids intruding on your personal space.

Argentina: major world power.

If they do intrude, however, you might still have the tools you need to survive. Soldiers of different classes have different roles in battle, and depending on their loadouts, you have a number of ways of approaching the enemy. Close-range weapons like shotguns and alloy cannons are super effective, but getting in close can be a big risk. Meanwhile, having a sniper move too close to a quick-witted floater can dramatically reduce your chances of landing the shot. You need to know your soldiers, and develop strategies that make sense. A quartet of mutons looks threatening, but you have ways of whittling down their numbers if you play your cards right. A SHIV's suppressive fire and a soldier's flush skill can be used in tandem to bring down stubborn foes. Alien grenades, shredder rockets, and other doodads can be more than helpful as well. Just as a seemingly simple situation can turn deadlier than you imagined, a difficult encounter can be tamed with a few smart moves.

A great strategy isn't foolproof, however: you still need the numbers on your side. Each offensive action has a chance to hit, and while it rarely makes sense to gamble when you've got a 1 percent chance of landing your shot, the choice isn't always that simple. Triumph can hinge on a dice roll. Your ability to maintain proper distance is the best way of maintaining supremacy, but you're still at the mercy of mathematics. You might shake your fist and curse when you miss a shot that had an 85 percent chance to hit--but you'll breathe a sigh of relief when the numbers aren't on your side, yet you land a critical hit that shifts the tide of battle. The tension of the dice roll is further drawn out by the cinematic animations that accompany the action. The camera closes in on your sniper and you hear the rifle charge. The fear rises and your heart skips. The anxiety might be relieved by the sight of a sectoid erupting in a gusher of green goo. But it might also be exacerbated by watching the laser fire miss the target, which means finding a new way of handling the danger--and the stress.

It's always best to trust the Dutch.

The glamorous camera angles that dramatize the successes and failures often contribute to the excitement, but the glam-cam occasionally glitches out, as do other aspects of Enemy Unknown's presentation. Along with close-ups of mean mutons beating their chests and thin men looking as if you caught them in the middle of something insidious, you get close-ups of plasma rifles clipping through walls, laser fire shooting through vehicles, and leafy bushes obscuring the entire screen in all their leafiness. A soldier might lean out from behind a wall and bug out, pointing her empty hands in one direction while her still-holstered weapon fires somewhere else. These seem like small considerations, but the game goes out of its way to look cinematic, so the visual problems really stand out.

Back at the base, in the meanwhile, you must manage a global array of countries that provide funding to the XCOM project. Their funds are important, because you use them to perform research (alien autopsies, for instance), enhance your squads (unlock another squad slot, perhaps), and purchase new facilities at your base. You view your base from a side cutaway view, ant farm style, and add facilities by excavating outward and downward. Those facilities fit into the bigger picture in a number of ways, producing engineers that you need to research upgrades in your foundry, for instance, or allowing you to place satellites over more regions of the globe.

Satellites are your way of keeping tabs on the state of the globe. Should a satellite detect a nearby UFO, you're engaged in a brief minigame in which an available interceptor attempts to take down the flying menace. Those interceptors--as well as the actions they perform, and the advanced weapons they can equip--also cost you funds, so it's well worth your while to keep different countries well protected. Should a country's populace panic, they may very well withdraw from the project, which negatively affects your monthly income. You can sell off various alien parts you earn after each battle should you need the funds, but those bits and pieces are used to both research and manufacture upgrades. You must always be aware of how your decisions impact future options. Buying titan armor for all your soldiers is tempting, for instance, but would those funds be better spent on more uniform satellite coverage, or foundry projects? There are consequences for every choice.

It's like a game of peek-a-boo. Except you can die.

If you want to exercise your strategic skills outside of the core single-player experience, you can face friends and strangers online in one-versus-one matches. Players are given an equal number of points to spend on units. Soldiers can cost any number of points depending on how you equip them, while alien units are a set number of points each. There is no base management involved in multiplayer games, which are quick-and-dirty deathmatches in which the best (and sometimes, the luckiest) player wins. The matches have the same tense qualities as they do in single-player, with the added tension of not knowing your foe's play style, or the unit makeup of the opposing team.

You'll see strategies here that you won't see in the campaign. The opponent might use ghost armor to go invisible and then use the overwatch ability to spew plasma at you while you reposition yourself. Or he might buff up powerful human heavies even further by using a sectoid's mind merge. The multiplayer is enjoyable as a result, though its one-off nature doesn't have the long-lasting charms of the full-fledged campaign. You can save a go-to squad for easy use in multiplayer battles, though it's a shame you can't save more than one. Having multiple slots for various squads would be a really handy time-saver.

The limited number of multiplayer maps also takes some of the edge off of online competition, which echoes a limitation in the campaign. While you encounter a healthy number of maps when playing offline, Enemy Unknown does not feature the randomly generated maps of the game that inspired it. You eventually start to see maps repeat, which can be noticeable when you're traversing a map in Russia that you played in North America. The enemies may be in different spots, and you might begin battle from a different corner of the map, but the element of surprise isn't as strong in this game as it was in the 1994 original.

Science fact: lasers are better than bullets.

Don't be too concerned by the minor drawbacks, however. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a wonderful and worthy strategy game with a layer of campy charm that makes the stone-faced seriousness of the game's characters all the more endearing. It's also remarkably accessible, thanks to a great interface that feels comfortable whether you're using a keyboard and mouse or have a controller in your hand. Enemy Unknown packs dense amounts of dramatic tension into each turn. And so it's time to eliminate the alien threat, commander. Select a location, build your base…and save humanity.

The Good
Tension-filled turn-based matches
Great sense of progression makes you feel increasingly powerful
Complex interconnected economy makes each decision important
Soldier perma-death gets you invested in the fate of your veterans
The Bad
Map repetition
Camera foibles and other visual glitches
8.5
Great
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0 comments
Epicurus-Reborn
Epicurus-Reborn

My save file corrupted. And I read around online, and its happened to several other people, when playing in Ironman mode. This game just lost so many points for me..... Was the best thing I played all year, now I am so frustrated with it. 

Dazler1
Dazler1

not sure why this only got an 8.5 def worth a 9 as they have given sid meirs that score and this is better imo 

Dazler1
Dazler1

To all those that complain its a dumbed down version from the origional. Who bloody well cares, seriously its been 10 years or there abouts since the last one, Its on all formats and im playing the xbox version, its about time someone made a quality turn based strategy game on a console, and im thankfull. Some people just complain about anything. This version is a breath of fresh air in a time where FPS have taken over and made gaming sooooo predictable. Im pleased that a developer has taken a risk and taken an origional classic that a lot of people would'nt of played anyway! i didnt play the origional and ive been a gamer since the early 80s. I bet those that are complaining went out and bought the recent COD game which is a remake remake remake remake.

 

Im playing this on classic from the outset, and would trade in any premium title for this game no probs. And is the first time in a long time that ive been excited about playing a game. Ok it has its glitches and so do most games. But the core value of what it is just ouzes replay value and enjoyment. This is the first realease in a decade so they didnt know if it was going to be a success or not and maybe you die hard origional game players will find that as this has been a success there will be a follow up game to this with more options that you so crave.

 

I think the unfortunate thing with how successfull this game will be is the fact that its hard to get a copy on the high street. I looked everywhere for a copy and every store had none available. The only way i could get a copy was online for £39 or more and these days i dont like paying top dollar as deals are always around. It was more by luck that i got a copy when my other half said she saw a copy in a supermarket brand new and with the Elite soldier pack for £25 when i ordered off them online i didnt get a copy because again they were out of stock. Either people are buying them like hot pancakes or they havnt produced enough copies because they didnt think it would do so well. 

 

Looking at all the reviews and most comments this game is a total success, and complaints are few and far between. But i do agree that putting points of views and discrepancies help games develop and add things to the next one to make it even better.

 

Really hope this kicks off more games like this and the Ball has began to roll for turn based strategy games on consoles not just pc.  

JamieMacInnis16
JamieMacInnis16

When I first started playing the game I really liked it but then I started noticing all of the shitty glitches like shooting through walls and seeing through walls. Also sometimes enemies come out of thin air an absolutely screw you over ( I'm not talking about when the thin men drop down in escort and bomb missions ) It's especially annoying playing on ironman when everyone on your team misses every shot when the hit chance is above 85 for most and above 90 for the others. Then you have the times where you nail a muton with a critical almost killing him and he yells ( intimidate ) and your soldier s&@ts his pants and for some reason shoots one of his own soldiers in the back in a "panic" and then he panics too and they both lose a turn and probably die... So in my opinion its a fun game but its too glitchy to play on classic, too many stupid things happen too when they shouldn't. I played alot of jagged alliance back in the day ( 1 and 2) and even now I still think its a better game and its the same style. No idea how this game got 8.5 with the amount of graphic glitches it has.

mmsalem
mmsalem

I loved the game it great. my score9/10

DevianDT
DevianDT

Ok, I'm frustrated. Trully! I loved the originals (Enemy Unknown & Terror From the Deep). I played the UFO's and I believe that to some extent they did a good job (far above the 6.4 and 4.0 score they got on this site.

Tried this and got mixed feelings until tonight. The game is cool and fun. Lots of new elements that make it interesting. Yet, it is SO linear, so straight forward, so simplified that it hurts badly. I want the complex weapon/ammo system from the original. I want to be able to do as many missions as possible instead of picking one from several. I want to use an inventory. I want to feel the dread of finding out that I got the wrong options for the aliens I'm facing. I want to be able to buy scientists and engineers at my own discretion. Oh! And I want to be able to at least crouch when I want, not want the computers sees fit which is when it is useless!

But most of all, I want a patch that removes targetting (and hitting) through solid objects! How can a muton see my guys through a wall to the next room, shoot through the wall and hit the target???

 

So, to me this game feels dumbed down on its strategic components, trimmed down on so many things that made the original great and riddled with the one bug I won't tolerate. Hope that a patch will at least solve this stupid bug. Not even plasma guns are supposed to target through solid rock, or are they?

Frrekcelt
Frrekcelt

BTW not more ''POOR'' rating? come on GS!!

Frrekcelt
Frrekcelt

Got ''Poor'' for saving civis on a mission. Killing zombies = worst feeling ever... Seriously, I felt bad for playing way below average (according to designer standard...)... I think it was by design...

Scalds
Scalds

Ok, Im old (41) - played a lot of the original XCOM.  This game is fracking awesome.  There are some minor differences, but they have the feel of it just right.  I am so happy a game like this has come out again.  Im playing Classic Ironman (have lost 3 times so far) and am finally reaching the end with a good squad of 10+ vets.  Lost a lot of good people though.  RIP: Papa Bear, Scarecrow, Strings, Longbow, etc.  Only Jean 'Hulk' Laurent still lives from the first mission, but he is death incarnate.  I still fear Chrysslids after all of these years though.  Deadly.

 

Oh - and I am a PC guy, but I have this on PC and XBOX - plays much better on the console.  

SJGSpook
SJGSpook

Some of the comments reek of gaming noobness.

Cuthbert1970
Cuthbert1970

I'm liking this game for what it is. It plays a lot like the original X-COM UFO Defense, except as a more contemporary version of it, and that's not a bad thing as the original X-COM was one of the all time best TBS games.

trotromiel
trotromiel

ha! Argentina world power....

 

(i'm argentine)

Bazinga2210
Bazinga2210

Played the demo, wasn't that impressed to be fair - I like strategy games but there are other games out or coming soon that I would rather get. I may rent this just to have a go.

9tailjeza
9tailjeza

ah... random number generators in strategy games sometimes make me want to break my controller

LiquidGold
LiquidGold

This game is great, so far I have lost 2 men and I'm playing it on hard. Not counting the 3 which died in tutorial, but you cant help losing them. Haven't played the other xcom games but enjoying this. 

hwrdstrnsbals
hwrdstrnsbals

it looks like halo.  I'm an adult.  i don't want to play games that look like their target demographic is 13 yo.  cartoony graphics make me sick

thekazumalord
thekazumalord

It's hard to believe a game that wasn't that good got a high score like this.. I played through the demo and couldn't help but feel bored and disappointed by it... The graphics were  quite bad, and felt like I was looking at a fully rendered cut scene from a PS1 game... which wasn't bad in the 90's but is now.... There were also numerous stuttering issues, ugly character models, pop in texture, problems of where you can move your characters..... most of my complains are visual, and while I don't play games just for visuals, it's still pathetic. This game almost seems like it was trying to be a more sci-fi version of Valkyrie Chronicles,... only no where near as fun.. maybe it would have worked bit better on PC( never thought i'd say that, as a non PC gamer) with a mouse but either way, sorry Firaxis Games, I really enjoy playing Civilization 4, but this game is still crap. 

CaesarIIII
CaesarIIII

sorry but with Kevin VanOrb reviewing  I have my doubts about this game... so 1st Dishonored .. then assassins greed 3... and I may rent Xcom another time.. but it's so many other great games coming out... so I may NEVER rent this game.... ohhh well

madgame23
madgame23

8.5 is a reasonable score. Its a fun an interesting game. The map scaling for higher levels at times screws up and can cost you men. It happened on one mission. The problems i see is that if this is a multinational unit, why i cant har multiple squads mobilized all over the planet ad pock and choose which i play. Another issue i see is the hit detection, the gamr uses a dice based shooting system that at times is illogical, i have an enemy standing half out of cover and hea twice the size as my guys but he has better accuracy and range and my team can shoot him, i had a match where i lost half my team trying to kill one of these guys. Need to fix the targeting system to make it more realistic, i like the % to hit but if half his form is visible and hes a big muton then i should hit no problem. Ive seen my guys hit and kill under less accrte situations.

Mabrry
Mabrry

Looks interesting, but I think i'm going to have to get Dishonored instead. A good rental maybe.. i'll try it eventually. Tons of games out, RE6, Dishonored... Halo 4 next month! :D 

RLJSlick
RLJSlick

Yeap I agree, it does look good. Great review.

EddyG0RD0
EddyG0RD0

Review:

GrafiX-6 , this game could be on PSP Vita aswell

Story-6 , OLD alien invasion and 4 ppl save teh planet ,LAWL

Gameplay-6, its Socom dumbed down to meaningless actions , better stick with Socom

 

Note:6.0/10

 

Zevvion
Zevvion

@Epicurus-Reborn I've never heard of that and I'm on the official forums all the time. Not saying you are lying, but I don't think it's an issue that happens a lot. 

It sucks, but you should really start over then. The game is so great. i went through it so many times and each time it's awesome.

Dazler1
Dazler1

 @DevianDT

 Yes have to agree with the shooting through walls thing, i had this last night and thought maybe its because they have plasma rifles, maybe they do have a slight view of you but the camera angle you see is just them shooting and not the angle from the aliens perspective. Im making sure i get the technology to combat it with better armour, it got so anoying they had one shot kills from which seemed impossible shots through walls i couldnt complete the mission on classic. So i make sure i make a save every time i go back to base, that way i can reload from there and the map changes. But This is an awsome game and very challanging on classic mode. When i play this on classic ironman its gonna be really hard and painfull losing to some silly shots. I even had a 100% shot and missed. Hopefully they will patch certain things but even still im well happy and think this is an awsome game. Be thankfull we have a game like this on console and hopefully the next game will have the things you desire.

f1tz
f1tz

 @Cuthbert1970 I agree, that's a perfectly accurate assessment (though it was 'UFO: Enemy Unknown' here). I think it's a great shame they didn't do the same with its contemporary 'Syndicate'. A RTS to a FPS? What in the names of the gods were they thinking?

stoods
stoods

 @Bazinga2210 I agree with you, but the demo doesn't do it justice. It left out the main part of the game which is perhaps the main reason to play it. I watched a few gameplay videos after playing the demo, then bought it.

Frrekcelt
Frrekcelt

@hwrdstrnsbals :Halo=FPS--- XCOM=TBS. Two completely different world.

Riz_81
Riz_81

 @hwrdstrnsbals Nothing to do with cartoony game design...GTA series is great, & definitely not aimed at the 13 yo!

jampoz
jampoz

 @hwrdstrnsbals it's just the look of it, don't judge the surface only.it's like saying pixar movies are for kids, there's much more behind the look.i'm finding it full of likeable characters and it's a well-voiced story, mixing "main"stream knowledge of actual UFOs with out of the box fiction elements.also, managing your team with permadeath ain't childish at all! 

pull1nger
pull1nger

@hwrdstrnsbals Graphics arent everything. I got this today and played it all day and i can say it isnt targeted towards 13yr olds. Its amazing give it a go i think you will be surprised,

jampoz
jampoz

 @thekazumalord Yeah, I'm on PC and actually love it, but it really isn't a game for consoles. Crossed my mind while playing it.

mike_baks
mike_baks

 @thekazumalord

 Agreed, the graphics aren't that great, but to me, graphics aren't the most important thing, I want a good story, good use of music and sound effects and great gameplay...and I have to say, that this game does a good job at that, it's isn't fantastic though, but I have fun playing it.But you should try the full game next time...I am a PC Gamer by the way, I also have a Xbox 360 and PS3, but hardly play with them.

naurglin
naurglin

 @thekazumalord Yeah because everyone knows you can give a score to a game based on what you found its demo. >_>

Try the game itself, and then post your comments.

Frrekcelt
Frrekcelt

 @Mabrry Dishonored: one of the worst save\checkpoint game ever... Very frustating...

Villimax
Villimax

 @Mabrry You will beat Dishonored in a day or two, though, while XCOM will last a lot longer, maybe too long for a rental.

dark_sith_
dark_sith_

 @EddyG0RD0  Put it on Classic and I guarantee that there will be nothing dumbed down about it. You'll measure every step your squad makes, fear every tall man like it's a nuke waiting to go off, overwatch all possible avenues of attack, and bite your nails when some xeno catches you in half cover. Not to mention agonizing over your research and nursing your squad like they are made of glass.

 

But then, you tried it on easy, am I right?

croymisa
croymisa

 @stoods  @Bazinga2210 I play also demo and it look very linear and booring game...like first time a soldier get an upgrade !!! only one option to choose ! why let me choose from 1 option only ? I choose the oposite : delete demo...definitley is not worth money

Mabrry
Mabrry

 @Villimax Hmm, good point. Though I do have the unlimited rental thing at Blockbuster, I try not to rent incredibly long games. Ill just have to buy them all lol

EddyG0RD0
EddyG0RD0

 @Villimax  @Gelugon_baat its like socom , u control 4 people but from a top down view and u tell them when to shoot and when to throw a grenade or get in cover , hence the "dumbed down to meaningless actions" being  ordering to every man to do some stuff that the AI could do aswell , like in socom ,the only difference is that u shoot aliens but in a WORSE gameplay than Socom, i love it when ppl play dumb :)

Villimax
Villimax

 @Gelugon_baat Or he may have literally meant that this game was like SOCOM but SOCOM is better, in which case I don't understand the comparison...

Striker87
Striker87

 @EddyG0RD0  @Gelugon_baat 

The part where you're comparing a turn based strategy game to a 3rd person tactical shooter.  Socom?  Are you serious?  Jesus christ.

 

Nice review system, btw.  /facepalm

XCOM: Enemy Unknown More Info

  • Released
    • Android
    • iPhone/iPod
    • + 5 more
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • Unix/Linux
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    The developer of the Civilization franchise takes a shot at another cherished strategy series.
    8.3
    Average User RatingOut of 1971 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate XCOM: Enemy Unknown
    Developed by:
    Firaxis Games
    Published by:
    2K Games, Feral Interactive
    Genres:
    Strategy, Turn-Based
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence