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XCOM: Enemy Within Review

  • First Released Nov 12, 2013
  • Reviewed Nov 11, 2013
  • PS3
  • X360
  • PC
Jeremy Jayne on Google+

Second verse, fun as the first.

Several hours into XCOM: Enemy Within, pumping bullets into extraterrestrials and sending aircraft to chase UFOs, I found myself thinking of Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen. Rest assured, there are no dragons here, but Firaxis' beloved tactical shooter follows much the same model as Capcom's role-playing game in offering what some may call an "ultimate" edition of 2012's turn-based strategy hit. In this latest jaunt, hours filled with the same cutscenes of Dr. Vahlen and Dr. Chen bickering over the same priorities rush by. The enemy is known now, at least for those of us who played XCOM: Enemy Unknown before, and thus some of the mystery has passed away. But as I ventured deeper into alien bases and terrorist cells, I found myself thinking of XCOM: Enemy Within more as an alternate reality. It's an approach that makes facing the alien menace exciting all over again.

The key to these changes lies in the game's opening quote. Whereas before you were presented with Arthur C. Clarke's famed quote about being alone in the universe, Enemy Within greets you with a more ominous message penned by R. Buckminster Fuller: "Those who play with the devil's toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword." By slow degrees, easing through the same missions and viewing the same spaceships and alien bases, it's clear that the enemy lies just as much among our fellow humans as it does beyond the stars. XCOM: Enemy Within sees Vahlen and Chen pushing the moral limits of technology and running the risk of smudging forever the line between humans and aliens. Beyond, a rogue organization named EXALT seeks to thwart XCOM's efforts, believing that a better future lies with the very aliens you fought.

Big as they are, MECs still need to employ smart tactics to survive.
Big as they are, MECs still need to employ smart tactics to survive.

With so much smudging of the lines between human and machine, it's surprising that XCOM: Enemy Within does such a good job of emphasizing the humanity of its soldiers. No more do heavies from Argentina chat in the same vernacular as Illinois car salesmen; instead, French and Polish units bark announcements in the tongues of their respective countries if you activate them in the customization screen. You don't have to play match-two with languages and the flags on soldiers' backs; it's a pleasure to switch out between French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, and Russian, but it's a shame that the available voices never move beyond the European sphere and into languages like Japanese and Chinese.

Other touches add a bit of swagger and even light humor. Enhanced customization options now let soldiers venture forth in fedoras as well as combat helmets, and a handful of different armor types helps distinguish soldiers from one another on the battlefield. As a result, much more than before, soldiers feel like people. You feel your losses even more now, particularly when you've already awarded a soldier with one of the new medals using your (permanent) choice of two buffs.

Enemy Within's new customization options allow for some outrageous pairings.
Enemy Within's new customization options allow for some outrageous pairings.

But nothing changes the game quite like meld. Meld is a new resource in XCOM: Enemy Within, and while you could theoretically finish the game without using it, doing so means you'll miss out on some of the expansion's greatest goodies. Even the resource itself augments the experience. The realization that you have only a limited number of turns to reach it depending on the difficulty, for instance, almost immediately shatters the careful inch-by-inch tactics so commonly employed in the first game. The intent here is speed, and the occasional need for recklessness adds an extra dose of tension to most missions. That's not to say the changes don't properly mesh with the returning tactical mechanics; on the contrary, you usually have to move your main force to objectives while sending out a party of one or two to snag the meld.

Back at the base, meld reveals itself to be a Prometheus' fire of sorts that allows both genetic modifications and cybernetics. Gene mods are the comparatively mundane choice of the two, and using them is a little like playing the original game with superhero buffs. Some are fairly simple, such as pupil implants that grant a small boost to aim; others are almost godly, such as a skin augment that makes your soldier invisible if she's in full cover. It's cool stuff, and it's most noteworthy for making Dr. Vahlen's dissections more meaningful.

It's the same game through a twisted mirror, revealing an alternative world where humans strive to win at any cost.

MEC troopers are something else entirely. They're exactly what they sound like, MechWarrior fans, and you can sacrifice any of your team members to go the way of Robocop as long as they've progressed past rookie. The short wait is a smart move, particularly since leveling now lets them retain at least one ability associated with their previous roles. A support character, for instance, might throw up a huge shield that boosts defenses for surrounding combatants. On the battlefield, they come into their own, possessing the ability to take as much damage as they dish out with flamethrowers and plasma rifles, forgoing cover and sometimes acting as cover for each other.

MEC troopers sound as badass as they do game breaking. Thankfully, Firaxis went to great lengths to ensure proper balance. For one, the aliens now have their own "mectoids" to counter yours. Any fears that MECs have made XCOM easier tend to vanish before the sight of mectoids wiping out entire poorly placed squadrons. Brazenly venturing ahead of the team also gets your MECs killed by drawing too much fire, and devastating MEC weapons such as flamethrowers usually have no effect on other MECs.

 Collecting meld may bring back memories of defusing bombs in Unknown, but the incentive gives the act greater meaning.
Collecting meld may bring back memories of defusing bombs in Unknown, but the incentive gives the act greater meaning.

New enemies also pepper the landscape, although they're not as effective as they probably could be. Take the seeker. It may look like the fearsome metal squid monsters from The Matrix, complete with a stealth skill that renders it invisible, but in practice, it's scarcely more dangerous than a horsefly. After it breaks stealth and latches on to a soldier, it's little more than handy target practice for other troops.

More worthy of note is the traitorous group EXALT, which brings some memorable new missions and story twists with it, although EXALT is more dangerous in the metagame than when you're fighting its members while trying to extract your spies in a series of new covert missions. Crafty buggers, they hack into Vahlen's research, disrupting her progress. They steal from your money reserves, and they spread panic through propaganda. Before, it wasn't hard to master the metagame's system of checks and balances, but EXALT ensures that managing panic levels and a steady cash flow now present greater challenges than before.

In some ways, however, all these additions act merely as frosting on a cake we've enjoyed before. It's the same game through a twisted mirror, revealing an alternative world where humans strive to win at any cost. In the process, it embraces science fiction with greater gusto. Before, it was easy to imagine XCOM as a fanciful take on how we'd fare if aliens attacked the world today. Enemy Within, on the other hand, sometimes ventures far into the theatrical, such as when you watch two MECs clobber each other as though in homage to Pacific Rim.

Just wait until the cosmetic surgery business gets hold of this.
Just wait until the cosmetic surgery business gets hold of this.

Enemy Within is great, but its greatness comes with qualifications. Players who have never played XCOM: Enemy Unknown will find their best entry point here, since it remedies some of the concerns of the original and manages to keep others from taking their place. Not only does it enhance replay value by expanding the Second Wave content to include options such as Training Roulette, which randomizes abilities while leveling, but it expands the multiplayer mode, adding squad editing, squad saving, and the inclusion of new units such as mectoids and seekers.

It also seems to avoid many of the pitfalls of the original. I saw not one bug in my hours with XCOM: Enemy Within, and the whopping 40 new maps ensured that even the usually humdrum UFO crash investigations of the original were replaced with tense excavations into cities and pleasant farms. All of that is certainly enough for PC players to fork out the $20 for the upgrade, but unfortunately, console players face the more daunting task of buying Firaxis' new creation for almost the price of a new game. Fortunately, there's enough new content here to justify it for players looking for another spin in Firaxis' gripping tale of alien invasion.

That seems to be the pattern of XCOM. The tale always grows in the telling, and with this entry, you find yourself in a world richer and more enjoyable than the one you experienced before. With a world this finely crafted, it's fitting that we should get to save it all over again.

Back To Top
The Good
40 new maps with diverse settings enrich the playing field
New EXALT faction makes metagame at base more challenging
New MECs and gene mods add "cool" factor without sacrificing difficulty
Meld collection adds urgency to standard missions
The Bad
New Seeker enemies are little more than pinatas
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Leif Johnson has employed turn-based tactics against gangsters and aggressive superpowers in games like Omerta and Valkyria Chronicles, but he's always found XCOM's tale of guns and aliens the best fit for the concept. For the purposes of this review, Leif played about 27 hours.
182 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for executionist

I finished game at normal (challenging) level. This last weekend I tried to play at Classic (extreme) level with 2nd Wave Marathon option enabled. I tried, ten times at least, but only tried and unsuccessfully. So, I recommend not to use any 2nd Wave option at Classic level, just with normal. Classic and any single 2nd Wave option, together, is too bloody hard. From Classic level extreme difficulty you get more aliens to fight against and you don't have OTS built. At the start you need to get promotions as soon as possible but every wounded soldier will take much longer to recover due to the Marathon option. Finally, you will end up fighting tougher aliens just with your rookies, cause experienced soldiers are still healing, and without sophisticated gear cause you are still researching it. Moreover, once I had 4 high percentage shoots failed in a row while aliens scored critical from lower ground to the roof and from the distance. Now, I will turn off 2nd Wave and play Classic alone.

Avatar image for Lord455

excom unknown on pc looks good but the original game was better. How lame.

Avatar image for saber310

really full price for what is an essentially a game overhaul Fark that

Avatar image for Chrome_0001

My experience of 'XCOM - Enemy Within' so far on PS3:

Frame-rate lag
Screen tearing
Failing to load next sequence (black screen)
Saves corrupt in Ironman mode which effectively ends play-through
Icons failing to load (Replaced with randomised red/blue/green pixels)
Game freezes my system (Hard reset needed)
Severe texture pop-in
Excessive load times

I am yet to finish a single play through due to bugs and glitches in this game. Firaxis have developed a game that is worse to play than Skyrim with its many documented problems on the PS3. I haven't seen a single review take this into account?

Avatar image for DerekLoffin

Well, from playing what I can so far, its pretty good... but with one MASSIVE qualifier: It is broke currently!

Myself I'm experiencing games freezes that are so frequent that it has rendered the game unplayable. Reading the steam forum, I'm far from the only one having this issue, and issues actually get worse (some people can't even get the game to run).

So, if you are thinking about this expansion, be warned, you're taking a gamble currently on whether it will run properly or not. Hopefully we will see a stability patch, but no word as to such at this time.

Avatar image for Evil_Saluki

It's FANTASTIC! Well worth a 2nd playthough and the £20 quid I spent on it. They did just enough added new stuff to make it worthwhile

Avatar image for madgame23

I like the new expansion but like the original game the difficulty is increased but giving the AI cheaper tactics than the fist game. The mission with the Chryssalids is pure cheap. You have to ultimately activate a beacon that is right over the spawn point of the monsters and then they will spawn ever turn and then you gotta run all the way back to your start point on the other side of the map. It basically is saying choose who will die to finish the mission. I like challenge but when its logical not cheap. The cryssalids have a single movement phase that matches or exceeds your teams sprint movement and can catch you in one turn if they are close enough and when you have 3 or 4 on you its basically a death sentence and then you have one more on you because the zombie that is spawned from the corpse of your cheaply killed unit becomes a new one in two turns.

Avatar image for cherub1000

Not to sound like to much of a plum but can you guys confirm whether or not I'm gonna need the original Xcom:enemy unknown game disc to use this expansion or can I leg it to my nearest retailer later on and just pick up Enemy Within and get stuck into all the original content plus all the new stuff? Really enjoyed the first title and looking forward to this. Thanks for the help!

Avatar image for Hellcanwait

Enemy within is a great game, I just wish it wasn´t so easy compared to enemy unknown, the new augments and mechs makes it far to easy to stroll through this game.

even on impossible difficulty its a walk in the park, not brutal like enemy unknown.

Avatar image for jj2112

I just bought the game yesterday and I thought it included the original, but it's nowhere to be seen... Anyone knows if it was removed at the last minute?

Avatar image for Hellcanwait


Its the old xcom enemy unknown with the "expansion" xcom enemy within on top, hell... even the old slingshot dlc made it into enemy within.

Avatar image for deactivated-57bcc1891a93a

@jj2112 i was wondering if that was the case after reading the first paragraph of this article. did they even plan to combine the 2?

Avatar image for never-named

THIS is how you do DLC/expansions, video game industry!

Avatar image for max-hit

Why can't I start with my old crew. I really have no intention of starting all over again.

Avatar image for MrTakeda

This is probably the best expansion pack I have ever played.

Avatar image for moriwenne

I played the old xcom and would like to remember those games by playing the new. I'd ask you guys, not having played either of the new games (enemy unk, enemy within) is it worth playing "unknown" before "within"? Should I only play "enemy within" because it contains "enemy unknown" as well?

Avatar image for Vambran

I have the Xbox360 version and some of the text is faded and hard to see ( on a big screen tv ) You can see an example of this in the screen shots above ( New Mod ). Does the PC or PS3 have this problem?

Avatar image for Nekator

a really useless review, as it seems to become the standard here :(

Oh the tester didn´t like the Seekers, over this whole thing he forgot nearly everything else about this game, doesnt even mention that the aliens also have mecs, that exalt is a nice counterpart to the own soldiers and that the variation of the own soldiers is way more interesting now.. but at least he mentions Pacific Rim, hoping that no one sees, how useless this whole review is.

And no he has not seen any bugs.. no wonder, you would have needed to play the game longer than 10 minutes!!!

Avatar image for MrTakeda

@Nekator Can you even read English? Read the review again and if you come to the same conclusion about the authors opinion then you obviously can't read...

Avatar image for haegint

@Nekator You have obviously not read the review carefully.

Avatar image for Peter_Eater

Great expansion to the XCOM Enemy Unknown.

This is a shining example how a DLC/expansion sholud be done.

I loed the original XCOM game and the Enemy Unknown. This one is making it to my all time favorites too.

Avatar image for Zenwork21

So pleased.. I love the previous one I am going to enjoy this one as well

Avatar image for DWalker131

so is this a sequal ? or the exact same games with an extra 40 DLC maps ? i've already got enemy unknown

Avatar image for Boddicker

@DWalker131 It's a full expansion (not a DLC). Think of it as XCOM 1.5.

Avatar image for DWalker131

@Boddicker thanx mate

Avatar image for adwerk

Man I always think Kevin says "late Johnson". Im like, wha? He died?

Avatar image for deactivated-57bcc1891a93a

@adwerk Kevin Johnson, Ben's man on the freighter

Avatar image for nl_skipper

Everyone complaining about the console price can just blame the consoles for that. They wouldn't allow such a large download (because consoles are bad?) so Firaxis has to release the game as a standalone boxed version or not on console at all, and a boxed retail copy comes with a lot more fees attached for them (shipping, packaging, production, retailer cut), so the price goes up, not to mention it becomes a standalone package so warrants a higher price anyway. Game itself dos not deserve to be docked for this.

Avatar image for Zevvion

@nl_skipper You're misinformed. The current consoles weren't build with add-ons the size of this one in mind. The truth is: they can't do it. They could offer it as a download, but it would have to be stand alone. If Firaxis was very cool, they would just say the stand alone version would be the same price as the PC's add-on version. They don't want to do that, so at most the blame still lies with Firaxis.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


You can argue that, but the cause for the price difference does not add value to the console package - it's just additional costs that are passed to the consumer.

I suppose that even with your acknowledgement of the cause of the price difference, you still can't see games as consumer products first and foremost.

Avatar image for PodXCOM

@Gelugon_baat Are you saying they shouldn't pass the additional costs to the consumer? Cause that would mean there is no reason to sell it to console gamers, since they can't make money.


Avatar image for Zevvion

@PodXCOM @Gelugon_baat No, again misinformed. First, those Chinese students are being paid and it wasn't Sony's policy that made them work for free in the first place. It was one of the company's that handled the manufacturing processes. The ones responsible have since been fired and the company that Sony employed will (has?) give(n) those students compensation after the fact.

Nothing needed to 'give' at any point to reach the 399 price point, except for Sony themselves. They are losing a small amount of money on each unit sold.

Avatar image for PodXCOM


The link is to show the cost to having such a cheap console. The reason why PS4, Xbox one, and Wii U is so cheap, is because the people who make them are treated badly. By all rights, PS4 should cost much more then $399.

In other words, if you want the package version of Enemy Within to be cheaper, then something has to give. Like having Chinese students do the packaging for free. That will make it cheaper.

Avatar image for Gelugon_baat


Well, if they have to pass the additional costs to the consumer anyway, that would reduce the value of the console packages compared to the other packages. They won't be easily making money off more savvy consumers.

As for that link, you are going off-topic.

Avatar image for iceman200004

Steam has just had a 4GB update for XCOM: Enemy Unknown so i guess this is an update for this coming DLC pack. looking forward to this looks great.

Avatar image for iceman200004

This is only £17 on Steam why you lot saying its £30 or $50 its not.

Avatar image for Dragon_Nexus

@iceman200004 £17 requires the original game, it's an expansion download. Others are probably talking about the retail release, which has the original game included, bumping up the price.

Avatar image for Dirk_McHardpeck

Already paid full price for the original game. Not buy it again, even if it does included some extra content. I'll wait until this one hits the used bargain bins. Fool be once 2K shame on you, fool me twice shame on me and all that.

Avatar image for Zevvion

@Dirk_McHardpeck Your comment makes no sense whatsoever. You paid for the vanilla game, so paying for an expansion pack would make you a fool? How so? You would be getting a lot of content for what you pay. They haven't been working a year on this to give it away for free. How evil of them. I guess I should head into work tomorrow and working for free for a week. After all, they paid me for my work last week already. They'd be fools to do it again.

Avatar image for redder1111

played the previous one. waste of money and time ....

Avatar image for Meteor7

@redder1111 Maybe in your opinion

Avatar image for the1Jugg

I totally agree with the comment below regarding this full priced expansion. If it isn't a sequel, it shouldn't be asking for a sequel type price. Usually you guys rate that kind of gouging low on here. Usually when you guys start talking about "more of the same" and more of an expansion, and less of a sequel", you guys give it a low score. But this time they call it an expansion, even though it doesn't actually expand the game - its standalone, right? Then shouldn't it be judged on its merits of being a standalone game?

That being said, if it IS that good as a standalone, then maybe stop referring to it as an expansion. I hate the idea of all games doing full priced expansions following in Starcrafts footsteps.

Avatar image for Zevvion

@the1Jugg None of those definitions matter. The only thing that matters is if what's offered is worth the asking price. You can only answer that with quality and fun. Not how different it is or how long it will last.

A one hour game can be worth 15 bucks. If Portal were 15 bucks a few years back, I would have paid for it because I think that game is worth 15 bucks, even though it's an hour long.

A 80 hour game can be not worth the 30 bucks you pay for it. If it's all uninteresting and uninspired, I probably wouldn't even play it if it was one buck.

Similarly, whether something is an expansion, DLC, or whatever else... as long as it's worth it, it should be judged on that. If I were to play Enemy Within and come to the conclusion that: this is insanely fun, but, I almost don't mind whether I play Enemy Unknown or this; then it wouldn't be worth it. If I thought: this is a lot of fun and it would be very hard to go back to EU after playing this because it adds so much more interesting, cool things: then it would be worth it, depending on the price.

I wouldn't go: well this is fun and I want to play only this for the next month because it's so awesome, but they are calling it an expansion, so it's not worth it. That makes no sense. Whatever it is called or is designated as, shouldn't matter.

In essence, they could've called this: Assrape: Orientation Year; and it should've still scored the same.

Avatar image for the1Jugg

@Zevvion @the1Jugg Ok. You don't like that I labelled it. They give Batman Origins a 6 because it "isn't different enough", and this one an 8 because it is "more of the same". Don't get me wrong, I hope this one is great. I just wish it was less expensive for more of the same.

Avatar image for skagpouch

So I take it that as Gamespot hasn't mentioned the notorious bugs that plagued the original game then they have finally been totally resolved?

To be honest this is a shit review. The majority of people interested will already own the base game and as one of these people I have to say Gamespot didn't address any of the issues I would be concerned about with an expansion. I don't care that these new enemies only take a single hit to kill, I'll find that out if I play it. What about details regarding rumoured "improvements" such as deeper customisation for your soldiers?

Oh and thanks for the massive spoiler pertaining to mission locations, Amateurs -_-

Avatar image for BrolyB593

It also seems to avoid many of the pitfalls of the original. I saw not one bug in my hours with XCOM: Enemy Within..."

Did you even bother reading the whole thing before you came down to the comments to complain?

Avatar image for Boddicker

This is waiting for me at my parents' house in Louisiana. Unfortunately I'm going to be in Texas for another week or two finishing up my licensure.

I loved the original, but I have to admit the late game being even more broken now doesn't sit well with me. ESPECIALLY after Ananda Gupta said he was going to fix it.

Oh well. Not that a big a deal. I'll write my first review ever when I get home.

Avatar image for Gomtor

I played it last year. No way I play the same game (for all practical purposes) again and pay for it as well. If they expanded the SP game I would be interested.

Avatar image for meatz666

@AggrandizedUser @waterghost It's like rolling a dice. The difference is that, at the start of a stage, the game rolls the dice 5 million times, make a note of all those number, and use them every time you need.

If you don't like this, it's a shame. Risk is a pretty fun game.

XCOM: Enemy Within More Info

  • First Released Nov 12, 2013
    • Android
    • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    XCOM: Enemy Within is an expansion to the strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It adds new abilities, upgrades, and weapons to combat new enemy and alien threats. This expansion pack also introduces new maps, new tactical and strategic gameplay, and new multiplayer content.
    Average Rating180 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate XCOM: Enemy Within
    Developed by:
    Virtuos, Firaxis Games
    Published by:
    2K Games
    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.
    Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence