Oi you, get back here. Yes, you. I realise your disdain for turn-based shooters means you’re probably more interested in reading what the Big Brother household had for breakfast than this review of XCOM Enemy Unknown, but you’d be a fool to do so. Like you, I find the plodding pace and fiddly controls normally associated with the genre about as much fun as an alien anal probe, which is why the fact I can’t put XCOM down is so perplexing. So trust me, read the review to the end before you dismiss it based on its mechanics, and then you'll see why many are saying it’s the most surprising hit of 2012.
It is indeed true that half the time you play XCOM will be spent shuffling a squad of six gung-ho elite space warriors against the most evil scum the universe could throw at our lonely little planet. Normally that would be enough to put me into a sleep deep enough that some might mistake it as a state of cryostasis. However, to my surprise I’m absolutely enamoured by the combat here. It plays a bit like chess, but it has giant guns and isn't excruciatingly boring. Moving a troop far means they can’t shoot (unless they've unlocked the ability to do both in a single turn), so you always need to consider each step carefully. The cover system means you also need to figure out exactly where to place your troops. Hint – standing out in the open is a fantastic way to end up in a closed casket.
But these factors are also present in other turn-based strategies, and I’d rather make out with a squid-based lifeform than play them, so what’s different here? A big part of it is the bond I've built with my squad mates. It’s not just that each of my alien-vaporising heroes can be renamed after real life friends, or that I can customise their face, voice and armour. No, these guys feel like real people rather than animated GI Joes because they arrive as pitiful, cowering weaklings who can barely kill a mosquito, let alone a genetically altered organic killing machine from the depths of the infinite. Nurse these weaklings through battle after battle, and as they scratch more kills into the barrel of their laser rifles they'll grow into highly-specialised, effective death dealers. Choosing which skills to unlock as they age is an agonising choice, usually involving a trade-off between offence or defence. Do I unlock the aggressive sniping ability that gives an aiming boon if the target is under 50% health? Or will I use the ability to counter-fire between turns to ensure my sniper can fend off incoming targets?
It’s all very stressful making these decisions, a theme that is repeated through every facet of the game. A single experienced unit can turn the tide of battle, so it’s incredibly painful to watch a trooper you've been nurturing for days get turned into a pile of bleeding meat. With each troop capable of multiple battlefield abilities, controlling all of your troops can get a little stressful as well, but the streamlined interface helps tame what could have been an overwhelmingly complex battlefield simulation. Surprisingly it works better with a controller than a mouse, but things can get quite messy in built up urban areas regardless of which scheme you use. Building walls become invisible when you venture inside, and it can make it very confusing to figure out which floor you should be going to or whether you’re standing next to a door. The combat is also a little buggy at launch; I’ve had squad mates fall off the map entirely, and the forums are filled with other weird insta-deaths.
Luckily there’s a quick save that can bring them back to life, but once I'm familiar with the game I'll be activating the Iron Man mode, which disables quick saving entirely. This could be the first game to make me gush tears of sadness, as I know the medic based on my real life girlfriend will one day meet her demise. That’s another thing – this is the HBO of video games. Your troops will die, and die often.
Adding to the overall stressfulness of everything is the fear of an unseen enemy. Fog of war is pretty standard for the genre, but between turns your troops will sometimes hear strange sounds in the distance, giving you a rough indication of where the bad bugs are hanging out. Start marching your formation towards them and those sneaky aliens will often retreat back into the fog, reappearing on your vulnerable flanks where your troops get no cover bonus. As a result the safest way to play is to use real military techniques – keep your troops close together to support each other with weapon fire, but no so close that a single grenade can ruin their party. Keep half the squad tucked into cover, set to overwatch mode, while the rest leapfrog ahead. Do that and you should be ok, at least until the game throws one of its many curveballs at you.
It could be the Cyberdisk, a robot that lobs cover-destroying objects. Or maybe a Chrysalid will charge your front line, turning your squad’s FNG into a powerful zombie. Whenever something cool like this happens the camera swings down into an action view to watch the events unfold, making the game look more like a third person shooter. It’s a clever way to obliterate the detachment armchair generals often feel when stuck with a top-down view, as they watch the blood and bone from a successful enemy shot. Well, provided the camera doesn't glitch out and present you a close up of a brick instead.
Every mission is random, played out on a massive collection of maps, so you'll never play the exact same scenario twice. They mostly cover urban or forest environments, but there’s plenty of variety in terms of cover placement, day/night time and weather effects. It rarely gets boring as there’s always a new enemy type to kill, weapon to use or ability to master.
Adding a little more variety to the combat is the multiplayer mode, but it’s more of a side dish to the single-player’s feast. With just a handful of maps and very basic modes, we can’t see it being massively popular without a healthy injection of more content. However, it’s a great way to really learn all of the toys of the single-player game.
Those new weapons and skills come from the other half of the game, where you must manage a secret underground military installation, and it’s even more stressful than the combat. You need to continually build new facilities to increase the number of scientist and engineers you have, which in turn allows you to research and build new ways of vaporising non-humans. Fail to build enough high-tech weaponry and your squad will be wiped out in short order. However, unlike other management sims, resources are incredibly hard to come by, and many of them can only be collected by successful combat missions. Just to make you really stressed, you also need to keep the entire world happy. Well, most of it. If you don’t pay enough attention to other countries, be it via completing successful missions (where you can lose valuable squadmates) or setting up satellite surveillance networks (which cost big bucks) or establishing air cover with interceptors (even more big bucks), they'll freak out. If they reach ultimate freak out levels of panic, they'll quit the XCOM council, taking their monthly revenue contributions with them. If eight nations leave the council, it’s game over.
The result is one giant plate spinning competition. You've always got new missions to achieve or research to do, but never enough time or resources to do them all. Instead you’re forced to make the tough decisions, and it’s this element of responsibility that is at the twin green beating hearts of XCOM. As commander of the Earth you simply can’t save all of the people, all of the time. Whether it’s letting China succumb to public panic as you divert resources to cover the American continent, or sending in a rookie to soak up damage on a suicide run so that your veterans don't die, XCOM will give you a scary appreciation of the harsh realities of being a leader in a time of crisis.
Posted 02:53pm 12/10/12
I'll probably check it out after a patch addresses those release issues.
Posted 04:04pm 12/10/12
Posted 04:14pm 12/10/12
i guess the guy doing the review never played the older version of the game? coz 3 paragraphs describing how s*** turn-based games are is an odd way to start a review imo. also the deal about losing your troops... xcom veterans don't give a s*** about troops till they get psionics ;)
still decent review. will buy (prolly).
Posted 04:41pm 12/10/12
The demo is crap and doesn't really show what the game is like at all. I don't know why they released it really, besides maybe a larger scale beta test.
Posted 05:33pm 12/10/12
I think the community was wondering how base attacks were going to work due to the way they've designed the base builder UI & some were wondering whether it was in there at all. This is from Gamespy preview interview with Jake Solomon (xcom designer at Firaxis) earlier in the year:
From what I can gather they don't want to talk about how the base attacks work because of story spoilers, but I can't say for sure.
Waiting to get home to fire it up!
Posted 07:38pm 12/10/12
1. Inventory management has been simplified to the point where you can't equip the soldiers with what you want. What about the grenadier???
2. No free aim, you know there is a hostile behind that wall but you cant just shoot at/through the wall, grr.
3. Only 1 base, I really liked multiple bases but o well I get why they don't do it.
4. Only 4-6 soldiers per mission. I like more but o well.
5. The Enemy AI is a bit craptacular prior to initial engagement, they don't really move around until you see them.
Most of the points above are negatives when compared to the masterpiece that was UFO:Enemy Unknown (which also had bugs, lolz at clocking the Stats of a soldier). However, they game in its own right is good. I do dislike the invenotry management and Classes system. I should be able to build whatever soldier layout/skill type I want and not be locked into a class.
Hopefully future patches will add in Free-aim and boost the AI a bit.
The difficulty is pretty good though, I was scared it was going to be a simple affair.
Also for the Die Hard UFO fans like myself. There is a Kickstarter funded game: Xenonauts that is far closer to the original UFO.
Posted 08:03pm 12/10/12
Posted 08:12pm 12/10/12
You're correct, I didn't play the original for longer than an hour. I was going to mention this, but feel that this game stands on its own two feet as a re-imagining.
As for talking about my general distaste for the genre, that was an attempt to show in a light-hearted way that even if you're not a fan of turn-based strategy, XCOM could be the game that changes your mind. Normally we try to get genre experts to review the games, but we felt my experience in standard city-builders and RTS games would be relevant here. The fact that I don't normally enjoy turn-based strategies shows how XCOM has tweaked the formula to appeal to a wider audience. Whether they've turned away hardcore turn-players at the same time is up for debate, but based on the XCOM veterans posting on the offical forums, I reckon 75% love it, 15% are indifferent, and 10% want to murder the developers and their family. Of course that 10% are around for every game, no matter the title.
Posted 08:33pm 12/10/12
Unfortunatly part of the charm of the original are those sysmtes they thought 'were too complex and not fun' Extra base management and invenotry management are the two. Those two options expanded the stratigic options available to players quite considerably. Use of grenadiers for instance, and my pure manufacture bases, mulitple intercepters launched from differnt locations to deal with multiple threats, and sometimes just to deal with 1 threat because you know your first aircraft was going to fail...
Blowing out of walls with C4 and grenades to get to aliens more safely.
I really, really don't understand why we cant free aim and shoot out walls and whatnot. That part to me doesn't make sense.
Again though, to be fair, the game on its own rigth is good.
Posted 08:50pm 12/10/12
Posted 10:49pm 12/10/12
yet I don't find myself not be too upset about the bugs cause i think most of them can/will be fixed with patches.. maybe it deserves and 8 or 7 until they fix the bugs.
Posted 12:30am 13/10/12
Posted 01:03am 13/10/12
Posted 06:32pm 13/10/12
Posted 06:52pm 13/10/12
I keep wondering why Professor X doesn't bother to turn the light on.
Posted 08:04pm 13/10/12
Posted 01:45am 14/10/12
Yeah after playing it for a bit, they've nailed the atmosphere and the difficulty but it stumbles in other areas. It comes pretty close but doesn't quite have as much depth as UFO did. It's a great game and I'm not disappointed I think it deserves it's 9, but UFO was an excellent game so it's a nearly impossible standard.
The lack of inventory micromanagement and battlescape time units has it's good points and its bad points. I'm happy to play this and to give Xenonauts and UFO:AI a try as well. It's definitely nice to see commercial dev studios at least having a play with the X-COM formula and see how well they can do.
I've heard about but haven't seen any game stopping bugs yet, but I have seen some pretty funky ones that will likely get attention in coming patches. I would recommend getting it unless you're one of those people that avoid tactical shooters like the plague.
Posted 09:54pm 14/10/12
Posted 10:17pm 14/10/12
Posted 12:10am 15/10/12
Posted 01:16am 15/10/12
*shrug* the gaming market has changed. New Doctor Who is not Old Doctor Who. There will have to be some give and take.
Posted 07:51am 15/10/12
Posted 11:45pm 16/10/12
I only played the original once or twice so am not a die-hard.
I've been playing the tutorial; seems like all the events are randomly generated, and the non-tutorial one is quite different, no scripted story+cut-scenes? Can anyone confirm?
I'm having trouble getting lots of satellites up quickly. Already got a mad alien hunting squad named after the Aliens marine crew.
Posted 09:36am 17/10/12
I'm playing in Classic mode and it's a bit hard. Getting satellites up quickly is pretty full on. You have to build base facilities just right. Make sure you get all the bonuses by building the same buildings next to each other. Satellite uplinks next to each other give you a +1 extra satellite (something I didn't know damn it).
A couple of months in and only 1 country has left XCOM. Love my sniper that has 100% hit and 70% Crit from across the map (elevated) and my Support with 3 medkit uses (a must IMO).
I gave my 1 single plasma rifle to the Assault chick, she has sooo many kills to her name.
Posted 09:57am 17/10/12
I lost all of North America and China before I got the satellite situation under control.
Posted 10:11am 17/10/12
Nice parallel, those guys died horribly one by one as well. :)
This is one thing I neglected early on while struggling with money and the required numbers of engineers to launch satellites and it ended when Sth Africa left the project. :( Basically that means I miss out on shooting for the 'All In' Africa bonus for 30% more monthly income later.
Important lesson learned: Instead of struggling to balance the mole whacking of abduction sites across the world like I did, researching the priority items can push the story along enough to lower panic levels worldwide.
You're right though, 3 medkits are stupidly important. I usually bring my supports with the three medkit bonuses and heavy with the two frag grenades and then try to balance the rest out with another medkit, arc throwers and the nanotech underwear. Creeping into a crash site trying to stun some of the higher aliens to steal their weapons is still stressful though.
Did you dive into Ironman Toll? I'm sorta getting a feel for how the game plays first on Normal mode & only saving at the start of missions/reload & redo it when the team gets absolutely wiped out. After that I'll probably going Classic and/or Ironman.
Posted 11:21am 17/10/12
My current game is Game 3, I switched to classic in Game 2. Then restarted when the enemies got way powerful, I was barely doing damage, my guys where level 1 or 2 and 7 countries had left the XCOM project thanks to a couple of wipes.
Now I'm doing a lot better with Laser rifles, and laser pistols. Love my snipers with Gunslinger. Just about to build the foundry and will be upgrading my pistols.
Need more satellites!
Posted 02:32pm 17/10/12
There's a couple of events that come along where you selling items to a country in need, it netted me $1500 on the first one and I thought - awesome, here's the badly needed cash I was after. I did this a couple of times. Now i have heaps of money but no mats to make/research anything grrrr! lol Thought I could regain the mats quickly but its just hasn't worked out that way
There's definitely room for improvement but its still lots of fun.
Now Trying to make more Ghost Armour so I can run around stunning aliens to increase my material/item income.
3 medkits are a must! or a crash test dummy to soak up all the incoming fire.
Posted 05:16pm 17/10/12
Then another alien jumped off the side of a building and disappeared. I had guys surrounding it and could hear it, but no line of site and no grenades. It fell behind a dumpster in a crack of 2 buildings. Eventually I managed to get my sniper to stand just in the right spot on top of a building to see it. ARG, that was lucky, I hadn't saved it for ages.
Posted 06:08pm 17/10/12
What's with the stupidly high sensitivity on the free-aiming though!? Feels like whenever I want to fire off a rocket or grenade I have to fight with the cursor to get it positioned without zipping off either left or right. Movement keys tend to help, it does something bizarre with the mouse.
Apparently the In The Zone perk can also be a little buggy when a sniper gets a reaction shot from overwatch.
I hope they fix any problems because it's awesome to have. Last night my Aussie sniper mopped up 3 Mutons and a drone in one turn - time for a cold beer after that effort I reckon. :D
Posted 09:54pm 17/10/12
Posted 10:22pm 17/10/12
Posted 11:31pm 17/10/12
Posted 07:33am 18/10/12
I haven't seen any major bugs yet, fingers crossed. The Chrysalides are a b****.
Posted 07:41pm 18/10/12
Terms and Conditions
One of the nine winning entries
Yep really creative.
I've told my brother to get either Xcom or Dishonoured for my birthday in two weeks, what would be the better game they both seem pretty awesome to me.
Posted 11:21pm 18/10/12
Posted 11:06am 19/10/12
Have a lineup of about 10 high quality soldiers. My usual 6 man team is Uber Sniper, 2 Heavies, 2 Assault and a Support/Medic. I have a couple backup heavies and snipers but no assault or support.
Unfortunaly my previous Uber Support was gunned down by his fellow comrade during the Alien Base mission. The Alien Commander mind controlled by heavy and since I had to capture the bugger I couldn't just kill him to release the heavy from Mind Control. So the next turn he ran after my support and murdered him.
The Alien Commander paid a heavy price though, he was captured and interrogated until it died.
I've had a fair few rookies die, they are my meatshield when things go wrong.
Pro Tip: Using the medkit to heal injured soldiers in the field results in no down time after the mission. Not sure why they don't just use the medkit to heal them at base, it seems they like to make your soldiers suffer through the pain. :/
Satellite coverage is going well. I have all of Europe under surveillance and recently all of North America, Australia and India pulled out of XCOM but everyone else is still in, every country except Brazil is in the blue.
I've just built my first couple sets of Titan Armour and just finished researching Ghost armour. My assaults are packing Plasma Rifles and Alien grenades, my Snipers are still using their stock sniper rifle, although I just finished researching Plasma Sniper Rifle.
Everything is going well, the latest council report gave an A and $750 to spend. Used it to build 1 more Firestorm, 2 plasma cannons, 2 titan armour and a thermopower plant.
Lol, I still don't have a foundry..
Posted 12:06pm 19/10/12
Posted 12:37pm 19/10/12
Not so sure about everything else though.
As soon as I discovered this I was kicking myself for all the times I came back from a mission with unused medkits.
Posted 12:37pm 19/10/12
Also there is almost no reason to launch a satellite at any point other then the day before the council meeting. So I build 2-3 satellites in the month and have a control center built then just spam the satellites on the Red panic level nations and bring them back under control. If at the end of the month I have spare satellites I will attempt to cover a region.
Progressing the story can give global threat reduction so it is worth while doing.
Posted 07:13am 25/10/12
Posted 11:57am 25/10/12
Posted 09:47am 26/10/12
Posted 10:35am 26/10/12
Anyway, XCOM can wait as chivalry is just so awesome at the moment.
Posted 10:40am 26/10/12
I'd can't recommend Squad Sight enough over Snap Shot (move and shoot with the sniper rifle in the same turn), even with Damn Good Ground (+10 Aim,+10 Def) if my sniper was elevated, snap shot penalties were tough.
Squad Sight + DGG on one Sniper and Battle Scanner on another sniper are the bomb on alien crash site missions, but Disabling Shot tends to be more handy than Battle Scanner in the later missions where your dudes can get mind controlled.