X-COM: UFO Defense, originally released in 1994 on MS-DOS, is considered by many to be one of the greatest games ever made. When the new enhanced remake of UFO Defense was announced early this year, gamers were elated to find out that the XCOM franchise would be rebooted with a strategy title and not a first person shooter. XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts you as the commander of an elite squad set out to defend the earth against an alien invasion. While you command the squad you have to also maintain and expand your underground X-COM base. You will be put on the task of building new facilities, researching new technology, maintaining aircraft, defending earth via a global map, and appeasing your supporters. The game features many more tasks that you will have to undergo to keep the X-COM base running. Firaxis does an overall great job of recreating the strategic title, but the game may not appeal to everyone.
XCOM is a turn based strategy game, which means you take your turn by either moving your characters, having them attack, or using any other power available to you. Once you end your turn the enemy gets a turn as well. While this format of game may not sound fun to many, it is actually a blast to play and leaves you with some crazy moments. Firaxis’ excellent design makes the game an absolute blast to play. The game only gives you about six attacks to choose from, but the main purpose of the game is to make you think and use strategy. Whether you stay back with snipers, suppress the enemy with LMG’s, or rush them with shotguns, the game will leave the choice up to you. Expect consequences on what you choose to do though, as losing a squad member is never easy.
The game’s interface to choose these actions from is almost perfectly implemented. Both PC and console controls work great, with no complaints. With the click of a few buttons you can navigate the the map and choose a point to move to. Being a great commander in XCOM means you know when to retreat. When I first started playing XCOM i was trying to constantly stay in cover and pray that my soldiers wouldn’t get killed. When I progressed further in the game I realized that if I retreat and stay in cover the enemy will have to move as well. This means you can eventually get the upper hand on your enemy by playing with your brain. The only design decision that confused me throughout the game is that once in a while a soldier will shoot the cover he is in instead of shooting over the cover.
I was pleasantly surprised on how well Firaxis’ implemented the AI . The alien AI will scout out your location just as you have to scout out their location. The game never has a moment where I felt cheated or that the AI is overpowered. Playing XCOM made me realize that the majority of times that my squad members had died was because it was my fault, not the AI. One critical mistake in your strategy will result in a likely death of your squad member. Even worse you can panic the rest of your squad which can result in friendly fire. The system implemented in XCOM works well to most players, but expect a challenge through out the game.
XCOM’s main weakness is its repetitiveness. The game only has a handful of maps you can play on. While the maps will always have different spawn locations, it is somewhat disappointing to not have randomized maps in the game. The game also suffers from a serious lack of depth in research. I found myself often thinking that Firaxis could have implemented more design options to research. Instead of working up to the goal of researching plasma weapons it would have been nice to eventually get alien weapons or insane weapons like a photon cannon.
Why Firaxis decided to implement multiplayer is still a mystery to me. The multiplayer consists of one gamemode with a max of two players. The multiplayer has no ranking system or leaderboards. I believe that Firaxis implemented the multiplayer for two reasons. Either they wanted to appeal to the mainstream gamer or have an option for two buddies to just mess around with their builds. Why modern game studios feel the need to implement multiplayer into every single game will remain a mystery.
XCOM comes back on a high note to the modern day console or PC. While the PC version is slightly superior in graphics, both console and PC perform the same when it comes to controlling your squad. While I feel that XCOM is a great fresh take on the turn based strategy title, I can’t help but feel that something is missing from the experience. I welcome back the XCOM franchise with open arms and hope that Firaxis makes a sequel that kicks even more ass than Enemy Unknown.