XCOM: Enemy Unknown Reviews

  • AztecOmarAztecOmar267,002
    22 Oct 2012
    37 3 5
    XCOM: Enemy Unknown is damn hard, and it knows it.

    It is unforgiving, relentless and constantly ready to crush your hopes and dreams in a single, fell swoop. A poor tactical choice will take that battle-hardened veteran soldier and introduce him to the business end of an alien rifle, squandering hours of gameplay with a single button press. It is at times infuriating, and will frequently have players reaching for the “reload” button. At the same time, it never delineates into becoming unfair, and provides ample room for player growth. It might be a cruel mistress, but it is one of the most unique and enjoyable tactical experiences of the last decade and well worth the trauma involved with investing in it.

    Enemy Unknown is a modern reboot of the classic XCOM strategy series, drawing heavily from the first title, 1994’s UFO: Enemy Unknown. In the near future, aliens have begun invading Earth for unknown means, abducting civilians and destroying cities. An intergovernmental organisation, XCOM, is created to help turn the tide of the battle and repel the alien invaders. Whilst the story is simple and a tad generic, it acts well as a skeleton for developers Firaxis to justify the constant stream of new features and enemies. You play as the faceless commander of XCOM, tasked with the construction and maintenance of the home base whilst simultaneously appeasing the governments of the world and commanding the tactical squads fighting back against the alien threat. Whilst the core tenets seem simplistic, it is impossible to keep all the balls in the air at once - and when something finally gives, the results can be catastrophic. This creates a constant sense of tension that permeates the entire game.

    This tension is enhanced by the extreme fragility of your soldiers. Combat is played as a squad-based tactical shooter. The player is given command of up to six soldiers and tasked with achieving a number of objectives, ranging from disarming bombs to rescuing civilians. There are four possible classes for a soldier to be given: Assault, Heavy, Sniper and Support. As a soldier levels up from combat experience, they gain skills and abilities off a relatively shallow tech tree. Each upgrade dynamically changes the gameplay style of the soldier, but usually comes at the cost of another equally powerful ability. Snipers, for example, may take either an extreme boost to their range, or the ability to move and shoot early in their tree. There will always be circumstances where the other power would have been useful, and by making the choices between both powers consistently so difficult, it ratchets up the tension further. Even something as banal as levelling a character reinforces the central theme of Enemy Unknown: making difficult choices in difficult circumstances.

    As soldiers explore and the fog of war is lifted, more of the world is revealed, providing better knowledge of the area and more cover. Each soldier gets two actions a turn, used for moving, shooting and using items. This ensures that every decision to move or shoot comes at a distinct opportunity cost, which can have extremely dire consequences due to the fragility of the men in the squad. Most soldiers can barely stand up to two or more hits from enemy fire, which makes finding cover and protecting their flanks extremely important. Furthermore, soldiers that get hurt in battle carry their wounds, which take time to heal. A bad result in one battle can have disastrous repercussions on the next.
    There is a solid variety of enemies, with around a dozen uniquely powered aliens to butt heads with, ranging from heavily armoured bezerkers to flying mind-wraiths and everything in-between. Shooting is handled on a percentage-based dice roll system, similar to that used in Fallout 3’s V.A.T.S. mode. Because of the high value placed on the lives of individual soldiers, a single missed shot, or undesired group of enemies can turn the tide of the battle from a narrow victory to a crushing defeat. The complexity of the combat and determining the “correct” course of action for maximum reward is an unrelenting quandary in every scenario. Even determining what way to eliminate a threat can be a struggle. Explosives, for example, deal extra damage but destroy the resources on the deceased corpses. Meanwhile, capturing subjects alive provides a strong source of new weaponry and resources for the base to expend. The decision-making process never ends, and creates a constant environment of stress. Whilst it’s not perfect - there are a number of glaring clipping issues, as well as a few too many examples of killing an enemy through a brick wall, it is intelligently merciless, and enjoyable throughout.

    The other half of XCOM is an in-depth base management sim. As the Overseer, it is the role of the player to allocate resources to the various branches of XCOM. New technologies and advanced powers for the soldiers on the field can be researched at the laboratory, or new weapons and armour can be manufactured by the engineers. The home base can be expanded like a human ant farm to provide more power and staff. Finally, the various member nations of the XCOM Council will need to be appeased in order to prevent them from panicking and leaving the project altogether. There is never a chance for rest, as it constantly feels like the player needs to accomplish five things at once, whilst only having the resources for one. Even outside of combat, it is a high stress environment based entirely upon compromise.

    All actions undertaken outside of combat occur in real time, and will take a number of days to accomplish. Meanwhile, alien attacks will spring up at random, often catching you at the most inopportune time. Usually, three attacks will occur in locations across the globe at once, with the player only being able to respond to one. There are a number of hard decisions that have to be made when determining which nations to protect and which to abandon. It’s a bad situation that predictably leads to two countries stepping closer and closer to the brink of leaving the project. It’s inevitable that players will lose a country or two across a playthrough, but it is always disheartening when it occurs.

    The design and originality throughout the game is a real boon. Combat takes place across the entirety of the globe, with maps originating from abandoned highways, crowded metropolitan areas, alien ships and dense forests. The graphics aren’t anything to write home about, and there are some pretty significant texture pop-in problems in the base management mode, however, it has a consistently strong thematic look. Similarly, the sound design is enjoyable, if not a tad too subdued. Whilst the background music tracks fit the game well, the alien sound design is arguably the stand-out feature. From their shrill screes when shouting at one another, to the squelching of their heads upon death, they are unique and consistently strong. The voice acting for human characters, however, is fine but far too repetitive.

    Ultimately, the thing that stands out about XCOM is its uniqueness. Nobody makes games like XCOM anymore. Design-wise, it feels refreshingly old-school. From the grey-headed aliens to the intergovernmental agencies, this feels like a game that was designed in 1992, not 2012. From a gameplay point of view, it is so much more unforgiving that strategy games have been in a long time that it wouldn’t be surprising to see more casual players put off easily. In some ways, it echoes the hallmarks of Super Meat Boy, a game that was mercilessly difficult but consistently fair. Just like in XCOM, you would fail frequently, but know that it was your mistake and not a flaw in the gameplay. It’s not the kind of game for everyone, but those who get past the initial difficulty and embed themselves into it will have a phenomenal experience.

    There is almost a “supercar” mentality about it, like an old Lamborghini. Old sports cars were notoriously difficult to drive, constantly trying to put inexperienced drivers headfirst into a tree. However, once the beast was tamed, the driver would get an experience unlike anything in a regular car. XCOM can be a cruel, vindictive mistress, but she is one that can be tamed. With an investment of time and patience, players can gain access to a true tactical masterpiece, unlike anything we’ve seen in the past decade. It is deceptively deep and infinitely rewarding, but it definitely isn’t for everyone.
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    AztecOmarWorldwide sales of XCOM in the first week were reported at ~510k which isn't too bad of a number. It sold well enough (and got a great enough critical reception) that I'd expect to see another in a couple years. I can't wait.
    Posted by AztecOmar on 11 Nov 12 at 03:57
    CrmsnsShdwthat is an awesome review, thanks. extremely thorough and explains every aspect that i wanted. looking forward to a price drop so i can afford it
    Posted by CrmsnsShdw on 15 Nov 12 at 05:20
    HordrissExcellent review, sums up my feelings on the game (at least, what I've played of it so far) perfectly.
    Posted by Hordriss on 28 Nov 12 at 14:20
  • GamingEconomistGamingEconomist460,829
    14 Oct 2012
    36 22 9
    Attention german review from www.tvgc.de

    Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying. Mit diesen Worten startet der Überraschungshit XCOM Enemy Unknown und zieht nicht nur die Retro Avantgarde in ihren Bann. Lest mehr in unserer Review.

    Es gibt Dinge die überraschen.Ein Friedensnobelpreis für die EU, Kriege wegen Nichtigkeiten und Reboots zu guten Titeln, welche allerdings eher als Nischenprodukt gedacht waren. Somit dürfen Konsolenspieler nun endlich ein waschechtes und verdammt gutes Strategiespiel auf ihrer Plattform Willkommen heißen. Mit XCOM Enemy Unknown den Kontinent retten.

    Für all diejenigen, die mit XCOM aka UFO nichts anfangen können, sei hier ganz kurz die Storyline erwähnt. Unser Globus wird angegriffen. Ausserirdische Invasoren attackieren Städte per Luft und Land. Unser Job ist es als Mitglied des XCOM (Xtraterestrial Combat) für klare Grenzen zu sorgen und den Aliens den Weg nach Hause oder auf den Autopsietisch zu zeigen. Dabei geht es aber nicht nur darum, mit Waffengewalt und Squadaction kleine Gefahrenherde zu säubern. Einer der wichtigsten Zweige um den Invasoren wrkungsvoll entgegenzutreten ist das ständige Erforschen von neuen Waffentypen, Alien Schwachstellen und das entsenden von Satelliten in den Orbit. Denn nur Satelliten können feindliche Ufos aufspüren, die man dann per Abfangjäger zum Absturz bringen kann. Daneben ist es ebenfalls wichtig das unterirdische Labor selber weiter auszubauen um so mehr Ressourcen oder Möglichkeiten zu erhalten.

    Ein Schachspiel bei dem der cleverste gewinnt

    Euer Squad bzw deren Aufstieg und taktischer Einsatz ist eure einzige Lebensversicherung im Spiel. Verliert ihr auf dem Schlachtfeld durch Leichtsinn oder Arroganz einen Sniper oder einen der dank des Ranking Systems über sehr gute Eigenschaften verfügt, könnt ihr eigentlich direkt von vorne beginnen, denn die Feinde werden fieser, dreckiger und härter im Laufe des Spiels. Euer Squad besteht zu Beginn aus vier Personen, die sich in unterschiedliche Klassen wie Assault oder Sniper aufteilen und mit bestimmten Fähigkeiten verbunden sind. Einheiten können nicht nur optisch verändert werden, man kann ihnen einen individuellen Loadout verpassen der für entscheidende Spieltricks sorgt. Zum Beispiel ist es möglich eine bestimmte Panzerung zu erfinden, mit der die Einheiten die Flugfähigkeit erlangen. Gibt man zum Beispiel solch eine Rüstung einem Sniper, der ein Extra Fernrohr im Gepäck hat, so muss man diesen fast gar nicht mehr bewegen, da er Gegner über die Map hinweg dezent ausdünnen kann. Durch diese Art der Modifikation wachsen Spielfigur und Spieler zusammen und so ist auch gewährleistet, dass man sich teilweise genaustens überlegt, ob man nach vorne stürmt oder mit Babyschritten in die nächste Deckung rennt. Denn über eines sollte man sich im Klaren sein. In XCOM herrcht Permadeath Gefahr. Das heißt; kein in Deckung bleiben und den Kopfschuß auskurieren und frisch aufs Feld stürmen. Vielmehr ist hier jeder tot, der im Kampf fällt. So einfach ist das.

    Kämpfe laufen nach einem rundenbasierenden Prinzip ab. Ihr setzt zu Beginn euer Squad in Bewegung. Hier habt ihr die Möglichkeit entweder im blauen Bereich zu bleiben und so nur einen von zwei Aktionspunkten zu verlieren oder aber ihr rennt in den orangenen Bereich und opfert so euren zweiten Aktionspunkt. Entscheidet ihr euch für Möglichkeit 1, so habt ihr die Möglichkeit in den Overwatch Modus zu gehen. Der Overwatch Modus ist eine Art Truppen Sondierung des Gefechtareals. Das heißt, wenn Aliens in euren Sichtkreis laufen, dann werden diese automatisch unter Beschuß genommen. Kommt es zu einer Konfrontation, entscheidet das Areal über Erfolg und Niederlage eines Feuerwechsels. Zwar hat man eine prozentuale Wahrscheinlichkeit mit der ein signifikanter Treffer angezeigt wird, aber letztendlich entscheidet der Rank der Einheit, der Höhenunterschied des Areals und die Deckung darüber ob man trifft oder nicht. Gleiches gilt auch für die Aliens. Als Beispiel vielleicht der Friedhofslevel. Es ist sinnvoller hinter einer Gruft oder einem Grabstein in Deckung zu gehen, als hinter einer Holzbank.

    Man kann sich das Spielgeschehen wie eine Partie Schach vorstellen, bei der jeder kleine Fehler allerdings das Ende bedeuten kann. Missionen unterscheiden sich ebenfalls voneinander. Manchmal gilt es, Ufo Crash Sites zu plündern, ein anderes mal muss man High Value Personen retten oder aber einfach alle Aliens aus einem Bereich vertreiben. Dabei sei erwähnt, dass die Missionen nach einem Zufallsprinzip gewählt werden. Daher ist kein Spiel wie das andere. Hoher Wiederspielwert ist hier garantiert. Ein weiterer Punkt warum ihr eure Einheiten wie eure Familie ansehen solltet, sind spätere Boni in Form von PSI Fähigkeiten, sofern eure Einheit zu den auserwählten gehört. Mit PSI Fähigkeiten ist es möglich Feinde per Gedankenkontrolle auf die eigene Seite zu holen. Das kann teilweise über Sieg und Niederlage entscheiden.

    Guide to Galaxy says „Don´t Panic“

    Der wichtige Punkt um im Simulationsteil nicht zu verlieren ist es, alle Länder bei Laune zu halten. Das heißt, jedes Land hat einen Panik Pegel. Sollte dieser in den kritischen roten Bereich ausschlagen ziehen diese Länder ihre Finanzen aus dem XCOM Projekt ab und man hat ein ziemlich großes Problem. Daher gilt es früh genug die perfekte Balance zwischen Ausrüstung, Satelliten und Aufklärung zu finden.

    Als Warnung, XCOM Enemy Unknown ist ein Bockschweres Spiel. Man kann sehr wohl sagen bis dato das schwerste Konsolenspiel bei dem es tatsächlich passieren kann, dass ihr bis zum Ende hin gut seid, dann ein Squad verliert, dadurch den Vorteil im Kampf verliert und keinen Support der einzelnen Länder mehr erhaltet. Ziehen sich dann insgesamt acht Mitgliedsländer aus dem Projekt zurück ist das Spiel zu Ende. Mit zu Ende meine ich wirklich vorbei Game Over ohne Continue, bitte starten sie das Spiel neu von Mission 1. Selbst auf Easy lässt der Computer euch keine Chance und nutzt jeden Fehler gnadenlos aus. Ihr habteinen Sniper zu eit nach vorne geholt? Wunderbar dann schickt der Computer gleich mal Flugeinheiten los die euren 7 Stunden Charakter in 3 Sekunden töten.

    Für ein Konsolenspiel bietet XCOM Enemy Unknown eine wahnsinnige Tiefe in Sachen Strategieelementen. Teilweise hat man das Gefühl, man spiele gerade an einem PC. Zwar wurden einige der bekannten XCOM Elemente verändert bzw abgeschwächt und so vereinfacht, allerdings genauso, dass es den Spieler wahnsinnig fesselt und man nie das Gefühl hat dass hier etwas fehlen könnte oder schlimmer noch, verwässert wurde. Das Argument „Mit Controller kann man doch niemals ein Strategiespiel spielen“ wurde von Firaxis ein für allemal aus der Welt geschafft.

    Wem das ohnehin schon schwere Spiel noch zu einfach ist, dem sei der Iron Man Modus empfohlen, am besten auf Classic oder Impossible. Hier habt ihr nur einen Spielstand und die Aliens legen nochmals einen drauf in Sachen fertig machen. Fehler führen nun immer zur Länderpanik und Geld ist ein sehr seltenes Gut. Viel Vergnügen.
  • A Defiant SithA Defiant Sith271,941
    22 Dec 2012
    9 0 0
    "XCOM: Enemy Unknown: Faithful remake or poor attempt at reviving a dead series?"
    Now, I can't answer that question, as I've never actually played the original XCOM games. But I knew of them, punishing difficulty, meta-control and a mistake would cost you. Well, I saw trailers and reviews of XCOM, and they perked my interest, I downloaded the demo, and was hooked.

    Graphics - 9/10
    Colourful. The game looks fantastic. It has it's own style, slightly cartoony, but detailed. The maps are great fun, detailed but easy to see what's what. You can tell with a glance what's cover, what's dangerous, and can plan ahead. The character models are good, each class looks distinctive, which helps during battles. The enemies are a nice mix of intimidating and almost B-movie. The Sectoids look brilliantly retro.

    Sound - 8/10
    Oh the sounds of combat! Nothing about this game sounds bad, the ambient sounds of the menus to the screeches the aliens make when you unload a plasma round into their brain, it all sounds so good. In terms of voice acting, there isn't much, but it's all well done. My only issue is that all the voices you can choose for your squad are all American. Which for a squad that's supposed to be made up of various nationalities (my main squad for a while had no native English speakers), it sticks out a bit.

    Gameplay - 9/10
    This is a game of two halves. The first, the combat. XCOM is turn based, you move your squad through tiles, and can either move again, shoot, or perform a variety of class-based actions. One action you will learn to love is Overwatch, meaning you don't move, but will automatically shoot any alien that moves when you see it. Most missions involve just killing all hostiles, but occasionally you get missions such as saving civilians, disarming bombs, or rescuing VIPs. The enemies are challenging, but not impossible. The real challenge is the finality of death in this game. You can build up your squad, they all gain experience and level up, but if they die in the field, that's it. They're gone. You can grow attached to your squad, and so the possibility of death is an ever present danger. You can customise each solider pretty well, changing their name, face, hair and so on. It's fun to make a squad based on you and your friends, and see who survives, who goes to which class (Heavy, Assault, Sniper and Support) and who gets what kills.

    The other half is back at HQ. You build your base, research alien technology, requisition weapons and equipment. But also making decisions which have far-reaching consequences. When presented with a mission, you normally have a choice of which nation to assist. The downside? Those countries you don't help start to panic. And if they reach too high a panic level, they withdraw from the XCOM project, cutting your funding. You have to maintain this balance between countries, not letting them get too panicked. Building and maintaining satellites are important, but that takes time and money away from research and outfitting your troops. It's a challenge indeed.

    Speaking of challenge, this game is hard. I mean that as well. This game punishes mistakes, even on Easy. You make the wrong decision, too many countries leave, you lose that Major at the wrong time, you've lost. And it's a long defeat. You try to claw it back, but hope has been lost. The Aliens have won. And it is brilliant. You relish every victory, you celebrate every civilian saved. Once you get into the swing of things, this game offers an experience rarely seen by today’s games.

    Longevity - 10/10
    Every playthrough will be different. Your choice in countries to aid, who you lose, who levels up to what class, even how often UFOs attack. They will all be different. Add to that, the achievements are pretty challenging, including beating the game on Impossible difficulty. I can't even beat it on Easy yet...

    Overall - 9/10
    This is unlike most console games. This is a real challenge. But at the same time, it is a ton of fun. At the very least, it is worth downloading the demo, which will give you a taste of the gameplay (but not the difficulty, be warned there). XCOM is quick to learn, the controls are pretty simple, and it's pretty easy to know what you're doing. But it will take a long, long time to master. The difficulty is punishing, but not impossible. If you can put in the time and effort to master the game, it's is easily a strong candidate for anyone's 'game of the year' list.
  • Xiao1inSty1eXiao1inSty1e112,536
    10 Oct 2012 15 Oct 2012
    2 10 6
    Firaxis does an outstanding job of remaking a classic strategy game.

    Xcom is a remake of a 90s pc game that has a pretty dedicated following, and rightly so. Firaxis remake of Xcom updates this title in all the right ways. Graphics are quite nice while still retaining the destrucability of the environment. Gameplay is streamlined without dumbing down. Music, sound, and voice acting are all very well done. The story line sucks you in and really gets you attached to your soldiers, especially as they rank up. There is even a step by step tutorial to get those gamers that may not be familar with turn
    based strategy games up to speed.

    There are a few minor glitches (mostly graphical in nature) and it is a bit odd that your multinational force speaks entirely in north american english. Nothing that truly detracts from the game.

    Xcom : Enemy Unknown is a definte must play. Firaxis has made the best strategy the 360 has ever seen and very likely 2012s game of the year.

    EDIT: After a much more time with Xcom I have to say I am sorely dissappointed with this game. The initial impression is very good but after scratching the surface there are many many problems with this game and one in particular that can not be "patched" out.

    The glitches and bugs with this game are almost entirely within combat and most of them will be to the detriment of your team. Line of Sight issues being the most damning. While Overwatch can be abused to shoot through the environment not being able to shoot at an enemy that is right infront of you is extremely frustrating. Viewing issues while in buildings or landing craft will cause headaches for many a player. Then there are the "warping" enemy problems that will drop 1 or more bad guys in the middle of your team without any warning. Then of course there are a number of graphical isssues that dont have any impact on gameplay but none the less are frequent and annoying.

    All these things I would overlook but the biggest problem is that the percentages that the game gives you so you can make a determination on how to proceed ARE A LIE. The hit or miss on a shot is PREDETERMINED and the AI knows exactly where to go to avoid getting hit while at the same time not getting hit. The difficulty setting only changes how often they choose the "right" spot. There are many that will say "You dont understand %'s then" I understand them just fine. I also understand that 65% isnt 100% and through my own experiments have found that 100% of the time I miss or hit on a given shot regardless of what % they have given me or how many times I reload the game to take that shot.

    Firaxis has borked the most important part of this game the STRATEGY part and I cannot recommend this game to anyone.