"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.