XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

by Stephen Heller Featured

11 Comments 29 Votes 4961 Views 22/10/2012 Back to Reviews

The fate of the world is in your hands

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Got Right
  • + Turn-based strategy that is exciting
  • + Decisions that bare real consequences
  • + Deaths can make or break the game
  • + Keeps true to the series roots
XCOM: Enemy Unknown Got Wrong
  • - Often feels like a cover-based shooter
  • - Enemies are too predictable

Bringing an old franchise back from the dead can often be a futile exercise; 2011's Syndicate revival failed to deliver convincing sales despite the original having a cult following and the jury is still out as to whether Deus Ex: Human Revolution gained enough sales to warrant a sequel. XCOM: Enemy Unknown set out to bring the classic tactical franchise back to the forefront of strategic gaming, and thankfully Firaxis has succeeded.

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XCOM: Enemy Unknown puts you in the unsettling position as commander of XCOM, a paramilitary outfit charged with defence of the entire planet. As an alien invasion begins on Earth you will make decisions that will literally shape the future of the world as we know it. Will your pour time and money into research and development? Will you spend more dollars training an elite squadron of soldiers to send into battle? Will you upgrade their equipment to ensure their success. All of these factors and more will be weighing on your concience throughout the hefty campaign.

Sounds intense doesn't it? Intense is about as good a word as any to describe the type of pressure that Enemy Unknown throws at you constantly, almost to the point where a small failure will seem catastrophic. Quite possibly the best aspect of the entire game is the fact that there never seems to be enough time or money to do everything - concessions must be made and the consequences will be felt across the globe.

For those new to the series, XCOM is a turn-based strategy game that first came on the scene in 1994. Over the years it gained a passionate band of followers, right up until its disappearance in 2001. Enemy Unknown has the hard task of satisfying the insatiable hunger that fans have been experiencing for eleven years, while still managing to remain open to new ideas and a new generation of gamers.

Enemy Unknown doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to turn-based mechanics; players will still be limited to how many actions can be completed during each turn, combat is based upon numerous variants depending on the situation and the only way to survive is to have a seriously strong strategy when entering battle. It's all standard stuff, yet Enemy Unknown remains exciting simply because it puts you in the thick of the action.

Issuing a command for a soldier to dash to the next vantage point isn't simply viewed from a top-down camera, instead the player is taken to a cinematic camera angle as they see their soldier at work. Same goes for firefights and various other actions in the game world, bringing a level of excitement that changes the feeling and pace of the experience significantly.

Enemy Unknown delivers one of the most exciting turn-based strategy games of recent times"

Depending on your performance during a mission, various items and bonuses will be unlocked, along with additional funding and research options once you make it back to base. Deciding who to promote, what research you should invest in and which missions to take will be paramount to your success. It's certainly no easy task, especially when an invasion is taking place in two different countries and you can only react to one. You will need to weigh up how important that country is to the funding and progress of the XCOM program and make a decision that could possible sway the outcome of your entire campaign.

While Enemy Unknown delivers one of the most exciting turn-based strategy games of recent times, there are a few niggling issues that are worth noting. Enemies are often predictable; they will never move until you are within their line of sight which makes the otherwise exciting combat sequences seem a little pre-written. The illusion of the aliens scurrying around the environment is lost instantly, making the impending firefight seem a little flat.

The game can also feel like a tactical cover-based shooter at times also. Each area where combat takes place seems to be suffering from Gears of War syndrome; an abundance of chest high walls and containers are scattered around giving your squad a chance to hide from any real threat, and leaving you open to move around and take out your enemies. It doesn't exactly take away from the experience, but it certainly become obvious the more hours you put into the campaign.

The Final Verdict

Firaxis deserve a medal for their work with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. They have managed to resurrect a beloved franchise and keep it true to its roots, while still offering a fresh experience that newcomers can enjoy. The gameplay is strategic and exciting, and despite a few niggling factors, should definitely be in consideration for game of the year. If you want to blast aliens, research a tonne of awesome technology, create bad ass soldiers and have the fate of the world resting upon your shoulders, go out and pick this one up today!

By Stephen Heller

Note: This review is based upon the PC release.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Platform: PS3 / Xbox / PC
Similar to: XCOM
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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review Comments

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Awesome review! Good to see you still adding stuff to this site @heller !
How's the new job been going for ya anyhow?
I will say this, this game is incredibly complex to a newcomer. A bit off-putting, to be frank.

But nice review @heller , as always! (*)
saving the world, one turn at a time.

Put me into a game where I can save the world and I'm there *_*
I'm loving the game as well, I think they should disable the Casual, Easy, Normal difficulties, not playing on Hard or above doesn't make the game any fun.
I love the original (on my amiga)

great to see it get a good score here. great read @heller

@EndBoss I'm fine with it there as it doesn't affect users who go for the hardest setting but I can definitely see people getting frustrated if they find it too hard at first.

It's a good mix and I agree with you that to get the best out of the game, playing it on a harder difficulty like classic ironman is the way to go.
I'm waiting anxiously for my PS3 copy in the mail. I need a tactical game with a bit of difficulty; too many overly-easy games these days.
It's definitely going to test you! I played it a little on Xbox 360 and it seems to work pretty well on a controller too!
loving it on pc :)
Can't wait to get this, pretty excited to fire it up actually, been watching abit of Gameplay on this
Men In Black but with massive armour, big guns and a tight budget.
Critically acclaimed but sales have fallen flat apparently:


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