Game on: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown for PC/PS3/Xbox 360
(Developer: Firaxis Games, Publisher: 2K Games, Rating: R13)
Reviewed by Harley Ogier
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a reboot of 1994's widely revered UFO: Enemy Unknown, also known as X-COM: UFO Defense. With the original holding on to a strong fanbase, XCOM has an awfully big pair of combat boots to fill.
The story is simple, and firmly tongue-in-cheek: aliens invade Earth and you lead an organisation dedicated to stopping them . . . using the liberal application of bullets and science.
At the core of XCOM is turn-based tactics, wrapped in a shell of base-building and resource-management strategy. Think Civilization, except that you command a squad of four to six soldiers, on short missions set in the space of a few city blocks, rather than directing armies and resources over continents and centuries.
Your soldiers start off about as hardened as a warm croissant. Only through killing aliens and avoiding a grisly death do they become genuinely useful. Therein lies the strategy and the appeal: you can't simply build up one ‘A-squad' and throw them at every UFO you shoot down. Before you know it, a cybernetic gorilla destroys half your squad and the rest are laid up in the infirmary for a couple of weeks. XCOM is unforgiving and the challenge ramps up quick and steep. Both despite, and because of, the difficulty curve, I loved XCOM. When I thought things were getting repetitive, it would make things exponentially harder, forcing me to rethink tactics.
The strategy elements - building your base, deciding what to research and what equipment to build - provide an effective counterpoint to the computer-generated missions, and make the game world feel deep and expansive.
Little annoyances such as the difficulty of allocating equipment to my squad kept the game from a perfect five-star rating, but XCOM is still a game I'll be playing long after you read this review. If you're tired of shooters and keen to try something different, or an accomplished strategy gamer looking for a challenge, XCOM is a must-have.