So let’s talk about XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
I was originally going to wait until I’d clocked more hours in this than just the tutorial, but honestly I feel that said tutorial has got me confident enough to make a valid assessment, so here we go:
This is the strategy/tactics game of the year.
The short version is that they took the original X-Com: UFO Defense, beefed up the graphics and redid the UI, tweaked a very small handful of features, packaged it up and are selling it right now.
Sold yet? No?
Here’s the long version, then: all of my fears about the game have been thoroughly laid to rest. This isn’t an easy, casualized version of the game (unless you specifically put it on the easy difficulty.) This isn’t Babby’s First Turn-Based Tactics. This is X-Com.
In fact, that last sentence was something I just kept hearing in my head over and over as I played. This is X-Com. This is what it’s supposed to be.
Everything is there. The rookies from every country in the world with the appropriate name. The Skyranger. The Interceptors shooting down UFOs. The research. The construction. The money management. The geoscape.
“Hidden Movement” is there; it’s called something different but it’s there and just as terrifying.
The music is there. They redid the mission music from the original and added it as a track in the game and when I heard it I felt my heart jump into my throat.
Which leads me to my next and perhaps most important point; the sense of sheer white-knuckle thrill is there.
Let’s talk about Firaxis’s most controversial choice, which is the removal of time units and the replacement of them with a fixed set of moves. They pulled this off really, really well. There is still a sense that you can move a certain number of steps if you also want to shoot something, and thanks to a very clear UI you know exactly when you’re going to overstep that boundary. It doesn’t change the core mechanic, it just makes it easier to “read”.
They have also added a “talent tree”, so to speak, to your soldiers. Different soldiers come with a different specialty– or “spec” if you will– and as they improve you can pick up talents for them. Some of the talents are a real difficult choice because they could all be useful in different situations. This also ups the stakes, considerably, because it makes it all the more acute when one of your really spec’d out guys dies. (And he will.)
The other thing they added that I was originally iffy on– occasional cuts to a third person view of your soldier as he shoots or moves– was pulled off superbly and does nothing but heighten the tension.
I don’t have much else to say here that isn’t a fangirly mess of random letters and numbers and exclamation points. All I know is that the guys at Firaxis have outdone themselves with this one and pulled off something which I didn’t know could be pulled off. Absolutely worth every cent of the full price.
In closing: over a year ago, when I didn’t know that this game was in production, I made a post about what an X-Com reboot would need to be a worthy successor. Firaxis followed it word for word. Much love.
Available on Steam and also for consoles.