XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a reboot of the strategy franchise of the same name back on the 90s, is probably one of the most difficult games to understand, not only as a turn-based strategy fan, but also as a game reviewer. Coming out on the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, this game is accessible for anyone to pick up and play along with taking a long time to master. If you plan on picking up XCOM and you like strategy games, you won’t have to worry about not getting enough time out of the game as I’ve spent the last month trying to completely understand it.
Developed by Firaxis as the studio’s first departure from a game created by Sid Meier, these guys are known for some of the deepest strategy experiences available in video games. Known for the Civilization series, they take their experience from their years of work on Civilization to work on a rebirth of the XCOM franchise. Can this wealth of experience bring new life to the series on the current consoles?
Preparing for Galactic War: Single player and multiplayer are pretty much the same. Going through the campaign you are given the typical vague premise: you are a commander of a private global defense organization attempting to expel aliens from wreaking havoc on Earth by seeking and removing them at sometimes any cost. Quickly expanding the difficulty, I’d describe the core mechanics to be a roguelike while sticking to the general tabletop role-playing game that I explained before. All of this combines into a simple yet intuitive experience. As for the multiplayer, you are given a certain amount of credits to customize your futuristic warriors in a small 1v1 arena with some protection across the virtual battlefield. As its turn-based, you don’t really have to worry about lag as the gameplay being shown concurrent without having much of a need to weigh down your upload and download speeds. You really begin to understand the meaning of strategy when you go into a ranked match.
Within an hour of playing the campaign, you’ll have those moments of great excitement for achieving something that might or might not be difficult depending on your experience. Mechanically, the game functions as a tabletop role-playing game and that may scare some people off with that comparison. Honestly though, it’s intentional because those who would be opposed to tabletop gaming might not even see this as being their kind of game. For a strategy game, XCOM definitely created the easiest controls that I’ve ever had for any turn-based game that I played on a console. When I start playing a game, usually I just jump in without looking at the controls and never once did I have to bring up the control layout. How Firaxis did this with one of the deepest strategy experiences I’ve ever had completely boggles me.
Going Deep - While games like FTL are easy to pick up and play, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a much deeper experience that is going to take you hours and hours to just begin to understand. Whether this is a bad or good thing for you, I’d like to think of it as getting your money’s worth. With several different types of aliens, you have just as many different classes of human soldiers giving the game a large variety but usually with variety beyond the typical rock-paper-scissors strategy gives an unbalanced game.
FAILING LIKE JOHN CARTER
It’s Just Not Fun - I’ve played through XCOM at least fifty hours and even for this strategy fan, I just didn’t have fun with the game. There is nothing mechanically wrong with the game but the repetitive hardcore strategy just seems to echo as you get the same experiences over and over again. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal taste but after the first few hours of gameplay, I just felt like the game was more of work than play. As much as I tried to give XCOM multiple tries for fun replayability, I just wasn’t having a good time as I’d rather think about taking up DnD instead. You know what isn’t fun either? Watching the same animations on the same character models again and again and again.
The Same Thing Over and Over Again - From watching the interceptors attack a saucer to watching as the aliens crawl in from the corner of the map, once you’ve played about two to three hours of the game you’ve played it all and you’ve seen it all. Hearing the same dialog and seeing the same, simple cutscenes, it gets old real fast. While the graphics aren’t really anything to ogle your eyes out over.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of my favorite strategy games of the year despite not having an exuberant amount of fun with it. Mechanically, there is so much to offer the hardcore turn-based strategy niche audience, but for those wanting to get into strategy games should definitely not pickupthis game and instead try out Firaxis’ previous title, Civilization Revolution. XCOM, aesthetically, isn’t interesting for a casual gamer either as animations are repetitive. With that said, if you are looking for the deepest strategy game of 2012, you found it.
*This review was based on the PS3 version of the game with a review copy provided by the publisher.*