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LTTP: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC)

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LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.

The first screenshot of XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s base layout brought me back to the early to mid 1990s. No, I wasn’t an original XCOM fan; I simply drew underground bases on sheets of paper. My bases were sprawling underground complexes filled with all sorts of facilities of war.

I relived my childhood fantasies through Firaxis’ modern take on XCOM. I gorged on the research and building aspects of the game. I like to invest heavily in new weapons and tech in real time strategy games — even if it means I have fewer units on the field. In XCOM that was not a problem. If I took care of my units, I could indulge in upgrades. But even then I could not go hog wild in that direction because the nations of the world were crying for my watchful eye. Their demand for satellite coverage meant I had to balance personal and political agendas.

My selfishness (and mismanagement) resulted in half the world’s nations leaving the XCOM project. I found the political theater hokey. Did all those third world countries truly believe they could fend off the aliens by themselves? And who was the illusive man in the shadows who grades my performance? He was more unsettling than the aliens.

“Remember: We will be watching”

Creepy. Maybe if they spent less time watching and more time helping, I wouldn’t have lost so many soldiers on the battlefield.

Loading saves erases mistakes. By flipping on the “Ironman” switch, I was playing for keeps. I didn’t make 27 mistakes but I was reckless with many rookies. I treated them like redshirts. They would uncover enemy positions as my veterans laid waiting to pounce. I slowed the waste of human life by renaming and personalizing soldiers. This helped create tangible bonds between each soldier and myself. It was difficult to care about a soldier who had a name I couldn’t pronounce let alone remember.

There was a story behind each “named” soldier’s death. I lost “Chun Li” after a Sectoid Commander delivered a devastating plasma shot to the face. Rock Lee bled out on the roof of an alien space craft; the medic on the mission ran out of medkits. Viewing the memorial memorial and seeing all those names felt meaningful. It gave my decisions weight and since I was playing without the ability to roll back to an older save, it was an exhilarating ride. I felt everything could come crashing down with each passing moment.

As operations and battles passed I found myself caring for only one class of characters, the snipers. Equipped with a plasma sniper rifle and the ability to hit enemies who were within the vision of squadmates this class easily dominated the game. I brought three snipers to the final battle and did not lose a single person. I didn’t even bother filling the squad with high level Colonels because I knew my long range killers could take out the mightiest foes.

The rules of XCOM were simple. The aliens and I took turns moving our characters into position. The early moments of a mission were tense since I had to discover the aliens before the real chess match began. This often left me at a tactical disadvantage. To ensure my squad’s survival, I made sure every soldier was always behind some form of cover. Leaving a soldier out in the open was an invitation for a face full of plasma.

The game taught me how to flank but I never had to employ such strategy on the normal difficulty. I did just fine baiting the aliens into a hail of reactionary gunfire. I used “Overwatch” so frequently I thought I was becoming too cheap. Perhaps higher difficulty levels will prevent me from playing so conservatively.

I still can’t believe XCOM was powered by Unreal Engine 3.0. The same engine that brought us the Gears of War trilogy and first person shooters like Borderlands was willed into an isometric turn based strategy game. I can’t pick out any of the Unreal Engine hallmarks; Firaxis did a fantastic job giving the game its own stylized look.

My only complaint against XCOM’s presentation were its visual quirks and oddities. The underlying simulation didn’t always line up with what was displayed on the field. Too many shots flew through what I thought were solid objects. I benefited from those “glitches” just as much as I was screwed by them. Thankfully those misrepresentations and the occasional lingering pause in-between turns were the only bugs that I ran into.

I have every intention to XCOM and play it through on a higher difficulty. I want create new stories and take on the challenges of a higher difficulty. Now that I know what I’m doing, it could be a breeze or end in utter failure as every nation of the world withdraws funding and every soldier I send out dies horrible unceremonious deaths. Not many games allow you to screw yourself over these days but then again they don’t make many games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown anymore.

Must Play

Ratings Guide

For more information on XCOM: Enemy Unknown, visit the official website.

2010 PC Rev. 1.2 was used to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

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