Shooting ET - XCOM: Enemy Unknown review

Author: T_bone
Date: 2012-10-08 14:00:00
The review was based on the PC version.

When in the 90s someone asked me "Who's the best computer game developer?" My answer was simple - MicroProse. The gentlemen brought to life many series that I still remember fondly today, including the XCOM series. Old UFO: Enemy Unknown is a game that captivated me personally with the atmosphere of horror. Later sequels did not quite manage to achieve this effect. When I found out in February of this year that the folks at MicroProse, now focused on Firaxis Games, were working to relaunch the franchise, I figured someone would finally help regain the legend's former spirit.

A few months later, I started to doubt whether XCOM: Enemy Unknown would be what I expected. Being confined to one base and a maximum of six soldiers in action made me lose my faith in success. There were also a lot of other concerns. Will the game guide us through the plot by the hand? What about environmental destruction?

Fortunately, it's October, Sergeant Mayer has been surrounded by Chrysalides, turned into a zombie, and the rest of the team flees to Skyranger. The UFO is back ...

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an attempt to bring the essence of an old UFO into the 21st century. So we have key strategic aspects like base management, globe and turn-based tactical combat. It's not a one-to-one remake though - Jake Solomon and the Firaxis Games team added something to each other and removed what didn't fit their vision of an action-packed turbo game.

But is this still our story of the fight against the extraterrestrial invader? The answer is yes - every time we start a game we enter into a very personal story with some plot elements woven into it. The likelihood of encountering the same sequence of missions or maps is slim. Additionally, if the arena repeats during one approach to the campaign, the opponent will have different forces.

A novelty are special missions commissioned by the Council of Nations - sometimes it's about defusing a bomb or occasionally saving a VIP. The pool from which the scenarios are selected is large, so we are not bored. It is also a great variety for famous missions related to kidnappings, terror and disaster sites.

In Enemy Unknown, we only get one base - it is a sign that we have a slightly different concept here than in the classic versions. The choice of a continent is the first decision that will have a huge impact on our further progress. South America, allowing for instant autopsies and interrogations, is a very tempting proposition, but maybe we care more about money? It is also not insignificant.

Due to the fact that we do not command any army, but rather a SAS-style special unit sent to the most important missions, there is no question of running any scientists' farm and sending Skyrangers to search the globe. The scale is just smaller now, a single plane can't be in three places at once. This forces us to intervene in a country that is important to us, be it for financial reasons, bonuses, or the danger that it will leave the council. XCOM tells you to make such decisions right from the start, often forcing you to choose the lesser evil, and this is the essence of the game.

One of the novelties that I particularly like about the new base is the situation room. There we decide where to launch the satellites and control the level of panic. Messages straight from TV news scroll under the map. If we shoot down a UFO, we can expect to read about "An Air Fight with an Unidentified Object Observed by French Villagers". The creators included many such small things in the game, which are extremely happy because they relate directly to our actions.

When it comes to clashes in the skies, it should be noted that, unfortunately, they have not been greatly expanded in relation to those of the old UFO , except for the ships obtaining some improvements that can be used during the fights. Fortunately, research is just as intriguing as it was before, so there is no shortage of autopsies, interrogations, and archival ufopedia.

When I saw my four soldiers on the battlefield for the first time (six have to be earned in officer training), I thought that not only are there not enough of them, but they are getting out of the Skyranger themselves. The reason is simple - Firaxis focused on dynamics, fortunately over time it convinced me to its approach . No more building a wall of rookies to be shot when exiting the transport. If we lose recruits one by one, it is a painful loss, because having a trained unit, it is worth having a promising team B in reserve.

Terrain is of course of great importance in combat and even more destructive of the environment. In Enemy Unknown, we may not collapse entire floors, but the walls are not an obstacle to our plasma missiles. The bigger problem of the game is the correct assessment of what the soldiers see. By moving a person somewhere, we can often discover that the alien is not in his field of view, as we predicted. There are also cases when both sides lead fire to each other through the walls. These situations are not common, but when they do, they can negatively affect the reception of the game.

The graphics of XCOM: Enemy Unknown are confronted with what we have created in our imagination, looking at the pixelated frame of the original. In my case, the verdict is very positive, the whole comic book style with Gears of War and Mass Effect influences perfectly combines with realistic scenery and occasional "gore". The rather futuristic XCOM suits contrast in an interesting way with the usual uniforms of army soldiers that we can meet during the mission.