XCOM: Enemy Unknown in the test - a remake to fall in love with

Author: Jochen Gebauer
Date: 2012-10-09 16:00:00
XCOM: Enemy Unkown in the PC test: A classic round strategy celebrates its comeback. Just: How does he actually celebrate? We think: it rocks and rolls until dawn!

Remakes are like the first dance class: after two steps you step on at least six feet. In the case of XCOM: Enemy Unknown , these feet just don't belong to adolescent debutantes - they belong to die-hard turn-around strategy veterans who have long since declared the original (better known in Germany as UFO) a cult game, a swarm of wild childhood nights and a symbol for a youth in which games were not high definition, but original and complex and loving.

It takes guts to reissue such a game, because the height of the fall is enormous - the developers of Jagged Alliance: Back in Action could sing a song about it. If you fear a similar belly landing for XCOM - solid game, but simply not an XCOM - we can reassure you at this point: It's an XCOM. Which doesn't mean your feet will get away unscathed; but after the first night of dancing at least we didn't care.

So let's get the wounds behind us: The new XCOM makes rounds easier for many playful subtleties of the original - and yes, also for a certain complexity. Our soldiers can no longer lie down or crouch on orders, the time units are history, inventory management has been radically simplified and values and PSI forces of the troops play a comparatively subordinate role.

As a die-hard fan of the template, you don't have to like that; but the remake is still not undemanding. And like XCOM - or rather: like UFO - it also plays.

Heads instead of kawumm

If you thought softly "Huh?" In the last paragraph because you didn't know the original, the basic principle of the game should be briefly explained: Aliens are attacking Earth. "They do it all the time," this someone may mumble - true. In contrast to other games (or films) there is neither US pathos nor a lot of boom and a lot of boom; instead we pull the alien fur over the ears of the ETs with our heads. While we thwart kidnappings in tactical round-the-clock battles, check UFO landing zones or rescue civilians, we organize the defense of humanity in parallel in global strategy mode.

This strategy mode, in turn, takes place in our home base. Here we are building new facilities such as laboratories (increase research performance) or a foundry (granting access to equipment upgrades), strengthening global air surveillance with new satellite control centers, hiring soldiers and deploying interceptors. The expansion of our base in several underground levels is motivating; But it also has to, after all, in contrast to the original, we are only allowed to command this one base - instead of spreading several across the globe.

As usual, the XCOM Council provides us with the necessary change at the end of the month. The more member states we monitor with satellites, the higher our monthly budget. If we can only react at the beginning, so we have our hands full with somehow averting the impending invasion, we strike back as the game progresses. That feels very satisfying, but unfortunately Firaxis wastes a lot of potential in the final. In what way? Unfortunately, that can hardly be explained without nasty spoilers.

First run, then shoot

The really serious changes to the remake can be found - as already mentioned - in the turn-based combat missions. In the original, every soldier still had a fixed quota of so-called time units that were gradually used up with every action (such as turning, lying down or reloading), XCOM is converting to a "walk plus action" model. In other words: Each soldier may first run per round and then carry out exactly one action, such as shooting or opening a door.

If we carry out the action before running, the round is over for this soldier. Alternatively, we can also sprint, which increases the range but does not allow any subsequent action. So tactically, the fundamental question is: are we going to run at all - and if so, how far? "In any case to the next cover" would be a good answer, because if the members of our squad of no more than six people stand around unprotected in the pampas, then they are there faster than we can say "UFO".

The principle remains the same for almost every mission: Find the aliens, kill the aliens. Occasional terrorist missions, in which we have to save as many civilians as possible at the same time, or special missions by the XCOM Council, however, loosen up this rut.

Heavy guys shoot well

Sounds simple? It is - at least until the subtleties of the newly introduced class system come into play. When a soldier rises in level for the first time (the necessary experience points are primarily for alien killing), they are automatically assigned one of four classes: heavy, support, assault or sniper. With every further level up we are usually allowed to choose one of two possible special abilities.

For example, we can teach our heavy boy that his first shot doesn't end the round; so he can shoot twice or shoot and then run. An experienced sniper, on the other hand, is able to snip twice per round. As exciting as the further development of the soldiers is, we reached the maximum rank comparatively quickly; especially since the game only really forces us to level a second team at the same time on the higher levels of difficulty.

Nevertheless: The complexity that XCOM loses through the simple train system is at least partially regained with the tactical diversity of the class system.

Floated in front of the gun

"Partly" because the fights still do not reach the tinkering depth (keyword: how do I scrape out the last unit of time?) Of the original - and because the actually aggressive AI with the flying aliens such as hoverers and cyberdisks sometimes makes noticeable dropouts . Because they like to flutter right in front of the shotgun. Our soldiers, on the other hand, like to be maneuvered unerringly through a poison cloud by the wayfinding, although the range of motion would be enough to avoid the thing.

Nonetheless, XCOM quickly develops that »Just this one round« charm, as we know it from Civilization or the Heroes of Might and Magic series. This one round turns into two, and then three, and then we just want to finish this last mission, but then the next mission comes, and we have just researched a new laser rifle, we just have to try it out briefly , and while we're at it, we could actually wait for the council report ... and why the heck is it already three in the morning?

Fiddly menus

That sounds like the stuff dream ratings are made of - but unfortunately XCOM shoots itself in the leg with two annoying, because avoidable, blunders. The waitress lands the first hit. It is understandable that games are now being developed for PC and console in parallel. But especially with such a complex strategy game, we as PC gamers must expect optimization for mouse, keyboard and high resolutions; after all, we are almost always on the move in some menu.

XCOM's menu navigation, on the other hand, is so obviously designed for TV screens and gamepads that it turns into annoying work on the PC. It starts with fiddly menus (in the technology department, for example, thanks to the four hundred and seventy-three font size, only a maximum of nine items of equipment are displayed at the same time), continues with missing scrolling functions (the descriptive texts for the items of equipment in question continue automatically; and slower than a glacier) and finally flows out in sometimes confusing round-the-clock battles, because the camera cannot be rotated freely, but only offers four fixed viewing angles - and these are not always optimal.

It fits into the picture that some texts don't fit at all; namely into the respective menu, so that the game has to scroll them sideways.

"Negative damage!"

Which brings us to the second blunder: the German translation, which would still be very benevolent with "unhappy". If our sniper misses his target and comments loudly with the words "negative damage!", Then we grin involuntarily. However, if in the further course of the game important elements of the plot are misleadingly or simply incorrectly translated, then we no longer grin - we devalue the atmosphere by one point.

Especially since the actually solid story (find out what makes these aliens tick and then strike out against the mentioned counter-attack) is presented by the German speakers with the vigor of a recently asleep foot. Which is only consistent because the dialogues were beaten into German at the same time as the linguistic elegance of a sledgehammer.

Whistled on it!

But if you think now, I don't give a damn, as long as the result still feels like XCOM, let me say at this point: Of course, whistle! Firaxis succeeds in exactly what BitComposer failed at Jagged Alliance: Back in Action: To preserve the spirit of the original and at the same time to stage a modern, gripping and completely playful pleasure, which you don't have to play the role model to enjoy .

But connoisseurs enjoy one advantage: They know what they are getting into. A combination of tactical round-the-clock battles and global strategy that is as original as it is unique. And dance the night away until dawn.