XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Review

Author: Fabio "Kenobit" Bortolotti
Date: 2020-07-30 21:56:20
I have no doubt that this XCOM remake is a great game. The count of my Steam account doesn't lie: tens of hours of my life, in the last few weeks, have been sucked into a whirlwind of digital wars, a bit like what happens to me every time I get in touch with Civilization. I loved this new incarnation of Enemy Unknown viscerally, and I say it as a fan, as a fan of the series, as a monkey who has never stopped playing the original of Julian Gollop. I am happy that Firaxis has managed to convince a publisher to bring out a turn-based strategy like this, in an era in which complex and multifaceted experiences are increasingly rare, especially in large productions. That said, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is far from perfect in many ways.

As I wrote in the preview phase, this remake is also divided into two large sections: one in the field, with turn-based combat, the other in the base, with a management of the research, production and political aspects of the XCOM project, the earthly initiative to counter the alien invasion. Firaxis traced the structure of the original, trying to make it more accessible, possibly without compromising its spirit, which with an incredible alchemy managed to communicate the terror of finding itself, in fact, dealing with an unknown threat. Part of the terror of the old UFO (the name with which the series debuted in Europe) was linked to a ruthless level of difficulty, which punished even the smallest mistakes with the ferocity of permanent death. When the Skyranger landed on the mission site, every single move was made with the heart in his throat: returning home with a single survivor in a team of eight soldiers was the norm, and when the screen darkened with the hidden movement screen , the rudimentary sounds that came out of the Sound Blaster were more disturbing than a film by Dario Argento.

By trying it again today, to be honest, it also turns out that a bit of that difficulty was linked to an interface that, although doing its job very well, made the management of the rounds rather tiring, forcing the player to focus more on the technical aspects of the time unit than on the actual strategy. What happens, however, in XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

Levels tend to develop in one direction. More comfortable, but easier.

To begin with, the interface is infinitely more comfortable, streamlined, accessible. The system of time units has been made explicit graphically, with a practical visualization with colored zones, which indicate whether the soldier will be able to perform an action or will invest the whole shift to move. The men automatically take advantage of the available shelters, allowing you to place the team in a good set-up with a handful of clicks. In addition to this, the introduction of the four classes makes the action more varied, paving the way for many more tactical choices. In fact, depending on the types of men on mission, radically different strategies can be adopted, which gradually gain more options with the release of more sophisticated weapons. If at the beginning we start with a small group of scared soldiers, in the advanced stages we control a close-knit team that seems to have come out of Heinlein's Starship Troopers, with different armor enhanced according to the roles in the team. After the initial loss, in practice, you earn the opportunity to fight on equal terms with the aliens, and at a certain point you even get to be in a situation of superiority, provided you play properly.

Similar situations, in the original, were reserved for the most successful campaigns, the result of the experience accumulated in dozens of failed games. In the new XCOM, on the other hand, everything is easier on a normal level: once you understand how the smoke turns, anyone who has put his hand to a strategist in his life will be able to reverse the balance of the conflict. Doing it is still fun, but those looking for a challenge up to the series must throw their eyes closed on the Classic mode, which offers more resistant, numerous and dangerous enemies. And if you are so "pro" to say that even so it is too easy, try to shoot it without the possibility of reloading, activating the nice Ironman option ...

On the management front, even more than on the battlefield, Firaxis has traced the structure of the old UFO. There are scientists who study alien technologies, engineers who produce equipment for soldiers and a council of states that wants to be protected and revered, otherwise the funds will be cut and the project abandoned. As I already pointed out in the preview, the big difference is that there is only one base to manage here, and that there are no others to be created around the world. This choice on the one hand eliminates the tedious micro-management that was necessary to keep three or four bases standing, but on the other it completely cuts one of the most frightening elements of the original, the alien reprisals, missions in which the nice guests presented themselves, not invited, directly to the XCOM home, possibly when the strongest team was busy around the world. It is a great simplification in the management of the globe, which in fact boils down to the production of satellites and fighters capable of intercepting enemy ships.

Towards the end of the campaign, the soldiers are real Starship Troopers.

For this, playing correctly, it is possible to face all the missions that happen, keeping under control the invasion in a much easier way than it happened in 1994. And also for this, in a few hours, the feeling of fear of the early stages slowly fades away. Fortunately, this does not mean that Firaxis does not trigger the phenomenon of "yet another mission", which even in completely different situations recalls Civilization. As happens on the battlefield, playing in Classic mode makes things much more interesting, drastically reducing the budget and starting the game on a much less equipped base. This means that, although it is still possible to face all the missions, the resources are always too few, and that you are making budget decisions with a proverbial blanket too short. Even so we don't get to the complexity of the original, but the challenge becomes interesting even for expert players.