The original 1994 PC release of “UFO: Enemy Unknown” was lauded for its brutal difficulty, in-depth customization and high replay value.
“XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” the developers at Firaxis Games latest edition, looked to recapture the charm by improving the enemy A.I. and game-play elements that would complement an original style.
It puts players in the role of the commander of a global project to defend Earth from an unknown alien menace.
Game play is divided between tactical and squad-based missions and a “geo-scape” view in which resources and research projects must be managed. Smart planning in all three modes are critical to success.
Much of a player’s game time will be contributed to fighting aliens in the turn-based tactical missions mode. Gamers are in charge of commanding four to six squad members that are selected from a pool of soldiers at the beginning of the mission.
Each member can gain abilities and improve ranking by killing aliens and surviving missions. Customizing strategy for these squads in every battle also proves to be a satisfying challenge.
Despite being a turn-based shooting game, each battle feels fluid and will have players returning to the field even after an agonizing loss.
Part of what makes it so addicting is its difficulty. Players are rarely given the upper hand since the alien A.I. has the ability to exploit any strategic flaw.
As a player’s squad level increases and gains access to new technology, the aliens introduce powerful species and equipment to keep them alert. Unless gamers take the initiative to strategically plan ahead, they will be outnumbered.
In the “geo-scape” mode, players are tasked with managing Earth’s resources. The games near-future settings portray Earth divided into 16 countries and each one must be placated in order for it to continue to throw money at its project.
While losing battles does not constitute a game-over, losing countries does. The constant, high-stakes balancing act of where and when to send a satellite to one country or investigate an abduction site in another is almost as tense and satisfying as the battles.
The game does have a couple of minor flaws. The camera is limited and sometimes hard to work with when exploring the guts of an alien ship or bombed-out building.
There are also some minor line of sight issues that may have squad members inexplicably firing directly at a wall when it looks like they have a clear shot.
Neither of these problems are game breaking, but they do stand out in an otherwise polished game.
Overall, “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” is a fantastic game given the tight, balanced, addictive battles and strategic game elements, which make it a must have for any gamer looking for something refreshing.