Will Preston

Tag: XCOM Enemy Unknown

The chances of anything hitting spot on are a million to one

by on Nov.05, 2012, under Review, Video Games

It’s always an invasion. Whenever we glimpse to the sky and consider that we may not be alone in the ever-expanding black sack of a universe we were burped into, many of us can’t help but think that anything light-yearing its way towards our blue-ish planet won’t have the intention of stopping by quickly to ask for directions to Alpha Centuri. Or even an interstellar version of Bill Oddie making a makeshift bush on the moon and gawping at us with some kind of laser-powered binoculars while narrating our scutterings to a half-interested daytime television crowd. No. It’s always an invasion. Whether it’s a gradual integration akin to the John Carpenter flick They Live or the galloping tripod massacre featured in the iconic War of the Worlds, Aliens rarely tend to come in peace. Or stop by to phone home.

Google had their part to play, too

It’s the near future and Earth is being invaded by a mysterious alien force for the first time in recorded history. Rather than arming Jeff Goldblum with a Macbook and asking Will Smith rather nicely to fly a capture spaceship at them, mankind has already grouped together in secret to unleash the XCOM project – a multi-national covert organisation designated with the task of eliminating any alien threat to the blue and green planet we hold so dear. A council of international representatives has just appointed a new commander to the project (played by you, of course) who will oversee the development of XCOM headquarters, manage research & development projects relating to alien technology, as well as commanding a team of hardened soldiers armed with an offensive amount of weaponry.

XCOM Enemy Unknown is yet another remake of a classic Nineties game, but this time, it’s not being converted into a cookie-cutter first person shooter. The original was a combination of both a turn-based strategy game and a base management simulator – both of which have been respectfully preserved in this new edition. Your ultimate objective for the entire game is to repel alien invaders for attacking Earth. But it’s not that simple. It never is. For a start, this is a publicly funding project. Each nation on earth has pooled money and resources into this operation, so there is a bureaucratic numbers game that must be obeyed. If alien attacks in Mexico rise to an alarming amount with little intervention from XCOM, you’ll have to look for your monthly pesos elsewhere. Not only that, but you’ll regularly receive multiple UFO encounters in a single in-game day, putting pressure on you to decide which country least deserves to be left at the mercy of an extra-terrestrial force. Just like a juggling act, you have to think two moves ahead.

The Thin Men look suspiciously like Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory

The game is split into two modes of play. The main mode is managing your base as the days flutter by. You’re given a monthly budget to spend on upgrades, new soldiers equipment and anything else that contributes to alien death. Set up like some kind of bizarre ant farm, the base trails deep under the planet’s crust and is split into various sections. You have your hangar that allows the transport ship and your interceptor fights to launch out to anywhere in the world, there’s the troop barracks and, amongst the rest of the base, is your laboratory and your workshop. As the game progresses you’ll receive a large collection of alien artefacts, corpses and concepts for new technology. Your laboratory allows a team of scientists to examine your growing collection of alien junk in order to adopt, adapt and improve your fighting force. The workshop operates hand in hand with the lab to produce the new equipment. Before long, your team of basically equipped soldiers will be a heavily armed squad with flying suits and alien plasma technology.

In order to produce these wonderful, you will need to recover alien technology, as well as capture the odd extraterrestrial, in various missions occurring randomly throughout the months. At first, they’ll be basic abduction investigation missions, but as the campaign for Earth heats up, you’ll find yourself defending cities from alien terrorist cells, raiding downed UFOs and escorting VIPs to safety. Not straying too far from the original’s method of play, the missions take a turn-based structure. Each one opens with your VTOL troop transport craft dramatically landing into the theatre of combat with your team spilling out, guns at the ready. A fog of war prevents you from getting a good grasp of the area of operation, so care is needed when advancing the team as one wrong move and your recently promoted lieutenant could end up deep-throating a volley of plasma before being able to yell for back-up.

Different skills open up advanced tactics

The tense sudden death feel of the original has been replicated with perfection. You’ll see yourself losing your temper as an enemy instantly downs your well-covered soldier with a pin-point shot, and that’s just the first mission in and you’ve barely had time to admire your guy’s shiny battle armour. Thankfully, there’s a new system in place that keeps the game flowing at a good pace, so you’ll be able to lose your temper quicker. Each turn gives you two moves per person. You can use both moves to allow the guy to sprint, or you can play it safe and move half the distance, allowing you to use the remaining move to fire on the enemy, heal your team or stand guard. Sometimes, you won’t have the luxury of carefully marching your team out with care. If it’s one of the dreaded terror missions, you’re racing against the enemy to save as many civilians as possible. And I don’t joke when I say that you’ll be lucky to get a quarter of them out alive.

Rather than sending an endless horde of samey bug-eyed monsters at you, the alien army consists of different races working together. In the early missions, you’ll find yourself trading fire with Sectoids (your garden variety grey alien with shiny black eyes) and before long you’ll find yourself rethinking your tactics to take on the juggernaut-like wraiths known as the Mutons. Each alien species brings their own significant traits to the battlefield that require you to adopt a new strategy each time. One particularly fiendish creation comes to mind. The Chrysalid is an armour-plated quadruped that gallops across the battlefield like a Geiger horse. Rather than wield a gun, it zips up to people and slashes them with a fatal attack. Only once you’ve researched and manufactured the best armour in the game does your team surviving a close quarter fight with these spindly nightmares. But it doesn’t end there. Should a human fall to one of these ghoulish bastards, they come back as a zombie in the next turn that roams the game beating people to death before a newborn Chrysalid rips them apart from within, starting the unholy cycle all over again. Until you can kill the zombie in time, of course.

Built like a crude platitude

While the game is extremely immersive, there are a few glitches and problems that pop out of nowhere to spoil your experience slightly. First of all is the cover system. Well…not the cover system itself, but what happens when someone takes cover. When someone fires at someone in cover, the bullets tend to fly right through the wall. This glaring error is made more obvious with the added action-cam pointing out why this looks so bad. Maybe they have armour piercing weaponry, but it ends up looking like rushed design. Another problem lies the un-skippable moments of the game. Sometimes, the enemy’s turn seems to take an age while you impatiently wait for an entire team to scamper around the playing field before you can do them the discourtesy of stopping them from scampering anymore. many times I found myself chewing the keyboard in a desperate attempt to let the game know I’m losing my patience. Long-time XCOM fans will be disgruntled to hear that the panic system is still in play. Should a member of your team become intimidated or witness the quick death or a comrade, there’s a chance they’ll lose their grip on the mission and throw a sissy fit that results in them either running in panic with arms waving, or firing wildly in the vague direction of combat. If the latter happens, sometimes fate smiles upon you and an enemy is accidentally killed. Other times, your stressed rookie shoots the highest ranking member of the squad in the face. And that’s IF your guy hits anything, as each shot has a percentage chance of hitting anything. Too many times have I seen a soldier get the drop on an alien, only to shoot wide despite being close enough to cuddle it. It’s all the luck of the draw in the end.

XCOM Enemy Unknown is a lovingly re-imagined game that pays a great deal of homage to the DOS classic while tinkering with the core gameplay with a large amount of respect. Fans of the old game will welcome the HD reworking of the older foes from the floaters cyborg masks to the flying discs added array of firepower. The super shiny visuals mixed with the impeccably cinematic approach just shows that in the right hands, a remake can almost surpass the original. Do take care though. I forgot to mention that is ten times more addictive than sugar coated smack. For a week, I didn’t have any free time to myself until the end credits crept up the screen and I breathed a sigh of relief before slouching into a pile of junk food containers and piss jars. If this game is widely played, we really don’t stand a chance against alien invasion.

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