Review by neonreaper

"Game-ending glitches tarnish an otherwise amazing strategy game."

as an update:
I originally really liked this game, but I had 3 Iron Man games end with game-ending glitches. I've given this game a low score because I find this unacceptable and originally wasted 20+ hours of my free time as a result. Some patches have come since then, and I am able to play through my game, but it's still tarnished by the poor craftmanship of the game's developers. It's too bad Unreal seems to be a crutch and not a tool.

original review:
Even though I'm an older gamer, I never actually played previous X-Com titles. I've never been a fan of science fiction so I would tend to play modern or fantasy games instead. This summer it was hard to avoid the hype for X-Com, with many articles praising this game for reviving a classic, if not slightly unheralded, human vs alien strategy series. It seemed like a dream come true for many people, and as I checked out the gameplay videos and hands-on descriptions, I realized that this game was going to be a good one. I like strategy games, from Shining Force to Final Fantasy Tactics to Valkyria Chronicles, Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, etc. And XCOM Enemy Unknown fits right in with the best of them...almost.

I'll sing the game's praise in a moment, but first I want to get to the complaints. The user interface has some pretty obvious problems. For one, there are skills you select pretty much every turn in every battle. Selecting the skill brings up an information button that you then have to click on in order to select. It's a bit annoying. You can use keys to select the skill, and pressing the key twice will quickly select the skill and get past the confirmation/info pop-up. The problem here is that the skills aren't mapped to the same key for every character, and in fact depending on where your character is on the map or what actions he has available, the skill button isn't always the same for a single character. So, you always have to check out where the skill is located. This can lead to a lot of issues both big and small. There are plenty of other interface issues that just seem curious at best, and they hamper this game from being the best gameplay experience it can be.

The other issue is simply the presence of bugs and glitches. Things like the final battle having a game-breaking glitch for a popular game mode, unless you figure out a workaround or ask for help online. It's nice to have such things available, though. Plenty of other glitches, and already there's been a nearly 2GB patch for fixes. It's nice to have the fixes, but there are still problems, and so on. It's hard to tell how many issues are simply a matter of the breadth of gamers being able to find problems that a small group of testers can't, and how many issues are in the game due to schedule concerns.

What the game does well? So many things:

1. Difficulty. This game has 4 difficulty levels and 2 modes for single player: normal and ironman. Ironman auto-saves as you play, so any mistake you make is permanent. You get to decide what type of experience you want. The easier two difficulty modes give you some challenge without being too punishing, then Classic makes things rough, while the hardest difficulty level is insane. Ironman is unforgiving, but it puts more weight into your decisions and increases the intensity of sticky situations. The game itself can be complex so it's not at all casual friendly, but, it's friendly for gamers who want choices.

2. Battles. This game doesn't necessarily have the quality of scripted battles you'll find in other strategy games, but it's pretty good and there's a lot of randomness in the setups. I've played 4 games so far and outside of the story, the battle layouts and events haven't been the same twice. There are some nice mechanics that will make you think about what choices you make. There's a lot of RNG and praying to the RNG gods for mercy, so I think for some people, that could be a strong negative. It's part of the character of the game, and it doesn't feel like it's lying to you - many of your shots are in the 45-65% chance range, so you're not going to expect success all the time. So many things in this game are cut and dried, but I'd say that is probably up for the most personal interpretation.

3. Character building. You have your squad, you have a bunch of different classes, and every unit gets experience and levels up and you choose what skills (there's usually only 2 choices per level) to pick. There's also some equipment decisions you can make, but they roll in slowly. Characters that take damage are on the disabled list (length depends on the amount of damage), so you'll be using the depth of your barracks. And you will like it! This is one of the biggest draws to RPGs/SRPGs for me and it's done really well here.

4. Game flow and gameplay. I will admit, the game is a bit complex at first so there's a learning curve outside of the battles. You not only run around killing aliens, you also have to manage your base. X-Com is a funded project, and you have to keep all of the funding countries safe, and you have to also make the best decisions for killing aliens. The game introduces a lot of basic concepts pretty well, but there are plenty of other ones that it seems like you need to figure out for yourself. It's nice to have internet communities and guides for this, but the material is a little dense for a first-timer. Events and battles are paced pretty well, though definitely if you are a first-timer, you might want to pick Normal difficulty to stand a chance with the base building aspect.

5. Graphics and sound. There's not much music to talk about, and honestly it reminds me of some of the simpler Mass Effect songs. Graphics are fine, they get the job done with UE without being a burden on your system.

6. Multiplayer. I have not tried this yet, but you have 1v1 player matches. If you want to throw down with a friend, it seems like it'd be a blast.

X-Com is a terrific strategy game with it's own unique sense of personality and gameplay that will make you want to play it all the friggin time. It has some user interface quirks that hinder the flow of battle, but it's not enough to detract from this being one of the best titles of the year. If you like other strategy RPG types of games, then you will love this game.

One note, I have an AMD FX CPU and as a result, I had to flash my BIOS to play this game. Something to keep in mind if you are looking to buy this game off of Steam - it seems to be an issue with nForce cards, AMD FX processors and certain games with Steam functionality built in.

Game is a solid 9/10... a crisper user interface would really benefit this game. As it stands, it's going to receive some Game Of The Year considerations. It's a revitalization of the series, so it may have the upper hand when being compared to all the sequels coming out for the holidays. I've heard that this game handles VERY well with an XBox 360 controller, though I haven't tried it (either on the PC or 360).


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 10/16/12, Updated 01/23/13

Game Release: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (US, 10/08/12)


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