Review by DarkSymbiote

"A great attempt at capturing the original's exceptional design"

In 1994, Mythos Games and Microprose under Julian Gollop created UFO: Enemy Unknown, a turn-based strategy game held dear by man PC gamers. After a few sequels, some of them being abysmal, the franchise had been on hold for over a decade. 2K picked up the licence and strategy leaders Firaxis were to work on the remake, although wthout Sid Meier at the helm. After four years of development does XCOM: Enemy Unknown succeed in capturing the original's legacy or is Earth's defence best left to a more competent extraterrestrial combat syndicate?

Story

Hello, Commander. In light of the extraterrestrial incursion, this council of nations has convened to approve the activation of the XCOM project.

Aliens are invading Earth and harvesting humans. Why this is happening is for you figure out with your dedicated scientists and engineers and fight back with your dedicated soldiers. A clandestine group of countries demands it so. Despite the tutorial intro, the game fleshes out poorly.

There are basically four characters in all, one of them being faceless. The only reason they stand out is because they are the only ones who speak to you (the screen basically) except for Dr. Chan with his ridiculous physique. Troops come and go all the time unless you're wither careful or reload constantly and don't add much to the current situation besides cliched affirmatives and lame one-liners. Cutscenes drive the plot after key objectives are accomplished and the aliens' motives are explained abruptly near the end and even then it isn't clear. The ending is flimsy and the game just suddenly ends after that.

Dialogue is passable. The game could have used a more focused and constructed narrative since the atmosphere is already in place and could have easily accentuated the story.

Design and Gameplay

We realise you were faced with a difficult decision in responding to the various requests for assistance. Regardless, you performed admirably.

Upon starting the game the very first thing you'll do is go through the tutorial... unless you have it switched off (both situations have their own rewards), in which case you have choose the continent where you want to set up your base. That's singular unlike the original. Each location has its own starting bonus. The base itself is presented in an ant farm-like structure. You can move the camera freely across a 2D plane and zoom in anywhere but access to individual sections requires the use of menus. Thankfully, they're simple and properly uses hotkeys.

The scientists basically research everything and the engineers build everything. Of course their works cross paths almost all the time. Materials can only be gotten from the battlefield and it's a bit hard to manage what you should sell bearing in mind the tight income. More money can be received by doing special missions for the Council, picking the appropriate abduction mission or general story progression. You also have a monthly income depending on how many satellites you have in orbit. Investigation and creation takes a specific amount of time depending on the current bonuses. Time only passes when you're in the Control Room and you'll choose to fast forward all the time. If a panic level of a country gets too high it will leave permanently and up to eight can leave before it's game over.

Actual combat takes place in an isometric, overhead 3D view with up to six military men, women and eventually robots. Depending on height, distance and general position the you'll get an appropriate chance at hitting your enemy... usually. Often a shotgunner will receive a mere 57% chance while just adjacent to the enemy or the sniper might miss the easiest of shots. This game of chance keeps the player on toes even if it does get annoying at times. Cover plays a key aspect and you will fail soon without it. Every round both sides get two turns per unit. Some actions always use up both turns while some may only require one as well as both, depending on the movement made. Speaking of movement, troops can use a single turn to move a small distance or two to cross a larger path. The extent that can be travelled is based on armour type and terrain. Should you let the sniper perch on the truck or should the heavy take the first step? The decision is up to you and this adds a few deep layers of strategy that can yield significant rewards. For some reason though enemies mostly just sit idly in place till you traverse the black fog and discover them. And even when you do find then, they immediately receive free turns to set up their defences. Why you can't get the jump on them like the in original is strange indeed. Also, unlike the original, the aliens will never attack your base even though you regularly launch state of the art aircrafts out of it. It's a disappointing omission.

The most irritating portion of the game is the sheer randomness of, well, nearly everything. Servicemen gain classes at random, the UFO battle mini-game is only a game of chance with little to do on your part and of course the aforementioned accuracy problem. Often, you're battle hardened soldiers panic and starts doing stupid things like shooting allies or even running into danger. It's embarrassing to hear your ally cry "I wanna go home" whenever a Berserker charges at them. Then there is the extremely limited character customisation. You can't create your army but you can edit them in a narrow fashion. The worst offender is the armour colouring being limited to an online pass. The fact that nothing similar is required for the multiplayer portion but only one of the few things related to personalisation is abhorrent.

Maps are genrally well designed, if a bit small, except those with vehicles involved as the primary source of cover. Exploding cars feels cheap. Enemies come in a decent variety with an imposing entrance every time they make an appearance. One particular enemy stands out as downright evil design on the developers' part. Thankfully, there aren't many of them, at least not on the Normal difficulty. The cheapness and dials up to eleven and you are better off not bothering with Iron Man mode.

The game ends far too quickly though and all investigations and construction rush near the finale. You can delay it as long as you want but the X-Rays will overwhelm you eventually and no new plot missions take place.

Visulas

What do you see Delta 4? Report.

XCOM has a slightly cartoonish look to it. Some enemies follow the stereotypical design of aliens of old and men soldiers look like steroid abusers. Still, it's pleasing to the eye with its clean style. The classic Unreal Engine 3 texture pop-in hamper the immersive quality of some cutscenes to an extent however.

The overall presentation is not exactly impressive but it gets the job done well enough.

Audio

He didn't sound too happy.

The soundtrack is a treat. Michael McCann has done it again with scores that really drive home the atmosphere as well as provide thrilling tunes to the extraterrestrial warfare. If there is one complaint about the music it's that the main theme is too similar to Deus Ex: Human Revolution's "Icarus".The voice acting is decent at best but Dr. Vahlen really needs to pick a consistent accent. The various vocal choices for you soldiers sound extremely similar. And that's no exaggeration. It also doesn't matter what their country of origin is since they all speak in the same dialect.

The sound effects are well done with satisfying gun sounds, death screams and explosions. The laser sniper rifle shows how a simple change in resonance can make all the difference.

Pros:

- Great use of music and sound in general
- Base design is simple and effective
- Excellent use of atmosphere

Cons:

- Online pass for deeper customisation
- Loss of control due to randomness
- Plot is too shallow

Final verdict

Farewell, Commander. We know you will not... disappoint us.

Despite all the setbacks, XCOM: Enemy Unknown proves to be a strong entry in the genre. It doesn't quite reach its progenitor's depth but what you will find here is a lot, uncommon in this day and age of low attention spans.

Rating: 8.7


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/07/12

Game Release: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (US, 10/09/12)


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