Turn-based strategy can seem like a daunting prospect for those who have not had the chance to delve into the genre. Whilst Fireaxis may be minds behind the turn-based king Civilisation, XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers a much more accessible, action-orientated experience which makes it the ultimate introduction to this deep gameplay style.
XCOM is all about humanity’s continuing battle against an alien invasion. XCOM: Enemy Unknown splits itself between base and unit management, and does a good job of balancing the two. One minute you may be monitoring each continent’s status and researching and upgrading new gear. The next you could be thrown into a bloody battlefield where you get to delve right into the deep sophisticated gameplay of player vs alien combat.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown Gameplay
Looking at the game from the bigger perspective, there is a great sense of progression throughout the campaign as you learn more about your foes, and equip yourself accordingly. Events like abductions and alien attacks are randomised, and whilst the game follows a loose story, there is a lot of room to allow the player to forge their own path through the main game.
The turn-based elements of XCOM consist of your chosen soldiers being dropped into a large, open landscape with varying amounts of cover and obstacles. The start of a scenario is the most tense, as most of the time you don’t even know which direction the enemy will attack from. Taking advantage of different forms of cover, and your soldier’s special abilities will give you a leg-up on your opponents, but acting too boldly may result in disastrous consequences.
Soldiers gain experience from each battle, and earn a class which specifies their speciality, skill tree and weapon of choice. XCOM goes to great lengths to form a bond between you and your soldiers, and it works surprisingly well. Each soldier has a name and their own visual identity, and once a soldier gains a certain rank, he or she even gets their own nickname. It superficially heightens the stakes of each battle and causes the player to become much more emotionally connected to the things happening on screen. Seeing ‘Magic Man’, my Support soldier who backed-up my front-liners with med-packs and cover fire, get brutally shot in the head by an alien certainly struck a nerve or two.
XCOM is all about risk versus reward. Will you attempt to stun the new formidable alien to see what makes it tick? Or pick it off from afar, losing potentially a lot of valuable information to help you fight them in the future? Some players may not like the fact that XCOM bases a lot of its gameplay on chance. Each shot you make has a percentage chance to hit, depending on the type of cover the target has, how far away they are and the kind of the weapon your man is using. It can be frustrating having a shotgun-wielding super-human miss their shot when they are just meters away from their target, but conversely, a lucky hit could alternatively change the tide of a battle in your favour as well.
XCOM is its most rewarding when the stakes are high. So it’s important to resist the urge to just reload previous saves whenever something doesn’t go your way. Whilst it can be irresistible to bring your favourite dead companion back to life by reversing a few turns, this sense of loss and gain is what makes XCOM such a tense, unpredictable experience.
If the temptation is too much, there is an Ironman mode available which allows for only one save game meaning all mistakes are set in stone. This is a great reason to jump back into the game once you fully know the ins and outs of XCOM.
The Mac version of XCOM isn’t totally bug free at the moment, for my 27″ iMac anyway. The game sometimes quits when loading a cutscene, which can cause you to lose some progress. Make sure your machine can manage this huge game before purchase over on the official website.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown may present itself to be a turn-based strategy game, but its fast-paced gameplay, unique use of cinematic camera angles and pumping music certainly doesn’t make XCOM a sit back and relax experience. XCOM’s real accomplishment is that it not only has the depth and dexterity to please dedicates of the genre, but also has enough action and accessibility to entice newcomers to the style. Go check it out now.
Publisher: Feral Interactive
Description: Turn-Based Strategy with a Pump of Action
Pros: Great sense of progression; tense conflicts; huge scale.
Cons: Some quirky camera angles; crashes; temptation to load a save.