What To Play: The Best In The Series is ‘XCOM: Enemy Unknown’ (2012)

A look back at this classic strategy game and why you need to play it.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is 2010 a reboot of the classic strategy series that proving that you can have a decent strategy game on a console.

In case you haven’t heard about X-COM–and the chances of that are high–it’s a franchise which dates back to 1994 with UFO: Enemy Unknown, which spawned a further five sequels including the play by e-mail (yes that used to be a thing) X-COM: First Alien Invasion. Eleven years later the series was reimagined for the XBOX 360, PS3 and PC by Firaxis Games a company founded by Sid Meier, Jeff Briggs and Brian Reynolds when they left the original series developer Microprose.

It is set in the near future were Earth is under attack from alien forces, leading a selection of countries to form the “Council of Nations” and more directly, the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit or XCOM, who now lead the fight against the alien forces. As the player, you assume the role of the commander of XCOM, tasked with not only leading your troops into skirmishes with the alien forces but also prioritising the resources and research being conducted by your HQ as you try to discover the truth behind the invasion while stopping panic from breaking out in the countries represented by the council.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2012 © Firaxis Games

While on the surface it might look like a simplified version of Command and Conquer as you guide your squad through a variety of locations around the world hunting aliens and completing the assigned objectives. XCOM however is a surprisingly-deep title as you also have to juggle the priorities of your research and engineer department as you decide were the best place to spend your funds. These same choices equally fall on the missions you decide to take as each carry different rewards, with some earning you extra funds or troops while others will provide you additional scientists or engineers, all which can add or detract from the delicate balance that has to be maintained.

The other major aspect of the game comes from the panic rating of the countries belonging to the council. Let them get too high and mission difficulty increases in these locations. At the same time, if their panic level gets too high, a country can leave the council, in turn deducting from your incoming funds, making it only more of a priority that you try and keep them all happy.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2012 © Firaxis Games

The main gameplay is a turn-based strategy with each team member being given the option to move and shoot or to sacrifice their firing turn to move twice the distance. The map meanwhile is covered in a fog of war which disperses the further your squad moves. At the same time you have the option of hiding behind cover or climbing structures to gain a height advantage over your enemies, which can really make a difference.

The combat mechanics are based around percentages bringing an element of table top gaming with distance and cover all affecting if you will hit your target. This however can be at times slightly frustrating when your squad come off looking like they couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn door when they miss the target in front of them. Thankfully, the AI is fare enough that the enemy will often miss you as many times as you miss them.

As your squad members complete missions they can pick up promotions which allow them to become specialist units such as snipers and support troopers while also gaining additional skills such as smoke grenades and suppression fire to help give you an advantage on the battlefield they can even pick up cool callsigns. You can even customise your squad to put your friends and maybe enemies in the game if your looking for a soldier to take on that suicide mission. This actually serves to make you more attached to your squad members so that you actually care when you loose someone.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2012 © Firaxis Games

The downside to the gameplay comes from the fact that you don’t get to see the enemy until you stumble near them which can really put you at a disadvantage especially if you find yourself in the open. As such, the best tactic is usually to stick to cover and plan as best you can for the potential ambushes.

The plot while pretty standard is still enjoyable to play through and plays well into the other aspects of the game as you attempt to capture and interrogate aliens as well as develop the technology to beat them as you battle your way to the alien command. At the same time, the panic breaking out in the various countries really adds to the main story as you really feel that your battling an alien invasion. Yes the writing might not be anything special but here it doesn’t have to be here to be effective.

A fantastic strategy game which is easy to pick up thanks to its in depth tutorial mode, which takes you through the first few missions while the more experienced strategy gamers will equally find a challenge to sink their teeth into. At the same time the sheer wealth of options available for upgrades and squad customisation mean that the game provides plenty of re-playability as you try to find the most effective strategy for battling the alien menace. If you only play one game in their series, make sure its this one.

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