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XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Developers: Firaxis GamesBlind Squirrel Publisher: 2K Games
09 October 2012
XCOM: Enemy Unknown - cover art
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557 Ratings / 2 Reviews
#416 All-time
#14 for 2012
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Despite everything, an awesome strategy game with tons of little things going for it, and the only big flaws being a few redundant fights and an ultimate lack of enemies to fight. But the balance of moment-to-moment decision making and long-term strategy is tight, staying true to what gave XCOM its name.
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Lowlander2 2017-08-12T19:18:21Z
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99% is the name of the game
XCOM Enemy Unknows was a revelation to me. I had always liked strategy games, but never loved them, until i realized that what i really love is tactical driven games. Getting down and dirty with the soldiers, chosing the best choice of action and dealing with the consequences of failure. I like macro, but its with micro that i really enjoy strategy games.

XCOM provides some of the best micro strategy out there. There is so many variable to consider in the battlefield, so many probabilities that you have to juggle. The game can be immensely unfair with its probabilities, but they are always visible to the player, and another factor to play with. And there is always enough tactical options to allow for multiple solutions to the same problem, and in some of the them one answer is righter than the others. Which doesnt mean that it will be the one that will be sucessful, just the one that will be sucessful the highest amount of times.

I wouldnt trade off the probabilities of the game. Dealing with unexpected, and loss, is also another of the key elements of the game. Its definitly an uphill battle against the aliens, and this makes even the more casual mission thrilling, as something can go very wrong in an instant. And of course the ability to costumize your party members make the stakes even higher.

But its just not a matter of numbers and abstractions, XCOM has hands down the best visuals in this sort of games. They make the action feel highly cinematic, and the shoots with more impact than the average fps out there. It really makes the game much more immersive and tense when the visual representation of the battlefield you are managing is this well portrayed. A similar example is with Company of Heroes, albeit that is in the RTS genre.

The game of couse also has a very strong macro component, and your management here will be what ultimatly decides who will win the battle. But i found that after looking up a few optimal builds, there is no reason to deviate from them. I think there is some lack of depth in the base building section of the game, its way too linear and there is not enough specialization. I feel like the ending game is very similar, no matter what were your priorities when you started the game.

On a smaller note, i like the lore of the game, and the few npcs you interact with are pretty memorable even despite their small exposure time.

Its downright the best tactical experience out there, only surpassed by its sequel
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Threntall 2016-12-01T01:10:05Z
2016-12-01T01:10:05Z
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(NOTE: This review is based on a pre-release review build; some things mentioned may have since been patched out or improved.)

I dream of XCOM. I have fever dreams where I debate using my assault soldier’s Run and Gun ability to flank an alien or play it safe and stay behind cover. I wish I was kidding or being hyperbolic, but I’m not. I gain new strategies as I lose sleep.

There are two types of games I delete upon completion. There are those I am done with but, on a very rare occasion, there is also a game that just isn’t done with me. These are games I obsess over. I begin to incorporate them into my daily routine, somewhere between eating and sleeping -- sometimes cutting out basic living essentials, when necessary.

I don’t want to eat because I’d rather play a dang video game. This is not normal. For me, someone who struggles to do anything consistently for two hours, this is what can only be labeled "super abnormal." So take the act of me wiping XCOM from my hard drive as high praise. It speaks volumes on how addictive and replayable XCOM is. It’s not you, XCOM. It’s me, truly. Now, pack your shit and leave!

Enemy Unknown is a game about defending the world on a budget. Corners will be cut, soldiers will be lost, and countries will withdraw support if you don’t help them when asked. Not since Dark Souls has a game been so gleefully vicious in punishing a player’s loss. There are many times where I was tempted to start anew, but I played the odds and pulled through. That’s the genius of XCOM: It wants you so badly to give up, but that small percentage of victory will give you the courage to continue. In Mass Effect, alien takeover was a backdrop. In EU, it feels like an inescapable reality that beats your team down, time and time again.

Being that EU is a considerable challenge full of painful losses even on easy, it is a fairly faithful remake of the original, landmark X-COM (you see that hyphen!?!). The base building, squad management, tactical combat, space battles, leveling, and most other elements of the ‘94 MicroProse cult hit appear, albeit with fat trimmed. Through the modern miracle of intelligent menu design, a fair difficulty gradient, and refined combat, the team that made Civilization a great fit for consoles has done the same for XCOM.

Firaxis Games has made a simpler (but not simple) XCOM that is approachable to more than just diehard series and genre fans. As your squad members gain new abilities and passive buffs, elevation and grouping become more important aspects of strategy. Once you can use a grappling hook and make psychic links with others, the game becomes even deeper. However, EU never comes close to approaching the complexity of other games in the strategy-RPG genre that the original helped pioneer. This design choice may divide some genre fans, but there is certainly a good enough challenge and varied tactical options to satisfy most players, especially those that worship Final Fantasy Tactics [ファイナルファンタジータクティクス], Jagged Alliance, or Valkyria Chronicles.

One smart change is that the player now controls a maximum of six members on a mission, instead of an entire platoon. Coupled with the small maps and quick animation, this makes EU a much faster paced and accessible action game. The action and missions themselves transpire so quickly that it’s hard to stop playing, as you rationalize taking on one more abduction in Japan. Every now and again, actions will be presented in a cinematic style that is similar to Valkyria Chronicles. It helps highlight the turning points of a battle, racketing the tension up at times.

EU begins with a cinematic tutorial and a series of missions that feel on-rails, but the game soon opens up to let you screw up in the most fantastic ways imaginable. You’ll always have a primary goal that revolves around researching a specific thing, capturing a specific alien, and, occasionally, invading a specific location. These goals keep the player free to do what he or she wants when it comes to taking on missions or building the XCOM headquarters. You can fulfill these goals at your leisure, but you’ll always be at risk of panic striking nations.

Your base is not only where you upgrade troops and do research, it’s also how you track progress made across the globe. Since XCOM is a private military with an international council, you’ll always be in danger of countries withdrawing support if their panic level rises to five (the highest level). The only way to combat this is to do missions in that country or launch a satellite over it, which takes a lot of time and money. If too many countries pull out, it’s game over. I lost a country in every region but still managed to beat the game. The possibility of losing always loomed right over my shoulder, making for a relentlessly tense experience. A good thing, mind you.

Even after a flawless battle, there is no escaping the inevitable tough decisions you’ll have to make at the base. The hardest decisions come from invasions that ask the player to take a mission at one of three countries presented. Each offers a difficulty level, reward, and panic level. I found myself constantly conflicted. “Do I risk Australia pulling out of XCOM just so I can get some immediate cash from China?" is the type of question you’ll find yourself asking a lot. Managing your research and development is also a hard job that you’ll only figure out through time and experience. I’m replaying the game on Classic difficulty (read: Hard), as this review goes up, and am still discovering new strategies on and off the battle grid.

Missions cover bomb defusals, VIP escorts, and rescue operations, but most of the time you’ll just need to wipe out aliens in one of the game's 80 maps. This is a lot harder said than done because of monster closets. This term, made popular by critics lambasting Doom 3’s enemies that magically appear instead of approaching the player, is the best way to describe one of EU’s most puzzling and upsetting design decisions. Unlike most other SRPGs, the enemy does not move until discovered. Once discovered however, the enemy is given a free turn to move and take cover -- which for the player, really, really sucks!

The main problem with this is that you start playing the game around this design decision, which, in effect, ruins the game. It makes sense to slowly creep through a forest, hoping to get the drop on aliens. It doesn’t make sense to slowly creep through a forest, fearing aliens will get the drop on you as you suddenly freeze in time. As a defense measure, you can position your guys to go into overwatch, gunning down any creature that passes their line of sight. It’s certainly a change from the original, where aliens would be found standing still when discovered.

A lot of XCOM comes down to luck and risk. Every shot you fire is complemented by a screen with info on the percentage of the shot landing and damage it is likely to do. This is a risk you agree to take. The same can be said for the smart cover system that divides positions as no cover, half cover, or full cover, each increasing your chances for an enemy to miss. I eventually grew to accept these monster closets, but it sure is a jarring element to battle. It is made even worse with the occasional glitch. One time I had an alien suddenly appear beside me and drop a grenade. I didn’t care very much for its parting gift.

It may have taken console games a good amount of time, but I think we’ve finally arrived at the ideal control setup for a turn-based strategy game. Being able to quickly zoom out with the left trigger, rotate camera with D-pad, and switch characters with the bumpers feels natural. EU takes influence from Call of Duty in more ways than one. Just as CoD and Gears of War popularized the use of sticky actions for shooters -- as in the game guides your character/crosshair to the action you wish to perform -- EU does the same for strategy games. Getting rid of grids and adapting this new system feels natural and so damn good.

Ironically, the PC controls are abysmal. Firaxis took one step forward and one step back. There is no quick zoom button (there is one listed in the options menu but it wouldn’t work, no matter how I reconfigured it), rotating the camera is awkward, zooming is even worse, and keyboard shortcuts are not as smartly placed as they are on the controller. The menus are harder to navigate, you can’t zoom in on your headquarters, and a lot of other actions that are easy to perform with a controller are made difficult or taken out altogether. You’re going to want to play this with a controller and, yes, I know how strange that sounds. Even the PC exclusive grid mode is a nuisance that only breaks immersion and makes the game frustrating.

Once you’ve conquered the campaign (my playthrough ran 23 hours), multiplayer awaits. Playing only with friends and fellow reviewers, it was hard to get a good grasp of where the multiplayer scene can go. The mode is a mess that, like the singleplayer campaign, gives players the freedom to screw themselves. Multiplayer is just straight forward one-on-one match, but you are free to make your squad however you like. Each unit and each modification to a unit costs points which can be limited (or not) by the host. This means you can have six-on-six matches with the most powerful enemies in the game, or play a straightforward match. I found the aliens to be so laughably unbalanced that it risks making the mode completely irrelevant, unless an update gives the host more options to limit loadout choices. The map selection is small, the netcode is touchy, and there are some terrible design choices, like letting players see the opponent open doors, thus giving away positions in an already tiny map. Maybe it will grow on me or be fun with more match rules, but I got pretty negative impression from my time with it.

XCOM looks good and sounds good, but the score is too similar to Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mass Effect. I know EU shares the former’s composer, but it still cheapens the experience and makes it feel less unique. The greater problem are the bugs that not only get in the way of presentation but combat as well. One bug kept me from being able to properly use a key feature later in the game that lets you further upgrade units. Another bug had my character’s ponytail wrap around the loadout screen and dance around, as if possessed by the God of hair (an awesome bug, I must admit.) You’ll also see lots of clipping and glitchy cinematic camera angles in combat.

So, it’s fair to say that EU has some problems. While the game lacks the polish we’ve come to expect from Firaxis, it stands up as one of the most addicting and fun strategy games I’ve ever played. The game has its issues. It doesn’t help that it ends on the worst stage with one of the worst boss battles in recent memory. Oh yeah, and you can wash it all down with a terrible ending cinematic.

Outside the endgame, you’ll rarely see all of the game’s issues grouped together in one place. Sure, the UFO missions aren’t the best and you’ll run into the occasional bug, but I am willing to accept these minor issues. That’s just how much fun the game is. If you’ve ever played a game on a PC with a loud fan or sneaked into the living room as a kid to game at night, you should be able to understand that sometimes it's worth putting up with a little discomfort for a lot of enjoyment. That’s Enemy Unknown for you.
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Margaritea XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-23T10:23:59Z
2022-06-23T10:23:59Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Nagual XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-16T21:10:27Z
Windows / Mac / Linux/Unix
2022-06-16T21:10:27Z
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totohimself XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-15T20:38:40Z
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TheNightsBane XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-15T00:44:04Z
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4.5
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TiltControls XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-13T23:08:43Z
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4.5
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guerrilla XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-08T15:07:42Z
2022-06-08T15:07:42Z
2.0
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Noelcis XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-07T12:41:31Z
2022-06-07T12:41:31Z
4.5
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OuTbREaKRT XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-06T23:22:20Z
2022-06-06T23:22:20Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Jms9 XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-05T11:04:08Z
2022-06-05T11:04:08Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
ResetRPG XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-06-04T19:20:09Z
Xbox 360 • XNA
2022-06-04T19:20:09Z
3.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Turn-Based Tactics Alien War
dandog2142 XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-05-29T02:08:39Z
2022-05-29T02:08:39Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Spartan1790 XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2022-05-29T00:15:23Z
2022-05-29T00:15:23Z
7.5 /10
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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  • Drug_Use 2020-11-07 17:16:20.309499+00
    crack
    reply
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  • plastiquey 2020-11-17 16:39:04.710914+00
    What if You
    Wanted to go to Heaven
    But God said
    99% to hit
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  • kuroishi_x 2021-06-15 20:00:32.798535+00
    Back in university, I've spent one whole week playing this, sleeping like 2-3 hours a day.
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  • JGar40 2021-07-23 07:59:40.202632+00
    Everyone who plays this has save scummed to victory
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    • A_Latin_Guy 2021-09-19 04:38:03.105948+00
      I plead guilty your honor.
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