XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview - Sectoid Shootin'
Written Thursday, May 24, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
I'm not gonna lie to you, I never played the original X-Com, nor it's numerous spin-offs and sequels. Sure, I researched the crap out of them before getting my hands on this latest iteration, but I'm no expert. It's possible that you aren't either.
Why? Because most of us here, both the writers and readers, are primarily console gamers. And that's absolutely fine, because XCOM: Enemy Unknown is meant for us. Sure, it attempts to appease the baying PC fanboys, but this is a reinvention for a new generation of gamers with a new set of expectations and desires, built with consoles in mind. Based on my recent hands-on session, it's also really bloody good.
Let's get the history out of the way first, so that all the time I spent faffing about on Wikipedia doesn't go completely to waste. The first game (called UFO: Enemy Unknown in Britain, X-COM: UFO Defense in the US and Japan, and X-Com: Enemy Unknown when it was ported to PSone later), was originally released on PC back in 1994. Developed by Mythos and Micropose, it was a turn-based strategy title lauded for its combination of scares and strategy, picking up numerous awards along the way.
In the years that have followed, the sequels and spin-offs spawned by X-Com have failed to live up to their progenitor, providing a string of largely unsatisfying pretenders to the crown. That's part of the reason why, when the XCOM FPS was announced last year, the hardcore reacted by freaking out. It was the final insult. But then XCOM: Enemy Unknown was announced and everyone was happy again. Yay!
Will this new entry to the series truly satisfy the demanding PC masses? I'm not sure. Not only is the game a way off from release, I'm also wholly unqualified to say. But do I think Enemy Unknown will be a good game? Hell yeah.
You couldn't hope for a better developer to helm the project. Firaxis Games has a rich history of strategy masterpieces in the form of the Civilization series and they've proved themselves to be uncommonly talented in bringing those experiences to consoles. It's a genre that typically translates poorly, but in Civilization Revolution Firaxis is responsible for one of the very best examples of the form. A lauded game re-imagined by the best in the business? It all bodes rather well.
Our demo centered on the very beginning of the game, with a team of XCOM operatives sent to investigate a crashed alien craft in Cologne, Germany. The craft, it turns out, was carrying Sectoids - aliens in the classic grey mould - little scuttling, big headed fellows. And let me tell you, these aren't the kind of aliens to plonk in the basket of a bicycle and help phone home. They're dangerous little bastards who come in anything but peace.
Most of the missions pan out in this way, with your team investigating a series of UFO-related incidents and panics around the world. Starting off against just a few isolated greys it's not long before you're up against giant, scuttling spider things, poisonous gas-spurting Thin Men and more. With a map viewed from an isometric perspective, the environment reveals itself as you plunge deeper into it. Threats can lie around every corner. As such, there's an all-pervading sense of tension and fear. All it takes is one wrong move for one of your soldiers to die, permanently.
The controls are streamlined for console controllers, yet don't feel compromised in any way. Each member of your four-strong squad has two action points, which you can either use as separate movements and actions, or one long extended movement. So, for example, you may want to shoot at the enemy, then retreat behind cover (cover is essential, without it you'll be dead quickly), or you can make an extra long dash to an advantageous position.
Combat is executed by pulling up a slick menu that offers options like assault rifle blasts and grenade tosses, with your relative position to your enemy, and the quality of their cover dictating your percentage chance of a successful hit. You start off with just these two simple options, but as you progress you are given access to more and more enjoyable gadgets and weaponry.
Following each successful mission you go back to your base with research materials you can use to raise cash and invest in new tech. The base itself is shown from a side-on perspective that Firaxis rather aptly refers to as the Ant Farm, as you can see everyone scuttling about doing their thing. It's here that you can commission research, promote your soldiers in order to unlock new abilities, and choose your next mission. It's a rather attractive method of delivering what could have been a confusing collection of menus and options.
Invest and upgrade wisely and what you'll end up with is a pretty baddass squad. We were shown a stage from later in the game and the team was equipped with grappling hooks, jet packs and a mind control weapon that allows you to force the enemy into a messy suicide. Each new toy opens up further tactical options, carefully thought-out to tackle the escalating threat of the enemy.
All of this is presented in a dynamic fashion, with certain movements and actions instigating a swooping camera flourish that takes you down to ground level. The graphics themselves are pleasing too, with a crisp, clear, almost cartoony aesthetic. It's a perfect fit with the pulp sci-fi subject material.
Indeed, it's hard to think of any negatives about the game based on this early showing. It's early days, but you should keep an eye on XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Whether you're a massive fan of the series, or a newcomer like me, it deserves your attention.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is out on October 9th in North America and October 12th in Europe.