X-Com Enemy Unknown is the 2012 remake of the 1994 cult classic of the same name (sometimes referred to as X-Com: UFO Defense), and a reboot of sorts for MicroPros’ 1990 series in general. It was developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K Games, released on November 9th 2012 to the US for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows. It was ported to iOS and OS X the following year and found its way to Android and Linux in 2014.
With this being a turn-based tactics/strategy game, you’d think it’d be something I’m going to be totally crushed by, but surprisingly, it’s literally one of two tactics/strategy games I can play with reasonable competence. I know, I was just as shocked as you are.
This review only covers Enemy Unknown, even though I own the complete pack that includes Enemy Within, but Enemy Within is a review for another day.
Something else of note: There is multiplayer, but I won’t be touching on that in this review as I don’t have anyone to play it with.
We’re Definitely Not Alone Out Here
As someone who isn’t very well versed in these types of games, I’ve got to say, they made it very, very easy to jump in and figure out what’s going on without too much holding you back. It’s fairly easy to jump into, but like any game that revolves around strategy, is hard to master. Things like figuring out where to situate your base in the very beginning is a bit weird if you have no idea what any of the particular bonuses mean or how they’ll effect your game. The combat itself is quick, intense, and nerve-racking at points. At others, it’s calm and quiet, giving you a moment to catch your breath, but nothing in this game kicks you in the ass to pay attention quite like turning a corner into two giant Mutons that’re hellbent on smooshing your flimsy humans into paste.
That said, a well placed shotgun round can solve that problem relatively quickly, or you can flat-out miss your 95% chance to hit shots and get completely creamed. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen very often.
Either way, someone usually winds up as a puddle on the floor. I know that it’s a percentage chance, but how many times in a row is my guy gonna miss his shot? Oh, right, usually just enough to be critically wounded or dead. That minor complaint aside, the combat is simple enough to use and doesn’t take too long to get used to. This is great for people like me, who don’t generally play these types of games.
The only real issues I’ve had with the combat are weird, janky grenade throwing targeting, the rare 95% chance to hit but miss instances, and the awkward raising and lowering of the camera. I can never quite tell if my camera is at the height I’d intended it to be or not. Which can be frustrating on certain maps where gaining elevation comes in handy.
Moving through the field of battle, like the rest of combat, is simple and straight forward. You can move within a certain number of blocks and still have an action available, or you can go for distance and enter blocks outside that reach by “Dashing.” Dashing leaves you unable to use any action in most cases, but gets you around the map a bit faster. You might think I’m downplaying the depth of the combat sections, but don’t worry, if you put someone in the wrong spot, they’re fucked.
There’s certainly more to the combat, but I don’t want to spend the entire review writing about that!
You’re Not Even Safe In Your Own Home
While combat does make up a good portion of the game, it’s the base building that probably takes up the most time. It’s where the magic happens. A place to recruit, promote, and train your soldiers. Testing them for Psi abilities, scanning for any invasions or places of interest where the aliens might be, and research and development happen here too.
R&D is one of the key components to succeeding in X-Com. You can probably get by without it (Maybe? I dunno, I’m not skilled enough with this type of game to try it, but I’m sure someone has), but where’s the fun in that? You get to interrogate aliens, reverse-engineer their toys, and make some of your own! And the armor. Oh man, the armor in this game looks amazing. Every piece of it has a really cool, unique look to it.
I love the look of the armor here. In most cases you can even add some flair to the armor by choosing some minor variants in the customization menu. That menu also allows you to choose from a selection of helmets, faces, hair, races, nationalities, and a few other things.
Even the starting armor is cool looking.
Another key to success is making sure that you’re taking care of the countries around the world that keep getting hit with invasions. You’ll have to make choices when it comes to protecting the world, and weigh in the panic level of each country. If Australia happens to get to a full blown code red panic, they’ll pull funding from your X-Com project if you don’t help them and go at it alone. Of course, the less funding you have, the less you can do when you get your monthly income.
One big thing to pay attention to during this is what you can gain from protecting a country. Some might give you money, others might give you scientists or researchers to help your R&D area. You’ll have to carefully choose who to help and when so you’ll get the maximum effect.
I really enjoyed playing around with the base building aspect and the ability to dig up some dirt and place power generators wherever I could. It’s good to have something besides the R&D and running around shooting up aliens.
Like I mentioned earlier, some of your troops can test positive for having a Psi proficiency. This gives them some extra options on the battlefield and can really cause some fun times! Things like removing panic from allies, or out-right controlling non-robotic enemies come in handy the further you get into the game.
Have a nice kill box set up with your soldiers? Mind control that big baddie into walking into the center of it and getting annihilated. Everyone gets a laugh out of it!
There really is a lot to be done in the base that effects what happens on the battlefield and how your fights can turn out, so definitely spend some time there.
Know Thy Enemy
I haven’t touched on the story, so let’s go there next!
Honestly, it’s a pretty standard sci-fi alien invasion story. Aliens attack Earth, the world’s military forces join together, and work towards fighting off the menace.
At least, that’s the basic, boiled down version of it. More or less, you find out the lore of the aliens by interrogating them, examining their weaponry and gear, and spending time in R&D. I suppose it’s really more your story, your squad’s, and how they come out, if at all, in the end.
Yes, you caught that “if they come out of it at all” bit, didn’t you? X-Com features perma-death, and it’s no short supply. If you’re the type of player who builds a story around your troops, this can lead to some really upsetting moments when they die, or absolute panic when you see them taking shots and getting critically wounded.
In my case, I lost every single one of my original crew, save for one soldier. Jack “Hazard” O’Brien. He’s the guy showcasing the red suit of armor in one of the above screenshots. He’s survived 69 missions with one more to go before retirement, he’s also the last surviving member of his original squad. He’s a heavy drinker thanks to what he’s seen out in the field and runs into combat as if he has a death wish. Even if he does die in that last battle before retirement, he can die happy knowing that his apprentice Digkale will take his place and shred the alien menace. She’s got a natural knack for the kind of work they do, she’s quite a badass, and she’s even better at doing what they do than O’Brien is.
Yep, that’s about it for the story. It’s pretty simple and outside of the lore, you can make up your own backstories and whatnot for your troops if you’re into that kind of thing. I didn’t really get too into giving my soldiers stories until after my OG squad got almost completely wiped out. That’s when O’Brien’s story came around. After that, though, every so often I’d see one of them doing fairly well and start working on a story for them. Inevitably, they’d die. For whatever reason, O’Brien has the Devil’s luck and can’t seem to be killed.
Even though he’s got a nasty habit of getting mind-controlled almost every mission, is in situations he has no business being in, ones that would kill any other soldier, and has zero regard for himself.
Either way, I’m glad O’Brien is still with us. I still pour one out for ol’ Moose, though. He was the true OG. He was the only one who survived the very tutorial for me. That poor guy wound up being a neurotic mess up until it got him killed on a mission. I probably shouldn’t have sent him, but Moose was too valuable to have benched at the time. The mission he died on was the one that took out everyone else, except O’Brien.
Hmm, I guess that’s my story with X-Com. I just filled in the gaps, y’know?
Wubwubwubwubwub “Did You Hear That?!”
This game has some pretty awesome sound design, let’s just start with that, ok? Good.
The human starting weapons sound very much like they should. The shotgun is especially satisfying when it fires and connects. The alien’s laser weaponry has its own, somewhat standard, sci-fi sound, but is nonetheless just as satisfying.
The voice acting is no slouch, either. Some of the accents do sound a bit silly, but c’mon, it’s a campy sci-fi game and it’s fun. That said, the soldiers sound great. From smooth and cool when things are going well, to panicked and worried when they aren’t.
Every so often, you’ll hear alien chatter from a direction and might even get an indicator for it that the soldier who hears it will point out. It’s a pretty cool way to give you a bit of a hint as to which direction the enemy might be hiding.
Did We Win, Sarge?
Yes, yes we did, son.
X-Com comes from a genre that I typically don’t play, am not very good at, and don’t really care much for. So with that in mind, the fact that I actually got to the end and finished it really shows how easily it can be picked up by anyone interested in it. There’s something there for the occasional, casual tactical strategist like me, but there’s absolutely a lot more to be dug into for people who are hardcore fans of the genre. Now, I’m sure anyone who’s a mainstay in this genre already owns it, but for the folks like me, it’s definitely worth a look. X-Com 2 came out recently and I’m just waiting for it to get a nice big discount on Steam so I can snag it.
At the time of writing, the game is sitting at $29.99USD on Steam, which isn’t bad at all for what you get right out of the box, plus the ability of mods like Long War. If you’re like me and want to have the entire collection, you can get the collector’s pack for $49.99. That one includes all the DLC, as well as Enemy Within (which might even get its own review one day).
So, in the end, is $29.99 too much for me to suggest an out-right purchase? Not entirely. I logged 30 hours with it before I even realized what had happened. If you ever see it on sale, though, get it. Absolutely get it! And the complete pack? Would I say pay $49.99 for it? Oh, c’mon, my regular readers know me better than that! Of course not! The complete pack goes into “It’s a damn steal” territory at $25.99 for me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a review of this magnitude. Hell, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a review, and it could’ve been much, much longer, but I’m not trying to write a novel here. Anyway, X-Com was a wonderful romp through a genre I tend to avoid. I keep going back for more just because of how much fun I have and how accessible it is.
That’s all for now.
You folks have fun, take care, and I’ll see you next time.