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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review [PC]

Posted on October 16, 2012 AT 02:20pm

Oh XCOM, I wanted to love you. I wanted you to be mine for years to come, just like the original Microprose classic. But no. It’s painfully obvious that when the third-person bastardization of your classic franchise was announced a few years ago and the uproar of fanboys with wallets spread open and ready like the legs of working girls, you guys saw dollar signs. X-com: Enemy Unknown is the perfect example of a game that was rushed to market. It feels incomplete and aside from a few bright spots (the engine) and the fact that strategy games (let alone console strategy games) are dying if not dead genre, I would say this is one of the biggest disappointments in my gaming life. Believe me, I don’t want to be writing those words, I don’t want to even admit it to myself. I wanted to love this game so much, but with each passing turn I hate it and it’s nonsensical ways. Below I will tell you why.

So much of the game is window dressing.Let’s take the much-lauded XCOM base. When you first start the game, it’s sleek, it’s sexy – then you realize it’s an almost 100% non-interactive UI. I appreciate that you did something with the base, but why make the base and have it look so cool if you can only look in a few rooms, and even the few rooms you can actually look at are strictly enforced by the game. Why can’t I zoom in on the barracks and watch the soldiers shoot pool? Why can’t I look at the construction in progress? Why do I have to look at a static and non-interactive representation of my UI to shift back into another UI where I can actually get something done. I guess I’m nitpicking to a degree with that point, but it’s one point in a series that makes me feel like X-com was rushed out in order to recoup whatever tiny budget they were allotted. It’s a real bummer.

Your first few playthroughs are fun, you’ll make dumb mistakes and learn from them. Then, the illogical and confusing mystery that is combat rears it’s ugly head. I have saved a game and restarted it on a 93% chance shot to hit an enemy that refused to land. I would reload my game over and over and that 93% chance to hit would never hit. What does say to me? There is a random number generator or dice roll in the background that, once again, was not fully realized or properly tested. Shooting through walls, staring at people four feet away and I ‘can’t see them’ but I can be shot while fully behind cover, hunkered down with the finest armor humans can create leads to a one-shot kill. Why?! I’ll admit though, in a horrible, masochistic sort of way, I kept coming back, grinding out fights and having my heart broken over and over again when another soldier I grew to know and love fell, the blood on my and Fireaxis’ hands.

The XCOM base would be a lot cooler if you could actually look in each room and interact with something, anything.

Sometimes games divert too far from the original’s genius and charm, in this case I think XCOM could have benefited greatly from a trip into 21st century gaming mechanics. Reloading shouldn’t take up a turn, it’s a transparent and artificial way of upping the difficulty when the game doesn’t need it. Yes the game is punishingly difficult. I played it on Ironman mode (saves after every turn, live and die with your mistakes and glory) easy mode and the hardest difficulty. I thought Ironman was the most gratifying but I was only able to finish the game on easy. I’m willing to admit that. What’s aggravating is that I can beat the regular X-com with thought, logic and a bit of luck. In this game I feel like everything is left to chance, and I hate that when I’m absolutely falling in love with the music, atmosphere and squad building in the game. Why wasn’t this game tested more thoroughly? 1994 gets away with being 1994 for obvious reasons but there is no excuse for releasing a game like this and charging full price.

You will fall in love with your squad and cry when they lay helpless and bleeding in the field.

Each soldier in your squad is individually leveled by what s/he does from mission to mission. You can name them, (the Seinfeld cast didn’t last long except for Captain and hero Elaine Benes) customize their armor and outfit them with skills and weapons that will help you push back the alien menace. Too bad these soldiers who are the best Earth can offer are worse shots than my dog. He doesn’t have thumbs – what’s your excuse, soldier? It drives me insane when I have tactically put one or more of my soldiers in a position to kick alien ass only to have these veterans get their faces shot off in a moment of rage and confusion. But I start over, bolstering my squad and heading back out so their deaths will not be in vain.

Multiplayer is forgettable and reminds you how slow the game can be at times. With little consequence to matches, the excitement and tension of having one of your squaddies killed is gone. Skip it.

The PC is the best way to play XCOM, but you won’t miss much on 360 or PS3.

In the battle of the platforms, PC reigns king. The textures, graphics and most majorly the load times are faster. If you can only play X-com on 360 or PS3, don’t fret. The Gamepad works well although I preferred my mouse and keyboard. PC has already received a huge patch as well, fixing a few bugs and displaying all movies in sweet 1080p.

SUMMARY: Is that the bottom line? The fact that through all of my anger at what XCOM could’ve been, I still come back for more. There is nothing else like XCOM: Enemy Unknown other than the original and the weird offshoots. So fans of this series or maybe people who aren’t as nitpicky as I will enjoy the game more. There’s no doubt the game is smooth, the graphics are nice, the music and all of the front and center production values are top notch. It’s when you go under the hood the game starts to boggle your mind. The intent was there to make a great game that the fans would enjoy and love, and I hope Fireaxis or some suit at 2k were impressed enough by the sales to warrant a few huge patches or a full-blown and more fleshed out sequel. I think we really deserve it now.

  • THE GOOD: The potential for a sequel.
  • THE BAD: Horrible AI, nonsensical dice-rolling in the background that makes the game more about luck than tactics.
  • THE UGLY: My memorial to my soldiers on hard difficulty.


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