Mankind's Last Stand
Built by the team behind the revered Civilization series, XCOM Enemy Unknown is a modern day re-imagining of 1994's strategy game of the same name, which is widely considered to be one of the genre's finest. Taking control of XCOM, a secret paramilitary organisation tasked with defending the earth against an alien invasion, your playing time is split between turn-based combat and base management.
As leader of the war effort you're provided with a small squad of multinational soldiers, but repelling the alien menace isn't all about glory on the battlefield. Humanity's future hangs in the balance and you'll have juggle a range of tasks if you're to succeed, from overseeing combat strategies and individual unit tactics to researching and building advanced technology and dealing with global politics.
In mission control centre you scan the Earth for alien activity such as abductions, attacks or crashed UFOs. The game's 70-plus missions each carry difficulty ratings and offer a reward in the form of currency or personnel, but your team can only be in one place at any one time, meaning you have to pick your objectives on a risk versus reward basis - governments all want protecting and if you ignore a nation in need of help they could lose faith in you and pull resources.
'Priority' objectives such as capturing your first live alien advance the B-movie story, which is well voiced and features brief cut-scenes, but these can be completed at your leisure. You have plenty of concerns to manage (your HQ constantly needs expanding, soldiers need care, training and gear, and scientists require alien specimens for research), and the game provides you with advisors who offer guidance on how best to proceed and what research to pursue.
Combat's initially forgiving, but as things progress missions require some serious tactical consideration. You can take a maximum of six soldiers into battle at any one time. Support soldiers heal comrades and provide smoke grenade cover, assault soldiers carry shotguns and are deadly at close range, snipers fire volleys the length of the screen, and there are also dependable all-rounders. Soldiers are fully customisable, allowing you pick their hairstyle, armour colour and names, and each class has its own skill tree, allowing you to unlock greater abilities as they rank up.
The grid-based and turn-based ground combat plays out from an isometric 3D perspective in which fog of war hides aliens and their actions from view until your soldiers are in range and have line of sight on them. Initially your actions are limited to two steps (generally move-move or move-shoot), but before long you'll unlock extra abilities allowing you to extend action sequences and add in different commands like zipwire or suppress, depending on your chosen character.
Developer Firaxis has channelled many years' worth of strategy expertise into a dense, rewarding, and intelligently designed game that never makes you feel cheated when you die. It's definitely challenging, but smart tutorials ease new players in and when you do get things right you feel like the world's greatest hero. It's also one of the best examples of a title co-developed for consoles and PC - you'll feel equally at home playing it with a mouse and keyboard or a controller, while viewing the interface works just as well up close on a monitor as it does watching from your couch on a TV, so the game comes highly recommended on all platforms.
- Satisfying strategy elements.
- Rewarding combat.
- Fun customisation options.
- Lacks a bit of visual punch.
- Occasional line of sight issues.
- Pure action fans will find micromanagement stressful.