Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
With XCOM: Enemy Within, developer Firaxis Games expands upon the concepts, content, and battle tactics of last year's XCOM: Enemy Unknown to improve on an already excellent strategy title. This expansion proves the definitive version of XCOM for those who have not yet been introduced to the series, while veterans will appreciate the many improvements and additions to Enemy Unknown's winning formula.
Some of the additions yield small and quiet improvements, such as the new research projects, inventory items and an expanded selection of maps on which to battle the alien invaders. Others are loud and in your face, like the hulking mechanised suits of armour and DNA-altering genetic modifications that your soldiers can now be equipped with.
Best of all, the additional features and concepts are woven wonderfully into XCOM's existing framework to ensure that things remain challenging, balanced and a tremendous amount of fun; you've not experienced XCOM at its best until you've taken down a dual-plasma wielding Mechtoid that been terrorising your troops.
Double Time, Soldier
Fuelling many of Enemy Within's new modifications is MELD, an alien substance that is collected from containers throughout many of the levels. MELD is a volatile substance with a finite lifespan and if it's not collected within a certain number of turns it will expire. This forces a quicker pace as you search for the MELD canisters on each level while keeping one eye out for alien ambushes.
Consequently, trying to reach the MELD canisters in time can sometimes result in you leaving soldiers exposed, which results in tense exchanges of gun fire as your troops attempt to defend their position and retrieve the precious resource.
However, the rewards for successfully collecting MELD are great. Subjecting your troops to MELD-fuelled genetic modification grants a number of subtle bonuses and stat boosts, as well as a unique appearance out in the field. The MEC soldiers, meanwhile, are the new superstar troops of the XCOM roster.
Expensive to build, MEC piloting also requires a soldier to undergo traumatic surgery that means they can no longer function outside of their metal skins. Once the process is complete, though, they are capable of wielding some truly awesome weaponry and also receive a boost to both defence and health. However, due to their size they are unable to take cover out in the field and will draw enemy fire as they stomp around the map.
Initially, the MEC units feel a little overpowered, but they're not invincible and allowing one to be destroyed will put a serious dent in your resources, not to mention require the collection of more MELD. Not only that, but it's not long before aliens start building their own versions of MECs to level the playing field and so an arms race begins as each side attempts to outgun the other.
Mixing things up still further is the introduction of a new rogue-faction, called EXALT. This is a human group that appears to have a lot in common with the members of the XCOM spin-off title, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. It's not clear what they're after but they make sure to appear from time to time to disrupt your research plans and sow panic in countries across the globe.
Building additional labs can counter this disruption to a degree but you'll need to send lone soldiers on dangerous covert operations if you're to discover the truth behind EXALT and shut them down for good later in the game. Just like you, though, EXALT is constantly upgrading its troops and researching new technologies to ensure they're just as big a threat to the XCOM project as the aliens themselves.
Overall, XCOM: Enemy Within is an improvement on an already excellent title. It adds a great deal of content and blends all of its additions neatly into the core concepts the original XCOM: Enemy Unknown. New enemy types will force you to adapt your combat strategies to suit their unique abilities, while new items, engineering projects and research paths all offer meaningful progression and flexibility of approach. The genetic modifications and MEC soldiers will prove the biggest draw but a whole host of other improvements ensure that there's depth here to match the spectacle.
GAME's Verdict: 9/10
- An expanded roster of upgrade options facilitates added tactical options in combat.
- The new features blend seamlessly with XCOM's core strengths and values.
- Many of the new elements have made it across to the multiplayer mode, so you can play as human, alien and EXALT forces on new maps.
- Some minor and occasional camera hiccups remain unchecked.
- The narrative is a little flimsy and doesn't explore the consequences of genetic modification in any depth.