In 1994, Microprose released X-Com: UFO Defense in the US and titled it X-Com: Enemy Unknown elsewhere. The mix of turn based squad combat with home base long-term strategy became a huge hit. Initial follow up games did well but eventually lost their way leaving fans of the series pining for the good old days. Things have now come full circle with the “reboot” of the series under its original name, XCom: Enemy Unknown for newer consoles and the PC. While I went into the new game with some reservations, the core game is still there and the modern graphics (while a bit too gory for my tastes) serve to draw me deeper into the game.
XCom is basically two games in one. In the main phase, you control a stable of troops and select individuals to go out on missions where they earn experience and can grow in ability and power – providing a very tactical RPG feel. The other dimension of the game is an organizational one, where you run your global operations by building and developing your base. This provides a sort of turn based city-building / management game overlaid on the combat missions. What makes the game great is how the two phases interact with each other. Success on missions provides technology and resources that can be used to improve and do research in the home base mode. Performing research in your home base eventually results in improved tools and equipment which can be equipped by your troops when they go out on missions.
I enjoy fiddling around in the base menus and being given the choice of what sorts of research in which I specialize, and digging out and setting up my base just how I want. However, I am pleasantly surprised how much I am enjoying the squad based combat. I knew I would enjoy the turn based combat options and the role playing aspects as my troops slowly increase in level (if I can keep them alive) but I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying the story and mood of the game. Combat is not running in with guns blazing, troops must wind their way slowly by hopping from cover to cover. One short rest in an exposed area and it’s goodbye little troop friend. Adding to the suspense, combat nearly always starts with the aliens in unknown locations, providing plenty of suspense for those initial few rounds while your troops are trying to scout the area. It’s rare for a turn based game to be able to project such a rich sense of suspense and fear.
Gamers looking for a shoot-em-up should look elsewhere, but nearly everyone else will find something to like in this richly themed strategy game. The diverse elements (combat, research, base building, resource management) all come together to make something greater than their individual parts. I know of no greater compliment than to state I would be comfortable with this version of XCom representing the series for future gaming generations.
Kid Factor: As a strategy game, it requires a bit of reading to navigate the menus and some planning abilities to be successful. This puts the game beyond most young kids into the early teens market. With an ESRB of “M” due to language and gore, it isn’t the sort of game to be playing in front of little kids. I didn’t find the language too bad, but the depictions of gore when destroying the aliens is fairly graphic. Since they’re aliens, I’d be tempted to cut the game some slack, but your milage may vary. Be aware that the game does emphasize a sort of suspense/horror theme during combat and I would pair that with the strategy requirements to decide whether the game is appropriate for a specific kid.