XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview – Close Encounters of the Best Kind
For the uninitiated, XCOM is a cult series of strategy games pioneered in 1994 by Mythos Games and Microprose. Much like the originals, you take control of the eponymous military organization, which defends earth from alien invaders who arrive suddenly, and in great numbers.
Last week, a flying saucer arrived from Firaxis headquarters in Sparks, MD, bearing two XCOM: Enemy Unknown preview codes for Game Front writers C.J. Miozzi and Ben Richardson. Here are their thoughts:
C.J. “Ghost” Miozzi
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I’ll freely admit that I’m not big on turn-based video games. I dabbled in Civilization and Jagged Alliance back in the day, but once I got into real-time strategy games like StarCraft, I left the turn-based world behind and thought I’d never look back.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown hasn’t just made me look back; it’s made me do a full 180. After a few days with a press preview of this upcoming title, something will have to go terribly wrong to sour me to XCOM.
This latest installment in the XCOM series is separated into two main aspects: managing a base of operations and turn-based squad combat. Base management consists of directing manpower and spending resources on research efforts, expansion, and munitions, while the combat aspect has you deploy troops on various missions.
You can fully customize each of your soldiers, from their appearance, names, and nationalities, to their weapon and equipment loadouts. As they become veterans of combat, your soldiers level up, growing more powerful, specializing in certain combat tactics via a light RPG system, and even earning nicknames. I found myself forming emotional attachments to my troops, genuinely concerned for their well-being and loading up a saved game anytime one of them died.
Targeting with grenades or rocket launchers is a little wonky — I can’t figure out if it’s too sensitive or just not designed for a mouse — but apart from that, combat is smooth, and the battlefield is dynamic. Explosives destroy walls, vehicles, and miscellaneous cover. Soldiers kick open doors and smash through windows. The battlefield even contains vertical elements, with rooftops and ledges to climb up onto — and theoretically snipe from.
To be perfectly blunt, everything about XCOM is just so damn cool, from the epic musical score, to the squad deployment cutscenes, to the over-the-shoulder action cam that highlights certain sequences in combat, to the rousing applause the folks at missions control congratulate you with after a successful mission.
Multiplayer pits two human opponents against each other in a squad-on-squad battle to the death. Each player is allotted a specified number of points to “build” and customize his squad, selecting from the various human soldiers and alien critters available in the game.
I do hope the full release includes the ability to play against an AI opponent rather than a human in multiplayer, so that we can have a controlled environment in which to test out the various units, and I’d also like to see a singleplayer game mode disconnected from the campaign that just lets you build your base, level your soldiers, and fight off aliens indefinitely. But the fact that my biggest issues are that I want even more from XCOM speaks volumes for its ability to hook me as a player.
Click through to page 2 for Ben Richardson’s take on XCOM: Enemy Unknown