XCOM: Enemy Within Review — Playing With The Devil’s Toys
XCOM: Enemy Unknown kicked off with a chilling quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
With those words, the tone was set for a classic sci-fi first-encounter invasion story. Enemy Within replaces that quote with one from Buckminster Fuller:
“Those who play with the Devil’s toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.”
Once again, Firaxis has perfectly captured the essence of the plot elements this expansion includes in a few simple words. While Clarke’s quote was chilling, Fuller’s is unsettling — and that is the tone for Enemy Within’s subplots of dabbling with alien genetic technology.
XCOM: Enemy Within
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2013
MSRP: $29.99 (PC expansion), $39.99 (standalone)
While you’re still fighting off the alien invasion, you must now contend with an additional threat: EXALT – a covert paramilitary organization that seeks to steal alien artifacts in order to evolve mankind through genetic manipulation. EXALT works to sabotage XCOM’s efforts from the shadows, housing sleeper cells throughout the world.
But EXALT isn’t the only entity using gene mods — XCOM is as well, to a lesser degree. Through the research of alien nanotech organisms, your troops aren’t just outfitted in hybrid weapons and armor by the end of the story — some of them will be hybrids themselves, either cyborgs or genetically modified supersoldiers.
Enemy Within’s subplots are seamlessly interwoven with Enemy Unknown’s. While the main subplot fizzles out with an anticlimax, it has its moments of splendor, with one shocking and dramatic sequence that will remain one of the entire game’s most memorable moments.
Both EXALT and the nanotech organisms serve as the focus for the additions to the strategic component of XCOM’s gameplay. The nanotech, named Meld, is a new resource that can be recovered on missions and is used to augment soldiers with gene mods or transform them into cyborgs. EXALT cells can be detected by initiating intel scans — for a cost — and subsequently eliminated by sending one of your soldiers on a covert ops mission.
Essentially, Enemy Within gives you more choices to make. How do you want to spend your Meld? Do you want to forever genetically alter a soldier, or lop off all his limbs and replace them with robotic prosthetics? Do you want to spend time, resources, and manpower chasing down EXALT cells, or focus your efforts on the alien threat? As in Enemy Unknown, choices generally don’t revolve around picking one option instead of another, but rather prioritizing the options at your disposal.
EXALT adds an extra level of tension to this strategic management layer. At any time, a cell may activate and steal funds from XCOM, reverse progress on your research efforts, or increase panic by spreading propaganda. The EXALT remains a threat until you locate and eliminate the organization’s secret headquarters, whose location you narrow down after every successful covert ops mission.
A few dozens new maps and a couple new mission types add variety to Enemy Unknown’s turn-based combat. After sending a soldier on a covert ops mission, you must send an extraction team to retrieve her, facing off against EXALT soldiers in the process. My first encounter with EXALT ended in disaster. Fighting enemy soldiers, with similar weaponry and abilities to your own, presents a unique challenge and requires a different approach than facing off against your alien foes. However, there are only two types of extraction missions — a King of the Hill scenario and an escort mission with a twist — and they grow repetitive after a while.
Enemy Within introduces a few new “set piece” missions — unique missions that constitute a part of the narrative, as opposed to the randomized missions — and they rate from good to excellent in execution, story, and atmosphere.