XCOM Enemy Unknown has the unfortunate comparison of being a remake for the 1994 classic of the same name; thankfully this generations XCOM more than stands on its own two feet and is a worthy addition to any gamers collection, even if the campaign redefines the idea of difficulty for this generation of consoles.XCOM is a Earth wide organisation that is funded by a certain number of member states to protect its, and the worlds, interests against alien invasions. If you hadnt guessed, a massive alien invasion that engulfs the whole planet ensues, and it falls to you to protect the world whilst running on a slim budget and weighing up all the options to keep Earth safe. XCOM works as part management sim, part turn based strategy, both combining together to create an intense and difficult experience.
The amount of funds that you gain are directly tied to the amount of members that are still funding the XCOM program. Missions are given to you on a regular basis varying from alien abductions, destroying downed UFO’s or saving as many civilians in a warzone as possible. The catch is that you are always thrown two or more of these missions at one time and thus its entirely your choice about who you decide to save or ignore. Panic levels in each region rise and fall depending on your decisions meaning that your decisions have a much larger weight than usual; do you save Indian civilians and reduce the panic in the region to ensure funding or do you save a VIP in the UK that will allow you to gain further scientists, engineers and a quicker injection of cash for your cause? Actually having to think about your actions is a welcome change from the flash-bang-wallop scenarios that a lot of A list games give to the players.
The other chunk of the game boils down to you controlling a 4 man squad, that extends up to 6 later on in the game, as they traverse whichever dilemma you have placed them in. Each turn allows you to place your team in viable locations for attack or defence to make sure that you are in the best position to confront any enemy you face. Unlike chest high walls that seem to be indestructible in the Mass Effect/Gears of War universes, cover is completely destructible, meaning that solid looking lorry you have your team hiding behind can disintegrate in a moment’s notice, leaving the whole team vulnerable. The squads, as they experience more missions and wipe out more aliens, gain experience that mould them into different classes ,Support, Assault, Sniper and Heavy allowing you to play as you see fit; having four Snipers bolstered by two Assaults classes is just as viable an option as going all out Assault, allowing a flexibility in who you bring.
The customisation of your squad becomes a top priority and, with the ability to change how they look and rename them, having Hitler, Stalin and Winston Churchill all take on aliens together is rather hilarious, means that you tend to get rather attached to the squad you have brought up from simple rookies. There have been many times where I let a few hours of gaming go to waste by turning off my Xbox, as a bad decision on my part wiped out the entirety of the squad I had lovingly created, leaving the rest of my comparatively inexperienced soldiers to follow suit and pop their clogs as well.
An in depth tutorial, as well as starting missions that provokes you to realise how desperate the situation Earth is in very early on, is a brilliant inclusion without ever being condescending, readying you for being off the leash just before the holding hands gets a bit tiresome. In reality, however, the tutorial is your first or second play through, as the difficulty level rises hugely in the latter stages of the game, as the aliens you face become larger, better armoured and even more of an issue for your squad. The difficulty only rarely frustrates to the point it feels like the death of one of your squad mates is completely down to the game, with your lack of foresight in covering your flanks, not noticing that the cover you are behind is about to explode or bringing the wrong balance of equipment for the job is all down to you and your own failings.
Multiplayer works adequately, allowing you the ability to make squads that are a combination of aliens and humans, but never really has the same payoff as the main game does if you win; anything and everything you collect and kill in the main game is directly funnelled into the new research or equipment you can use to upgrade your satellites, aircraft and weapons that your squad has access to.
The game is well presented throughout, with character models, explosions and locations all following a rather colourful aesthetic. Cut scenes, however, look below par, and consistently remind me of the FMV’s used in Resident Evil 2, with all the characters looking washed out and doll like. Criticisms of the game are far and few between. Having a decent idea of what you should prioritise in terms of the important missions would have been incredibly useful as well as further personalisation of your squad, perhaps tying it in with the parts of the council you have stronger ties with. Difficulty spikes hurt later on and, although it plays directly into the whole ethos of the game that the war against these aliens is reactive rather than planned well in advance, can make minor mistakes turn into full blown squad massacres.
All in all XCOM Enemy Unknown is an experience in how difficult games can be balanced enough to make sure that the player does not feel unfairly battered and bruised. The combination of the money management against the priorities of the squad you have invested time in and the world as a whole is a juggling act that requires patience and a fine eye for detail with huge benefits to the players that will hopefully pick up this game; fun has never been so frustrating and rewarding at the same time.