XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

xcom-enemy-unknown-7I think I prefer what I originally thought to be XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s development history.  But no, instead of being a quickly made title to revitalize a decade dead brand after the almost complete failure behind another project originally intended to do just that, it was in development in 2008 with money and a 50-60 person team behind it.  I say that because XCOM: Enemy Unknown feels like a small side project that should have been considered a bargain as it released for $40 in a crowded holiday season, but no.  Also, I should probably add that I owned the Xbox 360 version of this game initially, but sold it after I was assimilated into the PC crowd that I was promptly shoved out of as I had brought a controller with me.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Mac, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS, Android
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games

XCOM: Enemy Unknown centers around an alien menace attacking Earth in the distant year of… 2015.  With the player being the head honcho commander of the organization and brains that must keep the destructive forces under control and countries from losing their marbles.  Or as I like to imagine it, you play as a little girl by the name of Alicia Strongheart who possesses both an extremely tactical mind for a child and the unique ability to not only transform reality into a turn based strategy title, but also manipulate time.  This is due to how XCOM’s story is kept pretty basic, and appropriately so as it places great emphasis on the player crafted narrative like just about any game with squadmate who can overcome to true fatality.  Whatever story was included, however, was often times very much fluff that knows what it must achieve, and does not do much beyond that.  You have multiple underlings who are distinctive people, but aside from some commentary when something new appears in gameplay or providing feedback in the base, they could be replaced with ducklings.2014-04-18_00009

What could not be replaced with delicious bird would be the XCOM crew that you assemble from a large batch of highly trained military personnel into becoming a decked out alien hunting force that have faults mostly due to how that is necessary in creating a challenging turn based strategy game.  In fact, I theoretically enjoy the concept of having a personalizable batch of action hero men and women who can be molded into your own characters and eventually evoke strong feelings as you managed to go through the game knowing they may die.  However, I am the person who turned off his console in order to not die in Dark Souls, so you bet I took advantage of being a Time Duchess.2014-04-15_00003

Especially when you map out the game’s very oddly middle heavy difficulty curve and how, despite giving you numbers for each attack’s effectiveness, there are predetermined percentages that can be manipulated by the player who refuses to let their crew get so much as harmed.  A goal that turned the gameplay into not so much defeating the enemies as efficiently as possible as much as it became to manipulate the game itself, discover where enemies will enter, how units should be positioned using the game’s not so precise tile movement that is not represented via tiles, and being about as cautious as humanly possible.  In fact, asking if it was fun would be a question I would need to think about before answering as the best it can hope for is satisfaction in beating the game at itself.2014-04-16_00005

With that in mind, XCOM pretty much encourages temporal shenanigans all the way through, as you very much can screw the pooch and get a game over twenty hours in. So why bother getting even close to that when you are also being graded on your monthly performance in defending the world from otherworldly threats?  Said rankings acted as something of a GPA for me, with a C being the equivalent to a racist bum tattoo obtained after being kidnapped on a wacky island based vacation where the boat left without you, and the culprit not being my own incompetence in combat as much as it was how I was not being the most foreshadowing with my investments, which is the other half of the game.2014-04-17_00005

From space dollars, to alien supplied, bodies, weapon chunks, and maintaining funding by creating satellites that must then be defended with ships equipped with laser guns, XCOM certainly keeps the to-do list very full, but never in a way all that overwhelming.  And I’ll have to admit that I eventually did tap quite a few of my resources out as I progressed, namely weapon fragments, but by that point my entire crew was decked out in plasma based weapons and wearing armor that made them cover more ground while getting more bonuses by incorporating environmental cover into their strategic assault.  Yet my strategy stayed pretty much the same, be defensive, don’t rush into danger, and be sure to have somebody stay on the defensive in case the shadows held space monsters with intimidating health bars.  It just became that I could take those health bars down with greater ease.2014-04-22_00002

However, that strategy can easily sound as if I am talking bad about the game, which is not the case.  Despite a great amount of saving and reloading I did throughout, as I have seen the loading screen a good couple hundred times by my playthrough’s end, there was something about manipulating the game itself into achieving my own victory from it that I found to be satisfying, when it probably shouldn’t be.  That said, I still ended up travelling back in time so that the randomly generated environment for certain missions is less tricky to manipulate into the favor of my flawless victory, so I can’t brush the problem aside and call it a day.  Yet I honestly could not think of a solution that a TBS such as this could employ in order to avoid being a time lord, even if it did uproot the ability to save in the midst of battle, the only change would be that the process’ length and the tedium of the title.  And if the gears in your head didn’t crunch the numbers, the 36 hours I spent on this playthrough, which is technically my second one, were certainly filled with enough of that.2014-04-18_00008

While I am pouring salt into the wound, I also did not find the game to be all that visually appealing.  It is certainly not abhorrent or even lacking aside from regular animation glitches and oddities that come with having a 3D tile based game with ranged weapons, but the actual artstyle doesn’t sit well with me.  Not because it is attempting a realistic visual style and failing, but rather it seems to be neither here nor there with that and something more daring.  I originally joked about how everybody looked like plastic action ladies, but the reality was that I’d probably find the game more appealing if that were the case.  Some higher quality textures would have also been appreciated, but that’d probably cost a couple million.2014-04-16_00002

On paper the concept of playing against the game and fighting it along the way in order to do exactly what you want sounds like something I would very much raise an issue with, but the sheer simple amount of reward I felt by achieving flawless victory in XCOM was more or less enough for me to recommend it.  It’s no question that my playstyle was not the intended one, and using it did highlight numerous issues I had with the game.  Yet at the end of the day the game managed to be engrossing enough to feel personal and rewarding experience I would pretty much recommend to anybody with a strategic mind and not one who still feels guilt about not writing their Shin Megami Tensei IV review back in July.

Distinguished (8.0/10)
Applaudable efforts that do get hung up on a few too many branches, but very much deserving of a recommendation despite not being astonishing.

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