The Final Word
XCOM is back, and it is back with vengeance. Worthy of all the praise and high scores it is a deeply tactical and engrossing game which will have you coming back for more.
UFO: Enemy Unknown or X-Com
Julian Gollop is a man whom we admire, mostly because he created some of our favourite games like Rebel Star Raiders, Laser Squad and UFO: Enemy Unknown. UFO: Enemy Unknown was renamed X-COM UFO Defence for the American release. X-Com was a turn based tactical strategy and resource management game that gained a massive cult following, and in turn has spawned numerous clones and attempted remakes.
Yet as much as we love X-Com, there's been no remake/clone which has quite caught our attention and captured our love of the series until now.
2012 is the year of XCOM's return to glory and if you don't own XCOM: Enemy Unknown in any way/shape/format you're missing out on one of this year's best games and a truly worthy remake. This is also the best turn-based combat you're going to find on a console.
We're looking at the Xbox 360 version for the review, the PC has its own GUI and tweaks that make it a platform specific title.
Aliens have invaded the Earth and due to losses across the board from conventional military/paramilitary organisations, the shadowy Council has activated the experimental Last Stand project known as XCOM. You are the Commander of XCOM and charged with battling the invaders across numerous theatres of war, the survival of the planet and the human race rests on your broad shoulders. The story is highly cinematic and the game presents it in larger than life cut-scenes with a good deal of gung-ho action and drama. This is something that the original lacked due to the gameplay ideas/mechanics of the time.
So what is XCOM?
Is it real time or is it turn-based?
XCOM is at its heart a turn-based tactical combat married with real time resource management and HQ building. Where you need to have a sound tactical mind, a good long term strategy combined with an eye for balancing your short/long term rewards. The remake loses some of the old X-Com features but gains a lot in the process. The good news for X-Com fans is that Classic Difficulty in the game is just that, very much like X-Com/Terror from the Deep (the sequel) and totally unrelenting and whilst you might be able to save anywhere, if that doesn't float your boat, you can always activate Ironman mode and take one save, which auto-updates and that's it.
You make one wrong move, you're going to pay for it down the line if not immediately - welcome to XCOM, Commander.
Ant Farm Base View
Ant Farm: The nickname given to the front-on view of the base, which is different compared to the traditional X-Com isometric base view and top down design. The Ant Farm is very impressive however and provides a great visual treat for XCOM Commanders. It can be zoomed and panned effectively. Unlike X-Com you only have one base and it won't ever get attacked since base defence isn't part of the new XCOM game.
Research: Here in the XCOM HQ you can manage your scientific research projects, such as new armour for the squad, new weapons, alien based technology and more.
Engineering: Have you come up with something interesting from the research, well, you can get it manufactured here. You can also construct new base facilities to expand the XCOM HQ and later on you unlock the Foundry where you can upgrade your equipment and gain new powerful toys.
Barracks: Here you can hire new soldiers, customise the squad you have, changing their skin tone, voice and so on. You can alter their loadout (changing equipped weapons) and promote them (if they've earned it) to unlock new abilities. You can also buy upgrades through the Officer Training School once a squad member has reached the required rank.
Hangar: This important part of the base houses your interceptor strike craft, for shooting down UFOs before they can accomplish their missions. Craft can be bought here for various countries and stationed to provide fast action response against alien incursions. You can also change the interceptor loadouts here based on any required tech you may have unlocked.
Situation Room: With the satellite monitor/launch facility, Grey Market (sell unwanted alien stuff) and Doom Tracker, this room keeps you abreast of important changes in the Earth's countries attitudes towards XCOM. XCOM finances are also shown here and you can see the organisations outgoings and so on.
Mission Control: This is where you do your scanning for alien activity, track incursions and respond to mission updates. The Geoscape keeps you informed of the status of the war against the aliens and any important mission sites and threats appear here. Scanning advances time and the event list gives you a good idea of what's coming up next, important research, council funding reports and so on.
HQ gameplay is an important part of the whole package and it's easy to navigate and select important places in the HQ. You can quickly get to Mission Control with a press of the Y button and respond to alien threats in an instant. It's a balancing act most of the time, month by month you'll weigh the pros and cons of your various decisions, using the time most effectively to grow your HQ, adapt alien tech and respond to various missions, some of them set by the Council themselves (highly rewarding but usually pretty hard).
You'll spend a lot of time in your HQ between missions so it's wise to plan a good design for the base, since you'll want lots of satellite coverage (more sats = more funding coming in per month and less panic overall), you can also intercept and shoot down more UFOs before they can strike against the populace.
You may have to shoot down a UFO with an interceptor, which can be pretty hard to begin with since UFOs outperform Earth tech by a long shot. Fortunately there are a few modules you can equip to help out, but they all require resources. Your first ever UFO battle can go a few ways but usually comes with success, your interceptor can either sustain no, light, or severe damage in the encounter - based on how it performs.
Once you get an alert you can respond to or a UFO that's crashed, its time to gear up (you can customise the squad and soldiers on the mission prep screen) and fly out aboard the Skyranger dropship.