Hands on with X-Com: Enemy Unknown

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XCom

Many of you might have spent countless hours playing the original X-com in your youths – or you could still be playing it today, because 15 years on it’s still got a maniacally rabid fanbase. You might, as a result, be worried that the new X-com reboot (the actual turn-based strategy from Firaxis, and not the oft-delayed shooter) might not twang at your nostalgic heartstrings, or worse, might take liberties with the franchise. You folks can rest easy.

We had some time hands-on time with Firaxis’ reimagining – and walked away more excited for the title than we actually have any right to be. For those of you who don’t know, X-com is a very PC-centric, critically acclaimed, incredibly strategic turn-based sci-fi epic – and Firaxis has gone out of its way to maintain the same “feeling” you got from playing the original.

X-com

You’ll play as a commander – and will have to make all manner of decisions regarding how your base is built, what research to focus on and what tactics to employ to rid earth of the new alien menace that’s attacking earth. It’s very much like the game you know and love, just brought in to the 21st century with some shiny graphics. As the commander, aside from your base building and research duties, you’ll also send in squads on skirmishes and intelligence gathering around the world – giving you the chance to duke it out with the extra-terrestrial menace in combat.

Combat is entirely turn-based, using an isometric 3D, third-person tactical view – very much like Ubisoft’s recent take on Ghost Recon on the 3DS. Commanding a squad of up to six players on the destructible, isometric battlefield. Your squad is class based; Assault, Support, Heavy weapons and Sniper – and you’re able to move and utilise the units freely (though they’re limited to one or two moves per turn) – or you can set them on Overwatch mode, making them slightly autonomous – locking on to targets to provide cover and suppression. On the odd occasion, the dynamic camera pulls in to a behind the shoulder 3rd-person view, bringing you right in to the battle – adding an extra level of intensity to something that’s already very tense.

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The reason for that tension? The game features permanent death – and even after a short time, you become pretty attached to your individual soldiers. Imagine this – you level up a soldier (that you can customise pretty heavily) through a number of levels,adding skills to him and generally making him the toughest soldier on the planet – and one wrong tactical move later and he’s gone. Forever. No going back. It’s heart and gut-wrenching – and adds a sense of real consequence to your actions. they even “act” human; if one of your soldiers sees a team mate’s head get blown off, he’ll enter a frenzied panic mode- and lose their wits on the battlefield.

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There are even more real consequences to what you do on the stage of war; As you’ll need to collect bits of aliens and their tech for research purposes (unlocking new equipment and weapons as you do), you’ll often want to avoid blowing the aliens up entirely – but some situations might call for wholesale demolition. Even choosing where exactly to send your squad results in your international allies withdrawing or adding support. There’s a lot of thinking you’ll need to do.

I was worried, with its transition to consoles, that controllers would dampen the fun – but as it’s turn-based, it ended up being a non-issue. It’s just as deep, tactical and – importantly  – addictive as you remember. With new multiplayer modes allowing you to mix-and-match aliens and humans (that actually seem fun!) X-com is going to eat up hours of your time. If you’re an X-com fan – or just a fan of games that actually make you think, its time to start getting excited.

X-com: Enemy Unknown is coming for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in October. Make sure you have lots and lots of free time.

Last Updated: August 23, 2012

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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