XCOM: Enemy Unknown preview – Quick, before ze aliens get here!

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going in

Earth is under attack by what can only be extraterrestrials. Nations are teetering on the edge of full-blown panic and no one seems to know what ET and his buddies want on our space rock. If you are reading this, there is probably only one question you really want answered: did Firaxis Games stick to the original? In a word, yes. Hailing from the days of Jagged Alliance and XCOM, prepare to dive into a world where your choices can leave you bankrupt and facing failure.

Welcome to XCOM, Commander.

Using the Unreal Engine 3, Enemy Unknown is much more than a pretty remake. Missions involve a bit more than ‘kill all aliens while maybe saving people’. Rescue operations, evacuations, raids for alien technology and bomb defusing all fall into your hands, in a turn-based isometric view.

Every point of damage an operative takes in the field equals time off-duty to heal, meaning your best soldiers might not be ready when the claxon sounds. Best you say? An RPG element has been added, making you grow even more attached to your operatives, before they snuff it. Being able to fully customise their appearance, like battle Sims, adds even more weight to their dying breaths.

winning

Because they will die, and it is permanent. Your favourite soldier could become a smear on the battlefield thanks to you walking into an ambush, their name added to a memorial wall to remind you of your failure. If you manage to keep them alive, prepare to unlock skills and roles for your troops, from heavy weapon specialists to snipers. Your party needs to be able to handle everything the aliens throw at you, without them becoming as specialised as say, the soldiers in Valkyria Chronicles.

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Combat is gritty and nerve-wracking, with fog of war and lines of sight, as well as a few audio cues, all resulting in a very engrossing experience. It is all driven by a toolbar which contains your skills and attacks. From smoke grenades to an adrenalin rush for your shotgun-wielding maniac, your soldiers will need to use every advantage they can to take on an enemy with serious technological superiority.

missions

You also need to research ways to stay alive and to react to the alien threat. This, plus building and managing your base and armoury, your satellites and your interceptor jets, all take game time. Making use of a fast forward while scanning with satellites for alien activity, get used to reacting to missions rather than choosing them from a menu.

The aliens can attack at any time and they often attack several places simultaneously, meaning you have to choose which nations you help and which will spiral deeper into panic. Careful though, as your funding from those nations will get cancelled if you continually fail them, making mission selection tough, with you weighing reward, risk and repercussions. The Council will also offer you missions from time to time, which are in your best interest to do immediately, seeing as they hold the purse strings.

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interceptor

If you are really strapped for cash, perhaps because you didn’t manage your satellite network correctly, or you splurged on fancy armour, you can sell some alien cadavers on the black market.  Even the placement of buildings in your underground base need some planning, as buildings of similar type adjacent to each other provide a bonus.

For the old-school XCOM fans, don’t worry about any handholding. XCOM classic and impossible difficulties are available, as well as an option to make the game only keep one save, which it manages automatically. Prepare for grief, you masochist.

ant-farm

The end result is a game that involves and is a lot of things, all of which require consideration and thought. Despite this, it will keep you on the edge of your seat, thanks to the high risks involved. This strategy/action/role-playing game is full of promise.

Last Updated: September 14, 2012

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