Developer: Firaxis Games
Release Date: 10/9/2012
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The Good: Lots of unique and interesting upgrades and research, cool alien designs, intense battles, great UI
The Bad: Maps repeat too often, extreme difficulty nearly breaks the game, camera can be screwy, losing soldiers permanently makes the game even harder
XCOM was a popular turned based strategy game back in the 90’s and everyone was surprised how well this game turned out. Enemy Unknown keeps the series vibe and atmosphere while updated to today’s standards. Enemy Unknown is one of this year’s best strategy games, but there is one reason why most people will never complete this game: It is too damn hard. Not the fun and challenging type of hard, but the kind that makes it impossible to move on no matter how well equipped your soldiers are.
The game does a very good job introducing new things to you as you move on. The UI is very simple and uncomplicated but pretty deep. You get to see a cut-a-way of a military base and you can click on each department. Research is where everything starts. By gathering all intact materials from missions you can research new things like weapons, armor, satellites and various other things. Engineering is where it is all made and upgrading as well as keeping track of other buildings. Workshops, Laboratories, generators, hangars, all these things determine how fast you can upgrade and how you become more powerful. The barracks are where you can equip your squad’s loadout, upgrade soldiers, hire new ones etc. Finally, there is the situation room and the command center. Here you can advance the days until you run into missions, trade alien parts on the black market, and view how in distress the world is. It is all very simple and an almost revolutionary design because most strategy games are Excel sheet based and are pretty complicated and hard to navigate.
Once you assign things to engineer and research you can advance the days until you run into something such as a UFO sighting. When this happens you scramble your jets and depending on how good the equipment you gave them is they’ll take it down. Most of the time you will run into abduction scenarios where you eliminate all hostiles or have to rescue someone. When this happens you get a choice as to what country to help. Each one gives you a reward such as money, scientists, engineers, or other items. Usually, you pick the one that’s in distress the most because if you don’t they will remove themselves from the XCOM operation, and if they all withdraw it’s game over. Once you go into battle this is where you see how hard this game gets.
Each soldier gets two moves. The area around them is blue which means that’s one move, and yellow means it takes both moves to get there. Performing an action takes one move, and that is usually shooting alien scum. All soldiers start out as regulars with assault rifles until after their first mission and they rank up. The class is chosen randomly which I really hate because you can be stuck with 5 snipers and just one assault guy. When you are ready to shoot you will see how accurate your shot is. Once all turns are taken it’s the alien’s turn. This back and forth is normal for strategy games, but the objectives you are given, or the difficulty of aliens, is absurd and completely unfair. You will shoot down some small grays, get through a few thin men. Maybe you will lose 2 or 3 guys in the process, then four freaking Mutons will show up and wipe the rest of you out in one turn. Or don’t forget the damn spider things that can turn your squad mate into a zombie in one hit. This gets frustrating because every mission is like this. I rarely got through any unless it was on an easy difficulty mission.
This would be ok if it were during main missions and you could go back and grind a bit to get better equipment, but you have to do that with EVERY single mission. You fail almost more than you succeed, such as losing so many soldiers. Once a soldier dies they are dead forever and won’t come back. Once you lose a fully ranked soldier you have to stat from scratch again with a new guy. Completely unfair in a game this difficult. Most missions you will be lucky if you get out with 2 or 3 guys, but you are probably thinking that’s because I suck at the game. I would restart and try all different strategies and nothing would work. The whole point of the game is to take cover and NEVER be out in the open. Once you advance and are just standing there you’re dead. The fog of war doesn’t help when you run around the map trying to figure out where all the enemies are. Forget rescue mission where you have to save a certain amount. Saving 5/25 people is a lot harder than it sounds. All 20 will die before you get to your third guy. This game is just a nightmare and not in a fun way.
That doesn’t make the game bad though. There are a lot of great research projects that make a huge impact on everything you do. You have to decide carefully about what you want or you’re screwed. You get a very limited amount of money every month and you have to stretch it. I found this a bit unfair as well because there’s no compromise. Even if just one element was easier it could make this game more tolerable. As it has I had this game for over a month and barely got 25% through the game before I gave up. Spending 45 minutes on a mission and then dying at the end is just ridiculous. Reloading quick saves doesn’t always work either because you realize you forgot to equip someone with a medkit, or you need to be more accurate on certain missions and forgot to equip scopes. This game is just a pain.
The production values are at least nice with great looking aliens and some decent voice acting, but overall this game requires extreme patience more than skill or brainpower. The game is well done with intense battles, but maps repeat often, the camera is screwy where it zooms out of buildings, and the graphics are a bit underwhelming. The main thing is the extreme difficulty which practically ruins the game. I have never played such a hard strategy game before, but there’s someone out there who will like this.