The XCOM series is notorious for being incredibly difficult, and Enemy Unknown is no exception.
In order to send these aliens packing, you’ll spend most of your time in two places: either in the field out on a mission, or back at your base, building facilities to help with general research and development functions, researching technologies to increase your battle readiness, monitoring your status with the rest of the globe, and waiting for alien activity. Extending onto the battlefield, you are constantly presented with different choices, and one wrong move can mean the difference between edging out a victory and swift defeat. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the mechanics, just when you think you’ve got good enough equipment, just when you start to feel complacent, XCOM throws you a curveball, introducing new bad guys and mission objectives to keep you on your toes.
There is a lot to chew on during a campaign of Enemy Unknown, and each run-through will take around 20-30 hours. Firaxis has taken the lessons they’ve learned from Civilization Revolution and have streamlined the entire XCOM experience to make it more accessible and engaging than ever before. If you are more of a thinker than a shooter than Xcom: Enemy Unknown may just be the game for you.
USA TODAY is now using Facebook Comments on our stories and blog posts to provide an enhanced user experience. Mike Snider began covering the video game industry during the Super Nintendo-Sega Genesis clash in 1992.
The tutorial does a great job of getting new players familiar with the workings of the game. A little more variety in squad composition (like piercings, tattoos, earrings, underwear etc) would have been nice.
The nations of Earth have gathered their resources to create the “XCOM Project,” a super-secret underground base tasked with defending humanity from attack, salvaging any technology and resources available, and studying the alien menace. While you get a nice hour long tutorial which eases you gently into the mechanics of the game (something the previous games lacked), after that, you are on your own, loosed upon your mission, with the overall goals looming over you as your motivation to keep developing new technology and finding new ways of defeating the extraterrestrials. While three invasions may be occurring across the globe, you can only take one of them, forcing you to decide which country is worth saving. Battles occur in turns, with each unit having an opportunity to move and attack, or take an extended movement phase. All of the aliens look menacing while still maintaining that 1950s Roswell-esque design motif throughout.
When you stumble upon a group of aliens on a map for the first time, rather than catching them unawares, they get, essentially, a free turn to move into cover.
While die-hard purists may balk at certain changes, omissions, or a general decrease in overall complexity, they’d be missing the point. This turn-based strategy shooter has the player take on the role of a group of individuals who have been trained and armed for hostile extra terrestrial activity, and boy there’s a lot of activity happening as of late. The game itself was a successor of a less known Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum game called Laser Squad (which I did play). The rules of XCOM Enemy Unknown are chess like clear and open up a world of tactical combinations to suit a variety of playing styles. So before you open a hatch on a squad of alien berserkers, better check your weapons and click on the save shortcut. The members of the squad tend to be a little too similar, with haircut that's not too fashionable.
For old video gamers it brings back the nostalgia of days when time was not money (the game is still a time hog). There’s a general story here, which provides some goals and milestones to complete that will further advance the narrative arc, but it never gets much deeper than just doing anything you can to defeat the aliens. The “fog of war,” a shroud which envelops the parts of the map that your troops cannot see, prevents you from getting the drop on your foes, requiring you to move carefully from cover to cover until you spot a group of enemies.

Enemy Unknown makes wonderful use of the Unreal 3 engine with tons of little touches; a river trickles through a forest, reflecting the sun off it, your troops run on treadmills in between missions at your base, cyberdiscs unfold into giant Swiss army knives of death. There’s even a multiplayer mode that, while interesting, doesn’t do much more than pit two sides in tactical combat against each other, dropping the meta-game altogether. It makes things a bit harder than they need to be, as you will never get the jump on anyone as you make your way through a map.
By stripping away all of the excessive micro-management and over-reliance of numbers and statistics most turn-based strategy games tend to fall back on, Enemy Unknown focuses more on the moment to moment decisions, giving each choice gravity, and letting you feel the consequences of every single wrong step. This game is an award-winning PC game which was awesome enough to make it on to tablets and smartphones.
On easy mode, the game is challenging enough for old video gamers without being fastidious.
An Elite Soldier downloadable content (for a little extra cash) lets you customize your character a lot more, but it would have been great to have it in the base game. Even though the general story beats are the same, the rest of the game is randomized, from what missions pop up, to your beginning squad, to your base layout.
Do you save Canada because you’re strapped for cash and they’ll send you a few hundred bucks to rescue them? Overextend one of your troops out too far, or end a turn out of cover around the aliens, and you might as well say goodbye to that guy. These guys look like they’re straight out of Starship Troopers, have huge movement range, and can kill your guys in one stab of their razor-sharp claws.
Each of these moments inform the larger whole of the game, immersing you into this dire situation, making you grow attached to your troops (even more so if you choose to name and customize them after friends and loved ones), giving each death that much more weight behind it.
Over all, Enemy Unknown combines Civilization’s board game-like endless replayability mentality with the trappings of a story-based single player game, and it pulls the combination off almost flawlessly. This is the Demons’ Souls of 2012: a difficult, unrelenting, unforgiving gamer’s game, one which rewards learning from failure and overcoming impossible odds. A fair amount of save and re-load will be necessary to blow up the mothership (yes, there is a mothership to blow up). That means crawling and hunkering down, silently waiting for enemies to fall into a well planned ambush.
A few more maps, cityscapes and landscapes would have also provided additional variety to gameplay. Map layouts aren’t completely randomized (level design is not procedurally generated so the design is always the same each time you play on a particular map), but enemy placement is, so you’ll always find yourself on your toes.
Or do you save Nigeria, not because they have anything you need, but because their Panic rating is getting close to five stars, which will cause them to leave the alliance and withdraw all of their support and funding from the project? Death is permanent in XCOM, so losing a solider on the battlefield means losing all of the accumulated skills and experience he brought to the team, requiring you to pull rookie from your bench, who are not nearly as suited for combat as your veterans. If you think that’s bad, the troops that they kill come back to life after a few turns as mindless zombies, and begin attacking you. Effects sound distinctly futuristic and otherworldly, and voice acting, while mostly average, only adds to its charm with the hammy delivery and hacky accents.
I played Enemy Unknown on a PC, and while a mouse and keyboard work fine, the game was obviously designed with a controller in mind. Even if you don’t like strategy games, if you love action games and have an open enough mind to try out something a bit slower-paced, you will be rewarded with one of the most thrilling, thought-provoking, and heart-pounding games of the year. Chess players and old video gamers will feel at home, while first person shooters will need to hold their horses unless they want to see their squad mowed down systematically. Nevertheless, UFO Enemy Unknown has great character animation: both aliens and humans look real and likable enough (the game uses the Unreal game engine to make things more lively between turns).

You will never have enough time, money, or resources to complete every project, help every country, or build every upgrade, so you must decide whether you want to spend your money and resources on things like Interceptors to defend countries from UFO attacks, or if you want to take that money and invest it into gear for your troops, making them hardier and more effective in battle. If the rookies survive, they’ll level up and gain new skills, but you want to keep a hold onto every troop as long as you can, only accepting casualties as a last resort. Oh, and if you don’t kill the zombie quick enough, another chryssalid will burst out of his chest, ready to eviscerate another one of your squad members. Controller input works great, actually, and is incredibly intuitive, but not everyone who games on a PC will have one available, requiring them to use the sub-par mouse and keyboard combo (I never thought I’d say that about a PC game). Viewing from a top-down perspective, players assign two tasks to each squad member for every turn.
Commander, you head a squad of elite soldiers from around the world, tasked with blowing up nasty aliens intent on abducting and enslaving humankind.
Each of these actions require you to advance time, and while waiting for building and research to complete, increasingly worse things happen on the globe, forcing you to decide which country you’ll go and save from invasion. XCOM: Enemy Unknown forces you at every turn to make incredibly hard decisions that you have to live with throughout the course of the game.
The game is constantly taunting you, daring you to take down yet another seemingly insurmountable obstacle, which makes scraping out a victory from seeming defeat that much more glorious.
Also, there are some weird clipping issues with shooting through or around cover, or enemies falling through walls during attack sequences. The very nature of how they’re played doesn’t exactly give an image of high-octane thrills and excitement. Once all moves are wrapped up, the aliens take their turn.Soldier actions include the typical tasks such as attacking aliens, but they can also execute special moves to gain the upper hand. Couple that with micromanaging resources, troop directions, and complex system layered on top of complex system, and you have a recipe for a game that only the most ardent of spreadsheet fans will enjoy. The sniper, for example, uses his Grapple to climb on top the roof of the gas station as a squadmate uses Suppress to keep the aliens frozen in place. So you can imagine my surprise that, after booting up Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I was treated to one of the most white-knuckle, tense, and thrilling games I’ve played this year. I also had to reload a save game after a large grouping of enemy corpses bottlenecked around a doorway, preventing me exit through the only pathway to the final room of the map. Players control these actions using a wheel-based pop-up menu.These actions come in handy as players combine abilities for more devastating results.
During one turn, the support soldier suppressed an alien sitting near a gas pump, allowing the heavy to toss a grenade and take it out.Most of the core components from the original XCOM remain, including "fog of war" (players can't see enemies until they are in range) and destructible environments. All of these complaints are nitpicks, though, and shouldn’t deter anyone from picking up the game. With the sniper safely camped at a distance, the assault soldier approaches the roof of the building while the heavy slips to the front door, tucked safely behind a wall.Or so it seems.
A fellow alien lays down suppressive fire to pin the heavy to that spot.The assault soldier counters with a move called Run and Gun. In one effortless gesture, she sprints to a skylight and eliminates the alien unleashing suppressive fire. The heavy then whips out a rocket launcher to take out the Berserker -- and half the building.
But that gaping hole gives the Sniper an open look at the final alien and an easy one-shot kill.Judging from the demo, XCOM looks pretty sharp.

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