Firaxis is famous for strategy. The company is in charge of the juggernaut that is Sid Meier's Civilization
, and it's safe to say that the developers there know what they're doing when it comes to turn-based action. It's fitting that they're the team to take on XCOM: Enemy Unknown
, and bring the strategy game to the console in a way that doesn't slim it down too much, and a way that makes sense.
In XCOM: Enemy Unknown
, you play as a part of a special military operation. Aliens have invaded, and it's your job both to fight the enemies and to conduct research to learn more about this mysterious new species. As you research, you can develop new and better weapons to fight with.
The game is incredibly cheesy - but it seems deliberate. It has none of the seriousness of other strategy games, instead relying on its over-the-top terribleness to create a so-bad-its-good vibe. The aliens are little green men with big round eyes, the voice acting is horrible in a Just Cause 2
kind of way, and the story is even weaker. That's almost impressive.
In each mission, you control four soldiers and navigate a 3D environment. Death is permanent, so losing one of your soldiers means you lose any bonuses they're accrued - a mechanic seemingly adopted from Civ
. If one dies in Enemy Unknown
, however, they are simply replaced when you undertake your next mission. Each character takes his or her turn, during which they can perform two actions. You might move a character into cover, then peek over cover and take a shot at an enemy. Or you might use both actions for movement to get your character into a better position for attacking.
You can not only move around the ground in this environment, but you can climb up the sides of buildings using ladders or drain pipes. Do that, and you have a better shot of hitting your enemy when you attack.
The tutorial mode is a little dull - it doesn't let you figure anything out for yourself at all, and instead tells you exactly where to go and what to do. We realise that a tutorial is designed to teach you about the game, but it would've been nice to have just a little more freedom to help get us into the game. Once you get past the tutorial, though, the game is actually quite in-depth, and not as easy as it looks. When you attack, you have to weigh up your chances of hitting versus the risk of moving in closer to your enemy, and it's easy to make a mistake.
Some of the most interesting gameplay, however, comes when you're not in missions at all. That's when you get to choose your research to unlock new skills and weapons, and even more interesting, choose which missions to take on. See, you're a part of a coalition of countries. More than one country could be attacked at once, and you have to choose which country to help. You'll improve your standing with the country you help, but also degrade your standing with the one you don't, so you have to struggle to keep everyone happy. If you don't, the country will drop out of the coalition, and take its money and resources with it.
We understand that making a strategy game that works on consoles must be hard - there's often a lot going on - but it would have been nice if Firaxis had made a little more effort with the graphics. Frankly, they look about ten years old. Of course, this is just preview code, but it's pretty rare for graphics to be improved at this point in development, aside from the odd glitch.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
looks interesting, but not astoundingly so, and it might be a hard sell if it's a full price game. For strategy enthusiasts who lament the lack of games for consoles, however, it could be worth a shot. PC gamers are probably going to want to stick to the many tried-and-true already available to them.