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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview

All this game is missing is an inspirational speech by Bill Pullman.

If you read my review for Avernum, you know that I missed out on most of the major PC hits of the 90s. So it should go without saying that I did not partake in the white-hot popularity of the XCOM series. I was one of those people who thought the upcoming first person take on the franchise looked pretty good, and I avoided all of the rage surrounding the departure of the game from its strategy roots. Taking that into consideration, I find myself extremely intrigued by the game that Firaxis is working on—XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

This is the game that Firaxis hopes satisfies the core XCOM fans while being something that new players like myself can play and enjoy. Going back to the main strategy mechanics of the original game, Enemy Unknown attempts to create a playing field that eases new players in but doesn’t sacrifice the depth that the series was known for.

Battles are still turn-based, but the field has become wide open. Instead of characters only being able to move a set number of spaces on a grid per turn, now players can move in any direction provided they have enough Time Points. The elegant heads up display will inform players of all their cover options, as well as if they will be able to take an offensive action once they move into place. Moving into a blue cover point will allow a soldier to use another ability or attack, while moving to a red zone will leave them with no more actions until their next turn, potentially putting them in harm’s way.

Once a soldier has moved into position a plethora of options become available. Positioning is of course key, as low and high points of cover will affect the defense and offense of a character’s actions. Snipers will want to get up high to maximize their range, while soldiers with closer range weapons will need to be sure to stick to a good cover point. Certain classes of soldier can use a suppressive fire ability to control the battlefield and force enemy troops to stay in place. That leaves them wide open for a well-placed grenade, which not only does massive damage but can seriously compromise enemy cover points. Using all of your abilities and moving your troops as a team will be paramount for success, and the game looks to reward tactical thinking and anticipation. The stakes are incredibly high, since this game features permanent death much like the Fire Emblem series. So make every move count!

Back at base, there’s even more strategy and decisions to make. The base is structured like an anthill, with the camera fixed in a decidedly 2D viewpoint. As players gain resources from missions, more additions can be made to the base. Scientists can research the enemy, while engineers can design better armor and weapons. Step into the barracks to customize and name your soldiers to make things that much more tragic when a really useful character bites the big one. Firaxis likens the base to the G.I. JOE playsets that you always wanted as a kid but never got, and from the E3 demonstration it looks to deliver on that and more.

Enemy Unknown is a game I knew nothing about going into E3, but coming out of it I can easily say that this is one of my most anticipated games of the year. As a long-time fan of Japanese strategy games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea, I’m looking forward to jumping into my first Western developed strategy title. Keep an eye out for XCOM: Enemy Unknown this Fall.



Julian Titus Senior Editor

06/29/2012 at 07:54 PM

Also, can we get Firaxis to make a Mass Effect SRPG when they finish up with this one? That would be awesome, thanks.


06/30/2012 at 12:22 AM

Do you know who is taking up lead design role for this? Is Sid involved? I love Meier, but I'll play any Firaxis game in general. I never played the older games so I have no connection to the series or any expectations. Your info sounds really cool though, I think this would be a lot of fun. I'm with you on the statement, "This is the game that Firaxis hopes satisfies the core XCOM fans while being something that new players like myself can play and enjoy."

If anybody can take a complex system or a deep strategy game and make it something that new players can hop into, learn, and enjoy, it's Firaxis. I hopped into Civ Rev without every having played a Civ game in my life and I was having a blast within minutes. Not only was it accessible, but the systems were so deep and I had so many options that it has been keeping me in the game long after I first played it.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

06/30/2012 at 11:16 PM

As far as I can tell, Sid Meier isn't directly involved with the game, although the team has been getting his input. They wanted his blessing for the level of violence in the game, for example.

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