I'm no XCOM vet, so coming into Enemy Unknown I had little idea of what to expect. It doesn't take long to figure out, though, that you are in control of a squad in direct confrontation with aliens. For (as is always the case with these things) you are Earth's last hope. Oh my!
The game offers you fierce battles, civilian rescue and the destruction of any opposing force you come across. As you might expect, it's based mainly around the use of strategy on the battlefield and in making improvements to your forces and home base. Enemy Unknown
comes from Firaxis who, as you can see from Svendís interview with them
, are well versed in strategy titles (including Civilization Revolution
which brought the traditionally PC-based classic Civilization
series to console. This strategy heritage really shows in places in XCOM:EU
You start with a long tutorial period. You're taught both the basics of your squad and how to navigate around your home base and improve it. In this tutorial period you're forced down a certain path. This continues (in the home base area) for four missions, which gets a bit annoying. It's fairly simple to pick up and the tutorial section feels overly long.
Your home base has a research lab, an engineering department, barracks, a hanger, a situation room and mission control. It's from here that you'll ready yourself to go out onto the battlefield. There's even a side-on cross-section view that gives you the feeling of looking at an ant farm.
In the research lab you can develop new weaponry and armour. Examining the remains of aliens killed in combat, their weaponry and other alien artefacts helps you move your research along. You can also unlock new rooms to add to your base. To be able to research new weapons and whatnot, you need to encounter them first and taking live aliens is also helpful to the research process.
Research costs time, money, a certain amount of scientists and occasionally specific captured or broken artefacts and bodies. Luckily the days pass rather quickly, so waiting isn't too annoying. The process can be sped up by building extra research labs or launching more satellites, which I'll get to later.
The engineering department gives you option to build/buy items and to build facilities. In the build/buy menu you can, when you've done the relevant research, build new weapons, extras, armour and vehicles. The vehicles consist of new aircraft, satellites and ground units (although, I never actually found myself using any of the ground units).
The 'build facilities' option gives you the chance to expand your base with new rooms. It gives you the opportunity to reduce research and engineering time, by building new labs and workshops. This is helpful when quick advances are needed to keep the advantage in the fight.
The barracks! Sir, yes sir!
Now, from glancing at the case for this game you could easily get the impression that you have a small crack squad of soldiers to command as you wish. This is true to an extent - on the battlefield, you have a small force that is yours to kill with as you wish. This starts as a four-man squad, but can be expanded later on to six. Six people
to fight off wave after wave of alien attack. Oh, how do our boys cope?! Well, you actually have a great pool of soldiers to call from. You can, in fact, hire up to 99 through the barracks menu. Of course, you also lose people who are killed on the battlefield.
An interesting dynamic to the game is that people can come back from the battlefield wounded, in need of days of recuperation. This is a good change to the normal invincible super soldier you find in other games. This also forces you to keep a good pool of soldiers to call on - the last thing you want is to have a big rescue mission and find only three battle-worthy soldiers.
At first each soldier starts off as general bullet (or should that be laser?) bait. As they earn kills, they 'rank up'. This pushes them down a particular path, which seems to be beyond the player's choice, despite the player supposedly being in charge of this whole operation.
There are four different classes that the ranked up soldiers can join, which seems to me to be completely random. You have the sniper, assault, heavy and support classes, each with their specialist weapons.
Each character is also customisable. You can change their name, nickname, race, voice and general facial appearance. I found this to be very redundant as, if you play like me, you lose at least one soldier per mission... oops.
I found the graphics to be very lacking, in both controllable situations and video cutscenes. It's so bad at times it reminded me of games from the last generation of consoles. Now, I found this very off-putting, but it might be something you are able to overlook. This becomes most apparent when in battle your face becomes just a block with no recognisable features.
Occasionally I had difficulty reading some of the text, too, mainly at the start of missions. Those who don't have the biggest of TVs like myself might have some trouble getting into the story with the text parts unreadable.