First Looks// XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Posted 6 Mar 2012 13:00 by
A lot of classic franchises seem to be getting revived or reinvented these days. Following EA and Starbreeze?s FPS reboot of Syndicate, it seems that 2K Games has a similar idea for Amiga favourite XCOM. To quell the legion of fanboys who are no doubt frothing at the mouth over the concept of change, 2K has thrown a rather meaty bone and announced a second game that follows the classic?s RTS combat roots much more closely. And the best part? It?s being developed by Civilization studio Firaxis.

But don?t call this a reboot. More of a re-imagination. The story actually takes place after the events of the original XCOM game - which focused on the very first attack by alien forces on planet Earth. In this game, you?ve already made first contact. Now that it?s clear that these guys don?t exactly come in peace, your intergalactic planetary war really kicks off.

I was able to see gameplay from one stage of the game and it?s clear to see how Firaxis has stayed true to the atmosphere and setting of the original whilst implementing new elements. Still sporting an isometric perspective, the camera swoops down to third-person view whenever shots are fires or when your units are lining up their aim. Traditional controller support has been implemented, and it doesn?t seem to have much of a negative impact on play either - something that many console-based RTS games have tried and failed to do.

The level is set in a gas station. Your troops - a heavy gunner, sniper, and a couple of assault specialists - have to investigate a diner close by. Fog of war is present here, and so strategic movement is key. After selecting a unit, the analogue stick is used to move a cursor on the field. The cursor will snap to blocks of cover on the field, such as cars and walls, so you can easily position yourself.

You can switch between characters during one turn as many times as you like, but movement and actions are tied to an agility meter that runs out pretty quickly if you?re not efficient with your tactics. Once your unit?s positioned, you can choose to perform an action (i.e. shoot the living hell out of an enemy) on your own or in co-ordination with a nearby ally.

As you would expect, it?s worth creeping around every corner in this game - in the demo I was shown, it was not long before the XCOM soldiers encountered their first enemy. Luckily, these happen to be Sectoids - Area 51-looking grunts that are pretty puny when fighting on their own. However, they become a threat when two of them telepathically link minds and combine their strength. It?s worth taking out one or more of these guys and severing the telepathic link between them to make life easier for your team.

Once those guys are taken out, your team needs to take out a whole new wave of enemies sitting inside the diner itself - including a brand new alien to the XCOM franchise, known as the Beserker. This guy is big, bulky and one mean motherlover, strapped to the nines with heavy armour. To kill him, you need to be thinking very strategically and have your units positioned so that all avenues of attack are covered.

Your team can use grapple hooks to clamber up to higher ground for an advantage, for example - in the demo, this was used to bring a sniper on top of the gas station and to allow a female assault gunner to get on top of the diner to flank the enemies from the ceiling. Destructive scenery allows for the lifting of fog of war and the ability to set your troops up for some stylish kills too.

Ideally though, the Beserker only really responds to explosive damage. This was demonstrated when one of the XCOM units foolishly ran towards it in order to whittle its health down. Instead, the poor human sod got curb-stomped to death. And just like the classic XCOM games, perma-death is active. Meaning if your favourite soldier gets killed in battle, you?re never going to get him or her back. Instead, they are forever honoured in the basement graveyard of your XCOM HQ base.

The HQ has been lovingly nicknamed ?the ant farm? by Firaxis, and after taking one look at the setup it?s clear to see why. Viewed from a 2D perspective, almost like a living diorama, the HQ is an underground military complex that you can build and modify yourself, adding a hint of Sim RTS flavour to the mix. The rooms range from science labs to create better weapons and armour to army barracks to promote and manage your away team. Artifacts that you collect on the battlefield can be used to start projects and unlock new abilities to equip.

The demo ended with a quick visit to Mission Control, where players can engage in known alien activity around the globe. It?s not all about defensive play though - you can take to the skies and send out ships to war with enemy cruisers to get an advantage. I wasn?t shown how the flight scenes played out, but I think it?s safe to say that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a massive love letter to the classic RTS game of old. We?re inching to have a proper hands-on with it, and we?ll let you know if it lives up to these first impressions soon.

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