XCOM: Enemy Within PC Review

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Last year’s rebirth of the XCOM franchise with XCOM: Enemy Unknown was met with high praise. We even scored it a fantastic 9/10. You should go check out that review, because there’s a lot of similar key points that both this expansion pack and the original game share. When it comes to expansion packs, Firaxis Games is no slouch in developing great additions to existing titles. They’ve done this a few times with Civilization V, slotting in new content into the existing framework to flesh out more features, even if it wasn’t required. This is the same situation with XCOM: Enemy Within, building on the foundation of what existed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown to make the overall game even better. This is fantastic news for newcomers or for people wanting to replay the game with a different experience.

On the PC, which is what this review is based on, the Enemy Within expansion requires the main game, while on consoles this isn’t the case as the game acts as a standalone. I guess you could call it a Game of the Year edition for the console version. Enemy Within is sold at a cheaper price on PC, and since Enemy Unknown can be picked up incredibly cheap on Steam or other digital services, there’s no real negative in making the expansion pack require the original game for newcomers who have become interested in this resurgence of the series.

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While Enemy Within’s overarching story is roughly the same, it’s the bits in-between that change the game. One of the biggest additions is the inclusion of a new resource found hidden on every map called Meld. This orange substance has a time limit and will expire if the player doesn’t manage to send a unit to collect it. It’s really important that the player builds up a stash of Meld, because it is used to unlock research capabilities and also grants the XCOM unit the chance to purchase new genetic and cybernetic powers. For the thinking player, this means adapting to a more tense situation – if you want the ability to mess with your soldiers, then you are going to have to move fast, which will disrupt players who took time to move across maps and overused the overwatch ability to shoot any passing aliens.

To access genetics and cybernetics at home base, players will have to build the respective labs to unlock these unique modifications. Once built, the player will gain the ability to genetically modify soldiers with alien DNA, allowing such buffs as gaining an increase in accuracy by implanting hyper reactive pupils or uncovering hidden enemies with the use of bioelectric skin. These new powers help a lot in fighting off some of the nastier alien species, especially ones that have a habit of cloaking and then getting the jump on a squad member.

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If you feel that method is a little soft, then you can take a combatant and rip all their limbs off and replace them with an exoskeleton and a mecha-like cybersuit that would put RoboCop to shame. While these hulking machines, named MEC (Mechanized Exoskeleton Cybersuit), come with incredible firepower (the flamethrower is extremely helpful) and a good amount of health, they cost a lot to produce and remove the original unit’s class. Their bulky build means they cannot hide behind cover, leaving them open to easy hits, so it’s best to use them in a caring manner, unless you want to waste precious dollars in repairing or rebuilding another MEC unit.

Along with new units, weapons and items, Enemy Within comes with various tweaks and fixes to make the gameplay a better one as a whole. Over 40 new maps have been slotted into the main campaign to levitate repetition that fans might have with replaying the campaign again with Enemy Within. With those new maps come two new alien types. Aliens have a variation of the MEC, dubbed the Mechtoid, an alien in a robot suit with plasma cannons. The other unit is the Seeker, a flying squid-based unit that cloaks for a limited number of turns. You’ll normally only notice it when it jumps out of cloak mode and onto a unit to strangle it. If you manage to break the seeker off before it chokes the unit, then the unit is handicapped in movement until their gain their breath back. These are interesting additions to the XCOM: Enemy Unknown formula, which along with everything else, such as permanent death of units, makes Enemy Within require more a strategic mindset over the original, while retaining that brutal nature of the game (cue the funeral music for the fallen soldiers in Domstercool Squad).

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And if the aliens weren’t enough for the XCOM squad, an enemy faction known as EXALT, a group of humans who hide in the shadows to sabotage XCOM’s chances to succeed – stealing alien technology for themselves and being an overall annoyance for the player. This can range from causing increase panic in countries, which will cause them to leave the council (goodbye Mexico, you were nice in the short time I knew you), to hacking research to reverse a project that is currently in the research stage.  It disrupts the flow that fans will have gotten used to, and the only way to stop the EXALT from messing up the groove is to counteract them by scouting out hidden bases and taking part in covert operations, a new mission type that strips down a unit to the barebones to allow them to sneak into the EXALT base.  The covert op unit is sent by the AI, and after an amount of time has passed, the typical XCOM squad will then be requested to pull the covert operative out of the mission and get him safely back to base. This is the same gameplay, but now you are fighting against the twisted intelligence of humans instead of aliens.

There are a lot more edits and tweaks that involve other areas of the game, such as the wonderful inclusion of audio language packs for soldiers, meaning a German soldier won’t sound like a person creating a fake accent from America. On a whole, the game looks the same as before, and some of the camera issues still plague the game in this expansion pack, such as it freaking out when it zooms on a soldier running towards cover, or the game having issues at figuring out where the player is trying to move a unit when there is an option to move them to a room or a roof above it. There are a lot of systems going on in Firaxis Games’ take on XCOM, and sometimes it seems that it’s just hanging onto dear life to stop some of the issues seeping through when such problems, like the ones mentioned above, show their ugly head.

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XCOM: Enemy Within is a great addition to an already brilliant game. Newcomers will get the most benefit from this expansion, as the whole experience will be fresh for them, but I can see fans adoring what is on offer here, too, because there’s enough content that changes a lot of the game’s campaign to make it a different and refreshing challenge.  At the end of the day, it was the gameplay that made last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown a standout title and that remains intact, but XCOM: Enemy Within is the dessert package to go with the main course you just ate, adding that sweet delight on top of an already pleasing and tasty meal.

8/10

by

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Version tested: PC

Also available on: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: Firaxis Games

Publisher: 2K Games

Genre: Turn-Based Strategy