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XCOM: Enemy Unknown PC Review

My childhood is filled with memories of my father playing video games. While these memories seem to end around the same time I became old enough to play video games, I do remember sitting on his lap as he played X-COM: UFO Defense. As time has gone on, I credit much of my knowledge concerning expletives to those days, but also my appreciation for UFO Defense. It was a beautiful strategy game that allowed people full control of a global strike force hell bent on stopping an alien threat. By all means, it was an amazing game.

Fast forward 20 years. 20-something fathers have been replaced by their children, nobody knows what Cobol is, and hats have become more important than gameplay. Sid Meier, notorious for his “Midas touch” in the realm of gaming, leaves his mansion made entirely of money, and goes to remake X-COM. (That Sid Meier bit wasn’t a joke by the way.) Not knowing Firaxis or 2K Games to have ever made a bad game, I wasn’t frightened over Sid taking the wheel on the new X-COM title. With the entire Civilization series under his belt, I felt confident that him and his team could make a great title. When time came to play the game, I wasn’t disappointed.

The thing about modern gamers is that we aren’t quite as smart as our fathers. Many of us will discard the original King’s Quest title because we don’t understand what’s going on. As a result, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is very much simplified from UFO Defense. Shiny knobs and buttons have replaced some of the depth of the original title. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Gamers aren’t the same people they were 20 years ago. Because of this, developers need to think when remaking a classic title. Firaxis has done this very well. Enemy Unknown is a beautiful title, with much going for it. Whether it’s the visuals that will stand the test of time, or all the little sound bytes, it’s a game that will be as much fun to play in 2017, as it is today. This is something that’s respectable in a society where we play games for four hours, only to turn them back to GameStop to earn 30% towards the next big thing. It’s one of those games I can see many players not trading in, simply because it will last.

The story, while a bit generic, does a fine job at dressing up an old horse in a pretty new tutu. The premise hasn’t changed much from the original title – aliens have invaded earth, and people are getting abducted. However, your advisers do a fine job of adding an emotional depth to the story. Through them, you will watch humanity’s greatest struggle. It’s the kind of game that has personality when it in no way should.

As I look over my playtime in XCOM, my only frustrations in an otherwise perfect game come from the biggest time dump: turn-based combat. While it sits as a solid turn-based game, there are some glitches I just can’t wrap my head around. As I played, I’ve seen my sniper hit enemies through brick walls from 400 meters away, enemies who didn’t appear even though I was one square away from them, and a few dozen pathing errors that cost me good men. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel like the development got a little rushed at the end.

The biggest glaring flaw with the game is the level design. Cities and bridges tend to be quite a bit of fun, while interiors or ships and backwoods become nightmares for players. Unfortunately, I found myself more often than not in a spaceship in the middle of the woods, which compacted how terrible it was to be in either situation. It just isn’t fun to play in the woods anymore. Level design aside, this is some of the best turn-based combat I’ve ever seen in a title. Cover, height advantages and weapon ranges all pay a major part in the combat.

Additionally, I discovered that the AI has intelligent design. I remember on one occasion, the enemy knew that I was going to win. None of my troops had taken any damage, and my two snipers had a line on the target we were about to destroy. Knowing that there was no hope, the enemy came sprinting at the new recruit I had been training, killed him, then roared triumphantly like that was all the alien race wanted to accomplish. Thirty seconds later he had more bullets in him than Andrew Jackson, but his actions remained. The aliens had been the victor in that encounter, and they knew it.

Outside of the combat, the resource management section runs beautifully. While I feel there could be a little more to it, it compliments the combat well. Like I said, there just isn’t much to it. You build structures, assign research, and wait for another abduction to occur.

I look fondly at XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It’s the kind of game that gives me a glimpse at what games should be. It’s a $50 title that has already burned 20 hours of my life, and refuses to be satisfied with that much. It’s the kind of game that makes you feel the death of your faceless units, and consider the consequences of your actions. Most of all, it’s fun.

9 out of 10