X-Com Enemy Unknown

November 27th, 2012

Good game, good game.  Aliens threaten Planet Earth, and only the X-Com project (think men in black meets starship troopers) stands in their way.  They do this at linked strategic and tactical levels.  At the strategic, you build up your subterranean bunker, research new technologies, defend against UFOs with fighter craft and generally manage and prioritise in an effort to repel alien attacks and keep panicky politicos off your back.  At the tactical you command a 6 soldier squad against ever more deadly aliens in a variety of turn-based missions.

The tactical level is in some ways quite an old-school isometric affair, reminiscent of Fallout Tactics, though when shooting and charging around the camera occasionally swoops in to focus on an individual.  Enemies are a little passive, generally just waiting to be discovered before starting to attack, but it can still be pretty testing, with caution being the watchword and the disastrous wiping out of your squad never all that far away.  A soft touch, careful use of cover and a slow probing of unknown territory generally reaps rewards.  Devil may care charging into combat will usually result in a bloodbath.  Soldiers develop with experience and begin to specialise in one of four classes, giving you many options for tailoring your squad and approach.  Unless of course they’re all massacred in a moment of carelessness, in which case you may find yourself painstakingly building them up once again.  But that’s half the fun, right?

The link between the strategic and the tactical levels works nicely, with new technologies leading to new armour and weapons which make all the difference on the battlefield.  I’m not convinced how much depth there is in some of the strategic decisions, though.  I often ran out of money or resources of one kind or another but never felt under desperate pressure, and despite there being lots of options I’m not sure how much skill is really involved in the arrangement of your base or the deployment of your fighters.  Perhaps on harder levels the choice of one research project over another can make the difference between success or failure, but who’s got time for harder difficulty settings these days?

Actually, you know what, this is one game I could foresee picking up again, as there really are a vast range of different approaches on offer and the missions are constantly varying.  It’s hard to think of many console games that offer such an effective combination of the tactical and strategic without the interface being a total pain in the ass.  There’s lots to explore, it looks good, it’s deep without being finicky, thoughtful without being pretentious, and there’s actually quite a lot of satisfaction to be had from watching your sniper blast an alien to sludge with a plasma rifle.

Earth is in safe hands…

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on November 27th, 2012.

30 comments so far

  • Michael says:

    A well deserved break for you then. Nice to get your head into something that doesn’t require too much thought!

  • Jim says:

    I was just thinking of adding this to my Christmas list…

  • Ira says:

    Will be picking this up soon I believe, but I am currently way too into the latest Halo game. It’s the best one in years. Don’t know if you like shooters but it gets my highest reccomendation.

  • Matt says:

    I’ve been somewhat addicted to this for the past few weeks – I emotionally connected with my squad by naming them all after people I actually know, now I can’t let any of them die else I feel bad..

    Fun game and takes me back to the original, which I played but don’t believe I ever completed. Challenge is on this time round.

  • Hawkeye says:

    Just picked this up on Amazon for 25 bucks on Cyber Monday. Should be here tomorrow:)

  • David says:

    I’m actually still playing the original – downloaded it from Steam. While just a little clunky it remains a pretty tight, tense and oftentimes spooky game. Can’t wait to give this one a shot.

  • Gary says:

    Hi Joe,

    Sounds good. I downloaded the demo on my PS3, but haven’t played it yet. After your review, I just might check it out. On a related note, if you enjoy the turn based strategy thing on the PS3, then it’s also worth checking out Valkyria Chronicles. It’s been out for a while now so is pretty cheap. I played it a few years ago and found it to be quite an enjoyable game if you can overlook the really cheesy (sometimes painful) manga cut scenes and storytelling. The actual gameplay, unit upgrades and team roster choices are pretty darn good.

    You choose your team of snipers, infantry, heavy weapons, tank operator, mechanic, medic etc and there is a great deal of strategy in the approach you take with a lot of the missions. I think the demo might still be available on PSN possibly…

  • Jacob says:

    Oh, the strategic level was the worst for me. I built a core group of super soldiers, each one painstakingly detailed. I neglected researching ship technologies. You reach a point in the game where you need to take down a ship to advance and my jets couldn’t get the job done.

    You see, you need things like dead bodies for some of the advances. And these bodies tend to be low level bodies who no longer appear in the game, frequently anyway. And while I could have let them sit in cold storage, why do so when there is a raging black market for such things?

    So I have a kick ass team, no way to advance tech quickly, while country after country start leaving because I can’t shoot down ships.

    Just haven’t had the heart to restart the game and give it another go.

  • Did you ever play Elite, or Frontier, Joe? There’s a big Kickstarter trying to fund the sequel going on at the moment. I still struggle to find games I enjoy half as much.

  • Slogra says:

    Joe, I don’t recall seeing if you’ve played Borderlands 2 or not. It seems like your kind of thing – dark sense of humor, exploding heads with a shotgun. That sort of delightful thing.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I played very much elite, both on the BBC model B when it first came out, and later on the Atari ST. It is probably the greatest computer game of all time. Certainly it represented a whole set of incredible quantum leaps in all kinds of different areas in a way that I don’t think would really be possible now. Compared to other games of the time it seems as if it came from ten years in the future. That they could code it on a 16K BBC Model A with a tape player is inconceivable. I was obsessed with it. In fact when I met Robert Holdstock a few years back I’d never heard of his classic Mythago Wood, a world fantasy award winning book, as it happens, but I was blown away when I discovered he wrote The Dark Wheel, the novella originally bundled with Elite back in the 80s.

    Love Borderlands, but I’m working through it with a mate, so pretty gradually.

  • Joe,
    Yes, I was very young at the time of the BBC release, but was blown away at what they’d shown possible. Even years later when I was playing Frontier, I remember looking at the single disk in wonder at how they’d managed to fit the whole galaxy on there.

    There’s going to be a sequel to The Dark Wheel with the new game, which should be interesting. No idea who the author will be, but hopefully it’ll continue the quality of Robert Holdstock.

    One of the pledge levels on the Kickstarter is to get the chance to write a novella alongside The Dark Wheel sequel for release with the game. I suspect the standard of those will vary considerably, but it seems like a fun way to get people writing.

  • Doug says:

    Loved this game. There are so few tactical, turn-based games anymore and to have one come out that really does it with verve is excellent. I’ve played through it 3 times now. Wanna play a vs. match some time?

  • Thaddeus says:

    I really liked this game. Currently on my second playthrough (without tutorial, of course) and finding it slightly harder to keep every country on board than the first time.

    It’s nicely balanced, and although it’s perhaps a little short there’s a good feeling of making progress all the time (a bit like Dragon’s Dogma in that regard, and also difficulty).

  • Savvy S says:

    Playing on impossible. Death awaits around every corner.

  • silburnl says:

    I got my arse kicked first time through (Classic difficulty, pseudo-iron man) but rode it all the way down to see the ending cut-scene where shadowy gravel-voiced-guy is being puppeted by a sectoid as he closes you down.

    I’m sticking with Classic on my second run, but keeping the end-of-session saves so I can retry a night’s gaming if it goes seriously pear-shaped. So far I’m a couple of weeks beyond the first terror mission and it’s going OK.

    One thing I’m trying this time is to rotate my rookies onto missions aggressively (1 vet, 3 nuggets for example) in order to deepen my bench. Part of the death-spiral on my first run was getting a TPK on my A team and then having nothing but unblooded rookies to handle mobs of rampaging Mutons and Crysalids.


  • James says:

    Love this too, it maintains the core of the original, smooths off the rough edges. Arguably dumbed down a bit, but a worthy successor in my opinion.

    I’ve complete it on Normal-Save-Every-Single-Turn-In-Case-One-Of-My-Soldiers-Stubs-His-Toe mode, only now knowing the true fear that comes from Hardcode Classic. Highly recommended, though its painful when you accidentally throw away a game you’ve invested hours in to some foolish error.

  • Giasone says:

    Four paragraphs on a game and nothing about your impressions of Australia? Hmmmm…

  • Nicholas says:

    I *loved* this game, so I was more surprised than anybody when, after playing through the game once rabidly, I tried to play it a second time and on a harder difficulty level and was bored to tears. Without the suspense of not knowing what the next type of alien will be or upgrade to strive for, the game felt like a waste of time.

  • AntMac says:

    Did no one ever tell you, Giasone, if you can’t say anything good about someone, say nothing?.

    😛 Joking, Cobbers.

    Your game description Joe, sounded vaguely like the War of the Worlds game from 2002, to me. Same tactical/strategic split, and also the same “many paths to choose from” approach.

  • Giasone says:

    LOL @ AntMac. 🙂

  • AntMac says:

    My second favourite place on Earth, Aussie, and you know we give one another lip, but just you try to keep us off the frontline if you are ever attacked. Be proud to share a trench with you, ya Larrikin.

  • Giasone says:

    Of course, being a Kiwi you should know that no one in Australian calls anyone ‘cobber’ anymore – except for people trying to scum money off you one the street… We all say ‘mate’, mate. 😀

  • Giasone says:

    (Oh. There’s a few typos in that post, mate…)

  • AntMac says:

    Drink gets the best of us, eventually. 🙂

    I always was old fashioned, but Cobber especially pleases me, because my Great Uncle, who fought in the Desert, and used to laugh about all the naughty stuff he and his mates got up to in Cairo and in the company of your crowd often enough, used to tell us kids “Cobber means mate in ANZAC”.

    Shufti was another good word they brought home from there. 😛

  • Giasone says:

    What on Earth is “shufti”?

  • Sidney Harbour-Bridge says:

    Shufti: English slang for “take a look” AKA “have a gander” or “have a butcher’s” (etc)

  • Tom G says:

    I named two soldiers after my favourite fantasy authors, you and mr Scott Lynch. Sadly Abercrombie tried to stop a laser beam with his face on his second mission and the rest of the team got zombified, mauled and/or shot. So Lynch did the only thing any brave man would have done in that situation.

    He ran to the extraction point. Live to fight another day.

  • Morgan says:

    You should upload screenshots -_-

  • dejvo says:

    Hi Joe,
    I’ve played this long time ago on all difficulties, and I’d say the replay value is not really big, the game gets easier even with superhuman difficulty (which I think was highest). The toughness of aliens is depending on your research, ie you learn how to use strongest weapons, you get attacked by the toughest aliens. Also as the game advances you get to the point where is better to replace your squad with soldiers who have high psi powers, as that’s the most important thing. Overall it was a good game when I played it when I was fifteen, but bit to easy. I think there’s plenty of fan mods for this game, which made it more interesting

    Anyway, if you haven’t played Jagged Alliance 2 (preferably v1.13) you should definitively try that one. The combat style is same as in XCOM (which was first used in game called Laser Squad), it also has it strategical side, where you need to get control of mines which make money, which you need to hire your squad & buy weapons. It has much harder combat than XCOM, AI is bit better (you’re always outnumbered), weapon variety is much bigger, and your squad members have relationships between each other, which means they can refuse to work, etc. Definitively the best thing in turn based games, which I still play

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