The Average Gamer

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – First Look

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a real-time strategy game which follows on from the events of the 1994 classic UFO: Enemy Unknown. In the XCOM universe, the earth is under attack from an unknown extraterrestrial force with massively superior numbers and technology. Commanding an elite force of soldiers, it’s up to you to defend the earth from destruction. Last week I got to talk to the developers and see a live demo of the game.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Mission Control

The main action took place, as in UFO: Enemy Unknown, within two distinct views – Geoscape and Battlescape. The geoscape view allows you to keep track of events going on around the world via a map straight out of a James Bond villain’s home furnishing catalogue. Big and glowy. Scan the globe for alien activity and then decide if you want to tackle that threat. It’s all about making the best use of your resources.

Taking down an invading alien spaceship in the air will then allow your ground teams to clean up any survivors and maybe even take a live one hostage to give to your scientists. But let the spaceship land and deploy its troops and you’re in for a much tougher and deadlier ground battle.

Be Prepared

Just like Jack Bauer from the 24 TV series you are always up against the clock. The aliens are invading Earth according to their own timetable. It’s up to you to be prepared for them or perish. This is where resource and personnel management came in, via what the developers called the “ant-farm” view – a side-on schematic of an XCOM base. Completing missions unlocks new base sections that can be used to construct your very own underground lair. Sections like the science lab are critical to developing new weapons and technology for your troops. Without a science lab you can’t research bits of alien that you find on missions. Fail to develop bigger and better weapons and they will never meet their match.

Watching all the people living and working inside the base was mesmerizing. I could see squad members getting patched up in the infirmary and others training in the gym. XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Ant Farm Pete Murry, Associate Producer on XCOM: Enemy Unknown commented that “there’s actually a strategy to building in that [ant-farm] view. Certain types of power plants are more effective when built next to each other. The thermal power plant only works if you built it over a naturally occurring steam resource. So there’s a whole art and science or wild-ass guessing to how you build your base.”

Give ‘em Hell

After playing God in the ant-farm view it was time to go fight some aliens. All of the turn-based ground combat happens within the Battlescape view. The fully-mobile camera gives you a great overview of all the action. A squad of four soldiers were controlled by issuing orders to each of them during a turn. It is up to you to decide when and where to move then within each mission but you can only move each team member once during a turn. They can attack or move and attack. There was an extended move option which lets your solider run that little bit further but they couldn’t shoot until the next round. Once all our soldiers had move and attacked the enemy it was the turn of the aliens to try and strike back. Turns alternate until one side gets wiped out.

The developers have also added in a new suppressing fire move. This allowed one of the soldiers to to pin down an enemy while the rest of the squad manoeuvred to get a clear kill shot. Another nice touch is the series of shield icons that appeared when a soldiers was in the proximity of physical protection, like a car or a building.

The environments were packed full of details like sparks emanating from parked cars as swarms of bullets peppered their shiny metal shells. The fully destructive environment was nicely demonstrated by a squad member blowing the side of a building to smithereens with his rocket launcher. The unsuspecting aliens hidden inside the building stood no chance. Parked cars and petrol pumps also went “boom” when shot giving you other ways to kill the aliens.

The “fog of war” that limits the player’s view to a small section of the map keeps the tension levels high as you never know what’s lurking in wait. Maybe it’s one of the new alien species like the Beserker. That was one bad-ass alien that you should stay well away from. I witnessed a squad member get pulped at the hands of this beast when they got too close. It was all very messy.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Petrol Station BattleWhen a solider dies during a battle it’s game over for them. Forever. There is no character resurrection. You can name your soldiers after your friends, family, favourite pets or Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters if you want to add an extra level of attachment. Be warned, it just makes their loss harder to accept.

After seeing XCOM: Enemy Unknown in action and chatting with the developers I am looking forward to playing this one. I liked the way the player gets rewarded on a number of levels, from building up a beautiful-looking XCOM base to the immense feeling of satisfaction by strategically outwitting a much stronger group of aliens. XCOM: Enemy Unknown looks like it boasts a great blend of action and strategy making it appeal to a broad range of gamers.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is due out autumn 2012 on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.