The Average Gamer

Multiplayer with XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Two minutes is no time at all when you’re giving orders to your squad of aliens and soldiers. Two minutes is forever when you’re waiting for the other guy to take his damn turn.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s multiplayer mode is a one-on-one battle using the same rules as the campaign mode skirmishes. Each player starts with a set number of points – in this preview 20,000 – that can be spent on any of the game’s creatures. At the cheap end, you have the basic human soldier, the sectoid, drone, floater and thin man ranging from 800 to 1400 points each. More expensive are the muton, heavy floater, chryssalid, sectoid commander, muton berserker and cyberdisc. These will set you back 2850 to 4500 points.

Unlike the aliens, human soldiers are fully customisable. You can equip them with any of the technologies that you’d normally have to unlock through the main campaign. Sure, at 800 points your basic soldier with assault rifle is the cheapest unit around. Spend an extra few hundred and now she has a plasma rifle. But she’s still pretty squishy so how about that nanofibre vest? And hey, look. Just a little more and she has mind control. Blink and suddenly you’ve spent 7500 on a single unit. You still have five more slots to fill.

It’s this level of customisation that makes the multiplayer so replayable. If you want to, you can field an entire team of Thin Men – easy to kill but the ability to poisonous gas clouds mean they’re deadly to troops hiding close together. Muton berserkers are terrifying at close range and the floaters can shoot up into the air and land anywhere on the battlefield.

During prolonged battles, humans have the disavantage of ammunition. You can equip them with two weapons but eventually, you’ll have to spend a turn reloading. You have to deal with environmental hazards as well – if your opponent sets a car on fire with a grenade, be prepared to run. It will explode on their next turn.

In the match I played, each turn was 120 seconds with no pause between turns. Tough luck if you need a bathroom break. My only complaint is that there’s nothing to do while your opponent moves. This isn’t so much of a problem when you’re in the thick of battle – you can see actions and each unit’s hit points within your field of vision. On some actions, the camera zooms into an over-the-shoulder cinematic that makes your hits look amazing and your misses look incredibly foolish. But when the enemy is out of view? All you can do is there twiddling your thumbs. Maybe check Twitter or Facebook while you wait?

Everything changes when it’s your go. Protecting and guiding six team members spread across the map gives you only 20 seconds per unit. Once you’re familiar with the maps and with your team, it’s probably plenty of time. As a complete newbie thrust into battle against a fellow journalist, I was often barely halfway through my units when the 10-second end of turn countdown started. It didn’t stop me from kicking his ass, thanks to a handy chained explosion of grenades and parked cars, but that was very much down to luck.

I really hope that Firaxis include a feature allowing you to browse through your own team’s skills during the other player’s turn. You can view the abilities of whichever unit you last moved, but not flip through the others.

This isn’t a deal-breaker by any means. Given enough maps, the multiplayer mode will have plenty of tactical depth and it is great fun, yet it has an unnecessarily steep learning curve for new players who just want to jump in.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be released on 12th October for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.