In my rush to try and finish my Games of the Year list for 2012, it was inevitable that I might, just might miss a game that deserves to be on it. And while I only sunk about 8-10 hours into XCOM: Enemy Unknown (whereas most people that play it are sinking between 50-100 into it), I’m fairly certain it might have snuck its way on to my list. At the very least, it’s a title I missed in 2012 that you shouldn’t miss in 2013 if you didn’t play it yet.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a reimagining of an incredibly popular PC turn-based tactical and strategy game. It’s the kind of game that is rarely seen on consoles these days, and somewhat not seen as often on PCs as they used to be. It’s exactly the kind of game that I have avoided most of my gamer life, but XCOM: Enemy Unknown does nothing but try to appeal to both me and the gamers who grew up with the franchise.
The game starts off with aliens invading the planet and then continuing causing havoc by abducting humans, experimenting on others and causing tons of mischief. The Council, made up of the richest, most populous countries on the planet, creates XCOM to fight them. So on the one hand, you have to carefully consider your tactics on the battlefield to defeat the aliens, but on the other, you also have to manage the strategy of how you manage the war effort in order to not anger the Council nations.
The trick is, there’s only so much money to go around to outfit your troops, build more facilities in your base (for research, manufacturing weapons, etc.) and launch satellites to monitor alien activity around the world. Do you spend your money there? Or do you spend your money trying to help other countries that may or may not help replace that money?
The strategy part of the game was a bit much for me—mostly because I never seemed to be able to make anybody happy except the good old US of A.
The tactics part of the game, however, is where I surprisingly found what I loved about the game. You’re the commander and carefully utilize two moves per “round” for each member of your team on the board. Maybe you’ll spend both moves having them dash to a certain position under cover. Or one move to shoot and one move to provide Overwatch—they’ll shoot any alien that appears during the next round. It’s all turn-based and heavily relies on math; you’ll constantly see percentages for odds of whether or not your team will hit their intended target.
Everything’s customizable and I took to the tactic of naming all the members of my team after friends in real-life. It made their deaths that more impactful, especially if I had leveled them up. My friend Chad wound up going the longest and his death impacted me so much, I decided I was done with the game.
Not out of anger. But out of disappointment that as far as I was in the game, I was going to have quite the difficulty defeating the aliens and keeping all the countries on the Council on my side without a soldier as leveled up as Chad’s.
There is, surprisingly, a story hidden amongst many of the missions. Some characters are given personalities like the person that run your research division and the officer that gives you mission briefings. You could easily dump hours into just managing your base as you could waging war on the battlefield.
What appealed to me most of the game is how XCOM manages to make nearly every gamer happy. I was able to play the game on Easy and was allowed to save practically whenever I wanted. If I’m being honest, I loaded my saved games a few times to save some of my better characters. But fan purists can turn off the save any time function and have to live with their consequences.
That kind of choice, that kind of freedom and the in-game tutorials that were surprisingly deep enough to teach even a strategy and tactical newbie such as myself the ways of the game, make XCOM one of the most surprisingly entertaining games of last year.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a bit of a gem that has only increased its clout and awareness since launching in the fall last year. I wound up missing the game when it was more popular, but it was still a blast to play during the holidays. Before the next AAA titles start launching in February, I would highly recommend you pick it up and play if you wound up missing it the first time as I did.
* Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. *