In Memory Of
Eduardo ‘Cyclops’ Fournier
Olga ‘Prophet’ Popova
Shaojie ‘Chilong’ Zhang
Before I got sucked into Dark Souls 3, I had a little void of things to play. So I decided to treat myself to XCOM – not the new one, because that would have been extravagent. Instead, I got ‘Enemy Unknown’, which I’ve just found out is actually a “reimagined” remake of the first game. Research counts, kids!
XCOM is a turn-based, isometric tactical shooter about an alien invasion of Earth. You are the Commander of the XCOM Unit, a group of soldiers who like to shoot aliens all over the globe. You will need to manage your funding, research, engineering, training and surveillance to succeed – which, as you can tell from the start of this article, I didn’t quite manage.
The game is mostly split between two phases: waiting and fighting. In your HQ you can assign research projects that can net you better weapons and armour for your soldiers or ships, or perform autopsies and interrogations to learn more about your foes. Once you’ve thought about making something for a while, you can head over to engineering who will make up all that you need, from the pistol in your pocket to a satellite to plonk in space.
So, there’s a little bit of micromanagement. Once you’ve put all that in order, you’ll probably find yourself in the missions room, clicking ‘Scan for Activity’ over and over until a new mission finally pops up.
The missions are quite fun, overall – you’ll get dropped into a new area, whether it’s the city or the wilderness, and told to go exterminate some aliens. For the first few turns, no-one’s really sure what’s happening – you advance one by one, slamming against new cover every few seconds and waiting for something to happen. That’s when you spot a Thin Man to your left side and realise you’re completely open until the next turn.
You’ll be repositioning your soldiers a lot, as the map starts to clear and more types of aliens start appearing in different places. It’s a tense position to be in, hoping no-one gets cut off or singled out as you push forward.
There are a few different types of missions, from the classic and much preferred “kill everything” type, to more irritating and painstaking missions, such as “save the civilians” or “disarm the bomb”. Each takes a different tact to complete and can all go very wrong very quickly. I’ve long since given up on saving civilians, because it’s easy to be overwhelmed and splitting your group across the map. The closer knits battles, in and around buildings or streets, are a lot more fun.
Once the area is clear or the civilians are evacuated, you’ll be on your way back to XCOM HQ to rinse and repeat. The soldiers you train and fight with will be sorted into different classes after their first promotion, but this seems to be a random process that could land you with 7 Support types and 1 Sniper. With each promotion, they also gain a new skill for you to pick (except for a couple of levels where there’s just one skill). These can take your soldiers down slightly different paths in their journey.
Another random mission you can come across are the UFO interceptions, which will pop up as you’re scanning for activity. Early on, these were quite easy to manage – send off a ship, shoot it down then send out a squad to clear up the survivors. However, the last few I’ve encountered are larger ships with more firepower and manoeuvrability. It’s a bit tough to figure out how to upgrade and better equip your ships, though that might just be me.
There’s a good amount of things to keep an eye on when you’re at HQ. When you start creating satellites, you assign them to scan a particular area for activity. Each area will give different benefits, usually on a monthly basis. As you progress, panic will start to rise across the globe and will need to be managed by picking missions in those areas. You can also decrease panic by launching a satellite to that area.
On the other side, if you choose to take a mission in South America over Europe or Asia, their panic will rise in response. You need to be careful in how you proceed, managing the expectations of XCOM and its superiors. Should panic rise too far, you could find yourself losing a council member and, with that, their support. No more missions, no more funding and a slight hit to your monthly review.
All in all, it’s a very tense and challenging game – even on Easy settings, because I’m a scrub. Between management of your HQ, your soldiers and then helping your brave men and women through encounters, you’ll always have something to do. The larger story missions are a good challenge, although I wish it gave a bit more of an indication of your objectives beforehand – I missed an opportunity to stun and interrogate a big name because I was expecting an old-fashioned annihilation mission. Some of that might be on me for not taking my Arc Thrower, but I think a little reminder would have been nice…