Five Reasons to Play XCOM: Enemy Unknown

It’s no secret to PC fans that the original XCOM was a game rife with strategy and depth, even being called one of the great strategy games of the 90’s. But with its difficulty level and steep learning curve, the game isn’t exactly the most accessible title to the average gamer looking to get their fix of turn-based sci fi combat in today’s day and age.

Enter XCOM: Enemy Unknown, essentially a re-imagining of the series for modern gamers. Created by Firaxis, the masterminds behind Civilization, Enemy Unknown borrows elements of the old, hard core strategy game while delivering a much more accessible and open experience for gamers on all platforms. With its release nearly upon us, here are five reasons why you’ll want to check this game out:

1) A New Take on the Sci Fi Genre

Maybe following a close second behind fantasy RPGs, Science Fiction is one of the most common themes used in video games. That doesn’t stop XCOM: Enemy Unknown from tackling the genre, however. Placing you in control of an elite global organization, XCOM tasks you with driving out the alien hordes invading earth, all while balancing delicate relationships with nations and maintaining precious resources and research. Rather than the conventional FPS, Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game coming to all platforms, bringing a different combat experience to the console space. Developers have taken special care to make the strategy game more accessible and seamless to use with both consoles and PC, all while helping retain its identity as a challenging strategy game. Coupling a striking, colorful visual style with a 1960’s-era theme and ideas of strategy and tactics, the game uses ideas of humor and sci fi horror to create a distinct and rich world with its own unique personality, helping it stand out in today’s crowded Sci Fi genre.

2) Tough Decisions to Make

It’s been said by developers of XCOM that the game really has two separate parts; combat and HQ management. Management of your home base will be just as important as careful combat with alien squads; in combat, you’ll be able to harvest items off of alien corpses to bring back for research and capture aliens for interrogation. Autopsies performed at HQ will help you better understand your enemy on the battlefield, and items found in combat can be used to enhance your own weapons and create new, more devastating ones.

Body Harvesting isn’t the only thing you’ll have to worry about at HQ, however. Since aliens are a global problem, and you’re in charge of the organization purging them from the face of the Earth, you’ll have multiple considerations and decisions to make. What countries you help, what order you do things in, and how you go about monitoring threats all over the world will effect what goodwill you have with countries, who you’re able to help, who you receive funding from, and what sort of precious resources you’re able to harvest. Fail to find a delicate balance between decision making and realistic implications, and you’ll be in a world of hurt.

Much like the base building in Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, building your home base is just as important as combat itself.  Keeping up with research, teaching units new skills and giving them new attributes, and maintaining global relationships will all play into your success in combat, giving XCOM  new layer of strategy the likes of which we haven’t seen on consoles (or the PC, for that matter) in a long time.

3) This Isn’t An FPS

…not that anything’s wrong with shooters. But XCOM is no shooter, my friends. Rather, it’s a turn-based strategy game where combat relies solely on where you place units and how you utilize their respective skill sets. Fully destructible environments allow you to open up areas to get a clear shot at the enemy, but can also be to your detriment, as cover is necessary to protect your units from incoming plasma fire. Enemy AI is intelligent and will do their best to flank you and challenge your positions, areas of the map aren’t always visible and will challenge you to move your units in such a way as to open up visibility again, and you’ll have to use timing and the right angles to be able to suppress enemy movement and attacks. Later on, when new skills are learned, you’ll be able to harness the abilities of different units, including psychic soldiers, stealth commandoes, and even jetpack-wearing snipers. Every action you take will have a consequence, striking a chord with the great challenge and appeal of a turn-based strategy game.

4) New Enemy Classes

When you do take to the battlefield in XCOM, you won’t be fighting little green men. The alien enemies of XCOM are varied and powerful, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Some, like the tankish Muton brutes, rely on heavy melee attacks, while others like the dreaded Chrysalids implant eggs in your dead unit’s bodies, morphing them into a zombie that births a new Chrysalid. Sectoids, the “little grey men” of XCOM, are the most conventional-looking aliens with incredible psionic powers and are the first to arrive on earth, followed closely by Thin Men, tall, humanoid aliens who are assumed to have been studying us and morphing into our likeness for some time. All of the typical Sci Fi alien elements are present in the game, but they work together well to feel anything but ordinary upon execution.

5) Perma-Death

XCOM’s most interesting element is the way the game handles consequences to your actions. It’s one of the few modern games to feature perma-death; permanent loss of your squad members when they are defeated in combat. There’s no going unconscious or re-appearing at a later battle in XCOM. No, if you lose a squad member out in combat, you lose them for good, along with all of their unique skills and abilities. The use of perma-death here is interesting, simply because it puts more at stake and forces you to be more careful in your actions. Even something as seemingly simple as keeping a unit in ample cover could have a disastrous outcome if it’s not handled well. On top of that, there will be a memorial section of your headquarters that remembers each fallen squad member, giving you a bit of a guilt factor to consider when you’re throwing your squad mates around in combat willy nilly. So suit up carefully; you’ve got a lot to lose.

Look for XCOM: Enemy Unknown on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 on October 9th.