Review: XCOM

The alien visitors of 'XCOM' aren’t here for the scenery

jhoeger@thetribunenews.comNovember 8, 2012 

  • 'XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN'

    Published by 2K Games for Xbox 360, PS3, PC

    $59.99 ($49.99 for PC)

    Rated M for Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)

When alien invaders begin attacking cities worldwide and kidnapping civilians for unknown reasons, the operatives of XCOM are the world’s first and only line of defense.

A remake of a1994 strategy game, “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” offers a stern challenge even for experienced gamers — and that’s at the default difficulty. Increase it a notch or two and enable the game’s Ironman mode, which restricts you to a single save file that’s automatically updated, and every mistake, sacrifice and compromise will have a lasting impact.

The action is turn-based — you move and take an action with all your units, then the aliens move and take actions. Any group of aliens gets a free movement action when first spotted, so you’ll need to advance slowly or risk being suddenly outnumbered. Your soldiers will also need to stick to cover — standing out in the open makes them much easier to hit, and sometimes even a single shot can kill one.

Of course, the same goes for the enemy — “XCOM” demands careful tactical positioning to take advantage of your own strengths and the aliens’ weaknesses. For instance, some of them can boost their comrades’ health with mind powers, but if the mentalist dies, so does the unit it was enchancing.

You’ll start out with a squad of rookies prone to panicking and losing a turn when they see a comrade injured or killed, and mold them into a hardened team of alien hunters with specialized roles and powerful abilities gained as they rise in rank. Anyone who dies is gone for good, though, and you’ll usually have to train replacements starting from a low skill level.

Between combat missions you’ll maintain and upgrade XCOM’s base of operations. Here you can monitor the world for active threats, dispatch your soldiers on missions, launch satellites and fulfill government requests to boost your funding, launch aircraft to shoot down UFOs, conduct research on captured alien technology (and bodies and develop weapons and tools based on them), and dig ever deeper into the Earth to make room for your various labs, power generators and other facilities.

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