Posted October 2, 2012 by Zeth in Previews

XCom Enemy Unknown Hands-on


XCom Enemy Unknown is one of those titles where I can say YES I was there from the very start. Like an indie band turning media darling, or a bit part actor finally getting their rewards, so XCom burst from obscurity back in 1994 as the originally titled UFO: Enemy Unknown. And like a favourite band or star you’ve invested in and watched grown it cuts pretty deep when they fall from grace.

Yet fall from grace XCom did after a series of sequels that took the series nowhere fast the whole franchise struggled to gain any kind of traction. Original development studio Mythos rose and fell leaving the ever talented Julian Gollop to go make strategy titles with Ubisoft. I, for one, thought we’d n ever see XCom rise again.

XCom Enemy Unknown is the modern day remake of that seminal classic from the 90’s. When I heard news it was being made and Gollop was not involved my stomach turned over. Then I heard the developers taking the job on were the incredibly talented team at Firaxis – if Sid Meier is signing off on my new XCom game then I’m in!

The first thing on load up you notice is just how “Civ” the interface feels. The look of the UI, the art direction.. it’s all been seen before in the Civilisation Revolution and Civilisation 5 releases by Firaxis. Don’t take that as a slight though as the new look seems a sure fire fit for the subject matter – the original graphical direction was along the same lines, aiming for cartoonish graphics rather than horror.

With XCOM Enemy Unknown looking the part I was more than anxious to see if it still played the part. Thankfully it was better. So, so much better it filled me with a giddy notion of youthful days wasted swearing over and over at how erratic the difficultly curve was in the original titles. Truth be told, the original games were superb, engrossing, genre defining and hugely difficult. You’d be dropped in to a new skirmish, fresh faced squad at your fingertips and within a couple of minutes everyone was dead and the game was lost. It was so bad it put many of from bothering and probably contributed to the lack of ongoing titles in the series.

XCom Enemy Unknown

No such problem with the updated XCom Enemy Unknown. Here Firaxis have taken their talent for making brain-breakingly complex management systems, like those found in Civilisation, and breaking them down in to manageable chunks with handy tutorials. In the initial tutorial area I played you are firmly directed by a voice over on how to manage and manipulate your squad. Right clicking moves your currently selected character and the game makes heavy use of cover to keep you alive.

Moving towards things like doors or windows allows you push right through areas. For instance see a small stack of crates just inside a warehouse from outside? Just click a line of movement through a door or windows and your character to go there. Door closed? No problem. The camera zooms in a your character is seem kicking the door in. Similar thing with closed windows.

Zipping from unit to unit is super simple and quick and you can manage your team quickly and efficiently without much fuss. In actual fact the ease and speed sometimes lead you to forget this is a turn-based strategy title. Locating alien units to take down gives you more options and as you shoot you get a zoomed in view once more to see your unit try and take down the enemies.

The tutorial mission probably took about five or ten minutes at most to complete. It was quick and simple and by the end I had a firm grip on the basic mechanics of the game – brain intact. Then it was back to main base. Before the main base pops up though you get to choose a location to site the base. Choosing a region (US, Europe etc) gives you access to a small perk of some sort based on that region.

Once at the base the second parts of the tutorial kick in. Here you are presented with a zoomed out view – reminiscent of an ant farm. Here you can access your troops, research and world map. A small tutorial runs you through promoting and equipping your team. A simple enough affair on the surface but the myriad of options are glossed over at this early stage in favour of keeping it simple. Then on to product research. Here you can choose which technology or advances you want to sink you limited resources in to. This will help you develop more weapons, armour etc to take on the harder mission later.

Then off to the map room to see what’s up next in the mission stakes. You’ll be presented with a series of possible missions and have to decide which one would benefit you more. For instance when I played I had to choose between a rescue mission that would net me three new scientists or another mission that would net me a few credits but save a district. I chose scientists btw.

XCom Enemy Unknown

XCom Enemy Unkno wn looks to be the title that I’ve been waiting for since XCOM Apocalypse way back in 1997. Firaxis have taken the essence of the franchise and updated it to a modern day gaming frame work. Watching people play the game on the PS3 and Xbox 360 it was clear to see that the controls had been well thought out and just as rapid and accessible as the PC counterpart. It looked just as good too.

XCom Enemy Unknown from 2K & Firaxis will launch 9th October 2012 (US) and 12th October 2012 (EU & AUS) and I can’t wait!


Zeth is our EU ninja and Editor in Chief. He's been writing about video games since 2008 when he started on BrutalGamer. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.