XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy UnknownXCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based tactical role-playing video game, developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K Games. The game is a "reimagined" remake of the 1994 cult classic strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown and a reboot of MicroProse's 1990s X-COM series.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released on October 9, 2012 in North America and three days later in Europe and Australia for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. An "Elite Edition", containing all previously released downloadable content, was released as a Mac OS X exclusive by Feral Interactive in April 2013. A port for iOS was released in June 2013. A stand-alone expansion pack titled XCOM: Enemy Within was released in November 2013.
Set in the near future during an alien invasion of Earth, the game puts the player in control of an elite multinational paramilitary organization called XCOM and tasked with defending the Earth. The player commands troops in the field in a series of turn-based tactical missions; between missions, the player directs the research and development of new technologies from recovered alien technology and captured prisoners, expands XCOM's base of operations, manages XCOM's finances, and monitors and responds to alien activity.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was critically acclaimed, with averaged ratings of close to 90% for all versions at both GameRankings and Metacritic. Upon its release, it was often regarded as one of best titles in its genre. Several reviewers also commented on the game's very high levels of difficulty, replayability, and addictiveness. A number of publications, including GameSpy, GameTrailers and Giant Bomb, named it Game of the Year.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown PlotAfter developing a weapon that allows the capture of live alien specimens and building a facility to house such captives, XCOM's head of research Dr. Vahlen requests that a live alien be captured for interrogation. Capturing one and conducting the interrogation reveals vague information about the Outsiders, crystalline beings encountered aboard UFOs that are shot down. Dr. Vahlen then requests that XCOM capture an Outsider for study. The Outsiders are discovered to be similar to antennas, receiving a signal broadcast from a location buried underground. XCOM dispatches a team to investigate the signal; it is found to be coming from an alien base where experiments are performed on abducted humans.
During the mission, the base commander's psychic communication device is recovered and reverse engineered. The device reveals a previously hidden "Overseer" UFO, which when shot down is found to hold powerful psionic enemies, called Ethereals, and a strange psionic artifact. Once the Overseer is shot down, the massive enemy "Temple Ship" reveals itself and attacks the Earth, causing earthquakes even as far away as XCOM HQ. The reverse-engineering efforts enable XCOM to unlock the latent psionic powers of its own troops, and through them to attack and board the Temple Ship, using one "Volunteer" who uses the psionic artifact found on the Overseer UFO to contact the Uber Ethereal, the leader of the alien invasion.
During the final battle aboard the ship, the Uber Ethereal reveals that they have been testing and experimenting on other species, searching for a race that is strong in both mind and body, and that the various aliens the player has encountered have all been failures in the Ethereals' experiments. By feeding humans their technology a few steps at a time, the Ethereals allowed humans to evolve to a fuller potential, and believe that humanity may be the culmination of their search, to find the perfect species to move on to "what lies ahead". Because of their own failure to evolve with the rest of their species, they intend to dominate the human race and use them to further their own evolution in the hopes of preparing them for "what lies ahead" in the future. After slaying the Uber Ethereal, the Temple Ship begins to collapse into a black hole, and the psionically gifted volunteer takes control to fly it high above Earth and uses their psionic abilities to cause it self-destruct.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown GameplayMuch like its predecessor, XCOM: Enemy Unknown casts the player as the commander of an elite military organization. As commander, the player directs their soldiers in turn-based combat missions against alien enemies. Between missions, the player directs the organization's research and engineering divisions in creating new technologies and improving XCOM's base of operations, and manages the organization's finances.
The combat view (see the file description page for an extensive explanation of the elements shown)
The turn-based ground combat uses an isometric 3D perspective. The player controls a squad of between one and six human soldiers or robotic units as they hunt the aliens on the map and attempt to complete other objectives dependent on the mission. Map layouts are not randomly generated, but enemy placement is. Fog of war hides the aliens and their actions from view until the player's soldiers are in range and have line of sight on them, and enemies normally do not act at all until the squad initially comes within line of sight. Soldiers can carry items and perform special abilities; use of these items and abilities is controlled through a toolbar on the head-up display (HUD). A few examples of abilities include firing on enemies automatically after they emerge, launching explosives, and healing allies. Soldiers can take cover behind walls and objects in the environment to gain a measure of protection. Units can use suppressive fire to disadvantage enemies, and use active camouflage to maneuver around opponents. Cutscenes and dynamic camera movements emphasise particularly exciting gameplay moments, such as kill sequences and use of special abilities. The game includes some tactical role-playing elements, whereby the player's soldiers can gain new abilities as they survive more battles. Elements of the tactical gameplay were described in some previews as similar to Valkyria Chronicles and Silent Storm.
The "ant farm" view of the XCOM base in the strategy mode
The game's strategy element occurs between missions. XCOM's underground headquarters is presented in a view dubbed the "ant farm". From this view, the player manages construction, manufacturing and research projects underway, and directs how the scientists and engineers use resources recovered from missions and received from XCOM's sponsors. A holographic view of the Earth called the "Geoscape" allows the player to keep track of the situation around the world, ordering aircraft to intercept UFOs and dispatching soldiers to engage aliens on the ground. This also influences the panic level of XCOM's member nations. Responding to situations in certain areas decreases panic, and ignoring them results in a rise in panic and potential for the nation to pull out of XCOM. The "ant farm" also allows the player to observe the team of soldiers relaxing or exercising at the base's gym. A memorial wall to soldiers killed in action is also viewable. Passive bonuses are provided depending on which continent the player chooses for a base location. The player can better detect alien activity by launching satellites and positioning them over territories of interest.
The game can be played on higher difficulty levels: Classic (in a reference to the original game) and Impossible, each with the option to enable the "Ironman" option (which limits players to a single save file) separately for each. Jake Solomon, lead developer, stated on numerous occasions that he believes that the "truest XCOM experience" is playing without the ability to reload saved games. On the higher difficulty levels, the random nature of battles, where soldiers under the player's command can permanently die from one enemy attack, the against-all-odds nature of combat against the unknown and technologically superior enemy, and the requirement to sacrifice some resources – including soldiers and even entire countries – for the greater good combine to create a bleak atmosphere where the player feels the weight of command.
The game also features a multiplayer mode for one-on-one tactical battles. Players spend a predefined points budget on assembling a squad of up to six humans, aliens, or a mixture of both. Human units are customizable in terms of weaponry, armor and gadgets. A simplified version of the single-player perk system is also present. Alien units may not be customized but possess the abilities of corresponding aliens types in the single-player mode of the game.
Psionic combat from the original 1994 game is retained, but some gameplay features of the original have been removed or adapted. The time units system, the always-visible grid map and the inventory system of the original have been removed. The initial mission phase of disembarking from the transport has also been removed – missions now begin with troops deployed outside the craft. Unlike in the 1994 game, only one XCOM base exists, the location of which is chosen at the beginning of the game.
Although there are some differences in the interface between platforms, unlike other games such as Firaxis' Civilization Revolution, the content is not simplified for the console versions. The PC version features a mouse-driven UI and "the ability for modability".
ReceptionXCOM: Enemy Unknown greatly impressed the public and media at E3 2012, where it won a number of awards from a variety of gaming publications, such as the title of "Best Strategy Game" from GameSpy, Game Informer, IGN, and Machinima. The game also won the titles "Best PC Game" and "Best Strategy Game" in the 2012 E3 Game Critics Awards.
A pre-release version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown received highly positive previews by, among others, PlayStation Official Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine and Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The full version of the game also received a high praise from critics. Adam Biessener of Game Informer called it "a singular achievement that every gamer deserves to experience." Ian Dransfield of PLAY called the game "a phenomenal reimagining of a classic title and an instant classic in its own right." It was also described as "a hallmark of excellence" by Destructoid and "an exemplary turn-based strategy game" by Joystiq.
Dan Stapleton of GameSpy wrote: "I consider the 1994 turn-based tactical masterpiece X-COM: UFO Defense to be the single best videogame ever made. Compared directly to that impossibly high standard, Firaxis' 2012 remake, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, does remarkably well." GamesTM called it "a worthy reboot of the franchise, easily the most addictive game this year, and one of our favourite Firaxis games ever," with the final verdict of it being "fresh, yet authentic – a stunning reboot." Josh Harmon of Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) stated that "to say that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a phenomenal remake would be selling Firaxis’ monumental accomplishment short. The developer hasn’t just managed to capture the spirit of the original; they’ve also tweaked, trimmed, and innovated enough to deliver the freshest, most engaging strategy game in recent memory, if not ever."
Eurogamer's review by Rich Stanton described XCOM: Enemy Unknown as "a winner" and "a fantastic game" that "brings back and revitalises a classic." Alex Rubens of G4 called it "an exceptionally solid return for the series, and one that every turn-based tactics fan should experience," adding that "even if you never played the original, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is turn-based tactics and management at its finest, and a perfect introduction to the genre." David Houghton of Game Revolution said that despite its flaws, the game "feels like the revival of not just a brand, but a genre." Polygon's Russ Pitts criticized the "weird dichotomy" of the game's strategy component, but praised the tactical gameplay, calling it "one of the best and most artfully designed strategy games in recent memory." Edwin Evans-Thirlwell of Official Xbox Magazine stated that it "isn't just Xbox 360's finest strategy experience – it's also a strategy game which changes how you think about strategy games."
The game's difficulty received both praise and concern. G4's review noted that "the extreme difficulty of the game might not be welcomed by all players" and Official Xbox Magazine described the game as "reliably unforgiving". According to EGM, "XCOM hates you. XCOM wants you dead. And XCOM will see you dead, over and over again." Game Informer called it "one of the most challenging, intense gaming experiences of this generation." PLAY's review stated, "dying is back in fashion." Bob Mackey of 1UP.com compared the unforgiving gameplay to that of the previous year's Dark Souls. Several reviews also commented on how addictive the game can be for the player. David Houghton of PlayStation Official Magazine called XCOM "one of the most unique and endlessly compulsive games of the year so far." Erik Kain of Forbes called it "one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played" that "falls somewhere between chocolate and crack on the scale of addictive substances." Allistair Pinsof of Destructoid, in pointing out how easily one could be absorbed in the game, told readers to "take the act of me wiping XCOM from my hard drive as high praise. It speaks volumes on how addictive and replayable XCOM is."
In a retrospective article about the original from 1994, Alec Meer of Eurogamer compared both games, coming to conclusion that "X-COM and XCOM are completely different games, both ingenious and both flawed in their own ways." According to Chris Schilling of VideoGamer.com, "Enemy Unknown is respectful of Julian Gollop's 1994 turn-based strategy classic, but it's not reverential." Charlie Hall of Ars Technica wrote that "in the end, this is not the X-Com that everyone was expecting. It’s more. It’s better. If you’re merely looking for a highly competent re-skin of the original X-Com, keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming Xenonauts." Gollop himself said:
"I think Firaxis did a terrific job with the new XCOM. They have made a very console friendly and accessible game, but it still has a lot of strategic and tactical depth. The character progression is done very well, and the tactical combat system is great. I would have done things differently for sure. I was a bit disappointed that the Geoscape is basically irrelevant, with no strategy involved about positioning of bases, detection ranges, base attacks and so on. It is also a shame that there is no random map generation. The development of the alien menace seems to be driven by specific events, such as the first alien base assault, rather than the aliens own development agenda as in the original X-Com."
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