Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC)

Let’s all drop our arms and bow down to our new alien overlords. Oh, wait! There’s hope? Hooray!

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a post-alien-invasion apocalyptic game. A reboot of the XCOM franchise of 1994 where an unknown alien race has landed all over Earth and scaring all the people on it. Thankfully, we have our top secret taskforce of elite soldiers ready to take them down with big guns. But wait, fans should know this isn’t a first-person shooter! This, is a strategy game. Ah-ha. The tables have turned! This is a tactical combat game!

We begin in 2015, when we are attacked by extra-terrestrial beings that reminds me of the beings from “Die Humans! Die!”. There is a secret project involving the global powers called XCOM deep underground, where you, the player, are The Commander.

The game introduces you to your team and opens up with a hand-holding tutorial, the key lesson being, always stay in cover the best you can. The map is glazed in fog-of-war so things will go one step at a time. There is cover in the form of obstacles like statues, vehicles and trees, both forming full-cover and half-cover options, although the latter leaves your man vulnerable when it crumbles from enemy fire. Vehicles can also blow up on the following turn if on fire, causing injury or even death to anything near it.

Your team, of a maximum of six, is usually made up of assault, heavy, support and sniper units, all of them having their own specialties, weapon loadouts and caveats. Sniper rifles can’t work well on near targets and shotguns can’t reach far. Each member has two action points, allowing them to move up and take a shot or spend both points to move further in an extended move range, leaving them vulnerable in case they spot an alien.

The game starts you off with the little aliens with guns, which, through thinking and planning, you can make easy work of. Pull it off wrong, and a soldier could die, giving not just a demerit on your debriefing, but possible panic and loss of focus amongst your team.

And that covers the lessons you can learn in your first mission. Head home and the situation expands from there. The “ant farm” view of the underground HQ shows you the activity inside, though really it’s your menu interface. Call up Research and hand dead aliens and gun fragments for them to improve your own weaponry. Engineering then helps you build them, as well as any facilities you need to expand your HQ with. Your soldiers are in the Barracks so you can call and load them with whatever you want and the Hangar is where your interceptor jets are deployed to counter threats of a UFO ship.

The most important room is Mission Control, where you speed time forward scanning for alien activity, as well as spending the time needed to progress your scientists’ and engineers’ assignments. This is where missions are assigned when the alarm is triggered. Missions range from eliminating of hostiles, rescuing of civilians and VVIPs, and the capture of aliens.

The regional state of panic across the globe and future of the XCOM Project will fluctuate as you can only assist one region at any one time should there be multiple alien activities around Earth. This global panic is reflected in the Situation Room, where you launch satellites to keep a better eye on regions and manage your funding. It is also where you’ll be assessed on your monthly performance. Big Brother is watching.

The game runs competently on my dual-OS-partitioned computer not built to run games of epic proportions. At minimal performance, the models will look like a PS2 game, but you aren’t really staring it unclose and first-person. The game takes an isometric 3D view over the playing field and occasionally throws the camera in for “action shots” when your soldier hustles towards his point B or gets mauled by an alien.

Maps are loaded differently, though not randomly (something you can experience when you reload the mission through a save). Alien positions are random for new games, though. The soundtrack is decent and the environment sounds like a post-apocalyptic world should (a la Left 4 Dead). I enjoyed the suspenseful stings that play when you spot an alien. There are plenty of fully-voiced cutscenes to be had in the game, to not just tell the story, but to project to you important events that are taking place.

There are some camera issues with the game I had where it would pan away for no reason or point me to a spot of emptiness back at HQ. Some model issues, where a selectable area of cover started flickering, confused as to whether I’m pointing at its top or on the ground.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an enjoyable strategy game with an appealing story and history with its games behind it. It can knock you down, but you can get up and ask for more. As you go deeper with the game’s story, you will gain access to research that will slip you more powerful weapons and give you a better understanding of what’s going on. If you like a sci-fi thinking man’s shooter game, try this one.

The Good
  • Unique display of Headquarters gives you a sense of control over XCOM, as will everyone who calls you “Commander”.
  • Moderate fleet of soldiers at your command ready to train and upgrade allows you to build generous soldier options for your next missions.
  • Fully-voiced cutscenes and characters bring life to the game.
The Bad
  • Unexplained abnormal camera movements can be a bother.


XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a 2K Games game developed by Firaxis Games for Windows PCs, as well as PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game will launch in Singapore on October 12th.