XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game, available on PC, 360, and PS3. If you're interested in finding out more about the specific implementation of the mechanics, or would like to know how the graphics (or other technology) compares to other titles, be sure to check out our PC review. Hadyn's coverage of the title comes from an entirely different perspective...
I remember when Major Hassad died. He had taken cover behind a car when a large group of aliens managed to flank him - exposing his position - and shot him to death. He was a tough soldier, Assault class, and it took all of them to do it, but he still fell. He wasn’t the first to die under my watch and because of my orders.
And I remember all of them.
In the barracks of our underground base (I call it The Pit), there is a memorial to the fallen. A constant reminder to do better and to never give up.
Right now we are keeping the aliens at bay, though the dam feels like it could burst at any moment. We’ve already lost Nigeria. Australia and India are on the verge of nationwide panic, while my recent missions to thwart alien abductions in Brazil and Argentina have averted what could have been a continental disaster. The other nations of North America and Europe are currently at ease.
I have concentrated my satellites and air force capabilities over these two continents while focusing my attentions on the ground to ad-hoc jobs in other parts of the world. My goal is to get more coverage in Asia soon. Beyond money, securing the Americas first gave me the bonuses I needed to build cheaper aircraft, satellites, and upgrades; it also gave me small numbers of Engineers and Scientists. Launching satellites over Asia will give me bonuses for ground-based fighting upgrades and more Engineers. The other continents will give me other bonuses, but none that I need right now.
In fact what I need is alloys. Every time I send a squad out they drag back a pile of corpses and assorted alien junk. I never know what to make of it but the Scientists in the labs love to get their hands on anything new. Especially dead aliens. When we find a new one they can’t wait to cut it up, and if we can bring one back alive... well, maybe I don’t want to know how they interrogate them, but it does give us valuable intel.
Intel and guns, and armour. Once the researchers have completed their project, which can take days or weeks, the Engineers take over. It seems odd that the Floater aliens’ dead bodies were used to help make our Archangel flying armour, but we use whatever we can. And what we don’t need we can sell to other nations in the Council. But I’m running low on alloys and weapon fragments. I need these to make better weapons for my squad.
Ah my squad. Although it’s not official I call them the Fighting 307th: Hellbringers. They take my orders on the battlefield, I am the eyes in the sky and each turn it’s my decision as to which actions are the best. Sometimes this means a wild goose chase to the wrong side of the map, sometimes it means uncovering a nest of Thin Men under our noses. Mostly it means a solid series of turns with my team moving methodically across the map, taking cover, keeping watch and keeping eyes and ears alert during the enemy’s turn.
The Hellbringers are lead by Colonel “Crash” Rodriguez - lone survivor of the original encounter and now a tough as nails, rocket launcher-lugging Heavy; the Hellbringers are a tough bunch of soldiers. “Pox” Johansson is our main Support trooper, carrying extra medkits and able to lay down extra covering fire when he’s in overwatch mode. The “Baroness” is our long range specialist (or Sniper), she loves the new laser rifle and Archangel armour as she can get to a high vantage point and pick off those Sectoids. “Demon” Hernandez is a Assault specialist, her and Hassad used to make a good 1-2 punch in initial surges towards enemy positions, their laser shotguns and reaction skills were the perfect things to get the aliens out from cover. The rest are good bunch of trainees, still climbing the ranks: Lien “The Dragon” Shien, a grenade toting Heavy; O’Donelly, a fresh-faced Irish Support soldier; and “Deadshot” the over-eager Nigerian sniper who always seems to get herself flanked.
I cannot stress the importance of cover on the battlefield! As good as a flying suit is for getting elevation and exposing enemies it does make you an easy target; this is why I only equip my snipers with them. Heavy troops and Support troops stay grounded with heavy armour and hidden. Most cover is only partial and annoyingly destructible. Cars offer good full cover but have a habit of exploding and if that happens while you’re crouching beside it, you’re gonna have a bad time.
But you can do the same thing to the enemy. Mutons and Berserkers have lots of health and tend to hide out. A carefully placed rocket might not hit them directly but can blow up everything around them for much the same effect; and if it doesn’t kill them, they’re exposed for another squad member to take the shot.
This is important to remember: you don’t have to use your squad in the same order every turn. Depending on their skills and abilities you may want to change the order. For example, once they’ve been trained up, it’s possible for Snipers to kill three aliens in one turn, this frees up other squad members to focus on other matters.
Thankfully the combat controls are simple and intuitive. This means it’s unlikely that I’ll send a squad member to stand out in the open. Annoyingly I have sent troops to cover only to discover that a new set of aliens were also hiding behind that cover. This is where the second most important part of combat comes in: overwatch. After making an initial move putting my squad member into overwatch means they’ll fire on anything they can see if it breaks cover. Fully trained Snipers and Support troops are best for this. Assault troops can be trained to overlook automatically even if they have already fired their weapon during their turn. There’s nothing like a free shot on the enemy as he thinks he’s heading to cover.
Right now a lot of the Hellbringers are resting up from injuries sustained in our last rescue mission. We managed to save all but four civilians (sadly all four were zombified by Chryssalids), a good result, though a few scrapes and shrapnel is keeping some of my more experienced troops sidelined.
This means every time I head to the Control Room to advance the clock and scan for alien activity, I’m worried that we’ll find something big and I’ll have to send in untested troops against strong enemies. I am their leader and I don’t need more names on the memorial wall.