I like XCOM. That's probably - at least in part - because the first game in the series (called UFO: Enemy Unknown, released in 1994) was also one of the first tactical combat games full stop. The concept of small squad combat, base management, and a back story of alien invasion made it a family favourite in our house.
The game franchise has been through various developers since UFO, all of which tried to either improve or reproduce the base experience. Some of the new titles were mildly successful, but others were a huge disappointment - to me, at least.
It was not until last year - with the release of XCOM: Enemy Unknown - that we saw a game that really captured the excitement and interest of the original. Rightly so, this modernised version of the classic received many accolades.
I reviewed last year's XCOM and - in case you haven't already guessed - rated it highly. It was with a lot of anticipation, then, that I waited for the first of the game's planned downloadable content to become available.
For those of you have not tried XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I recommend you refer to my previous review; for the sake of brevity, I'll not repeat the basics of the game in this article. The DLC requires the original game anyway, so you’re going to have to go out and purchase it if you want to enjoy the new content.
One of the key new features added is a new crafting material called ‘meld’. This strange substance is a mixture of both biological and mechanical matter that aliens mysteriously leave containers of at crash sites and in mission areas.
The containers themselves have a timer on them that, if not picked up quickly, will dissipate the material within. It's a vital substance in the game now, so you'll often find yourself playing brashly in an attempt to grab some - even if that increases the chance of taking casualties. It adds a lot more pace to the game, and forces you take a lot more notice - not just of where you position your troops but which is the lowest risk way of getting to the meld on time.
Meld is a key ingredient in the research and building of the new unit type: called the Merc, they're a form of human cyborg. Having researched the Meld and built the new Cybernetic Lab, you can take some of your existing team members and build them into a form of mechanical exoskeleton.
The merc is better armoured and has a whole new set of weapons and skills. The trick here is to select your best troops to turn into Mercs, as their current ranking is applied to their new skill tree and consequently you can unlock the more powerful skills immediately.
As a unit, the Merc is great to have on the team. It stomps about the maps with a satisfying robotic clomping sound, and - at a pinch - your other team members can use them for cover. Their core weapon is a minigun and - depending the route you take - they can have a second weapon of a heavy cannon or a flame thrower (toasted sectoid, anyone?)
If mechanised human units are not your cup of tea, you can take your warm beverage and mix it with other biological ingredients and go the gene manipulation route. Researching Meld also opens the door to altering the genes of your troopers to enhance brain, eye, chest, skin, and leg functions. To be a candidate for modification, a trooper must have enhanced Psi abilities.
The aliens have some new friends as well. The least favourite for me is the ‘Seeker’. These floating Octopus-looking creatures automatically go invisible when they are first spotted. They then stalk you while cloaked, and only become visible when they commence their attack at melee range. The best defence I have found against them is to put some of your team on overwatch, and keep every team member in sight range of each other. Hopefully, when Seekers phase in, there's someone quite close to blast them in time. It can be quite tense knowing there is an enemy you can’t see who could be right next to one of your units.
The other new enemy is the ‘Exalt’. They're a bunch of misguided humans who - rather than fighting against the Aliens - see the invasion as a chance to cooperate ["I, for one, welcome our new
insect alien overlords" - Ed.] and gain additional technology. They're very much modelled on the men in black, and their presence adds more depth and challenge to the game. There are specific missions relating to the Exalt, and there's also an added ability (in your command centre) to undertake specific covert operations to seek them out.
Another welcome addition to the game is Enemy Within's 40 new maps. After playing the original game for awhile, you get to know the maps like the back of your hand; I feel I've just about exhausted each and every tactical wrinkle they have to offer. The additional maps just don’t add to the list; a lot of them make much more use of height, and also have sets of new obstacles to contend with. I especially like the rail yard one that had different heights and combat was split in two by a train.
There are heaps of other improvements, including enhanced character editing of the colour and camouflage of your units, new grenade types, and voice personalisation of your team members.
This content takes the game to whole new level of interest and challenge. I thought the game was great as it was, but these additions add so much more and further extend my enjoyment of what is a classic game.
If you have the first game, you must get this DLC. If you have not played the first game yet, you are missing the best tactical game on the market today (or your mind could already be under Alien control.)