XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review | PCGamesN

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

Does XCOM: Enemy Unknown make you feel powerful?

1
LewisWulfen (after 9 days 18 hours play time)

716 days ago

It makes me feel very powerful, until I lose my whole squad!

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

It makes you feel terribly vulnerable - open to potentially lethal attack from all sides. The feeling of power comes when you successfully cover every angle and shoot down every jetpack-borne baddy as it swoops in.

89
Matt Purslow (after 2 days 3 hours play time)

1049 days ago

Absolutely, but it's a while coming. At the start of the game your handful of operatives are weak, under-equipped, and facing significantly more advanced enemies. But as you begin to research your enemy and backwards engineer their technology, the balance starts to tip. By the last third of the game, your XCOM platoon is an unstoppable plasma-hurling force. It's the ultimate get-your-own-back power fantasy.

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

Eventually, but XCOM has something of a reverse difficulty curve with the odd challenge spike. You really feel like the underdog early on, but towards the end of the game your troops are a machine of destruction. Your team is never invulnerable, even less so on higher difficulties, but they are increasingly superior to the aliens as the campaign progresses.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

857 days ago

Good question? Define powerful! When your strategies pan out and your team returns home safe and sound, mission after mission, it's easy to convince yourself that you're a tactical wizard. Unfortunately, the rather arbitrary 'abduction mission' mechanic can leave you feeling powerless, as even with a perfect run of missions you can still wind up losing valuable support at the end of a month.

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Does XCOM: Enemy Unknown reward strategic planning?

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

Bad planning in XCOM can mean becoming crippled by ongoing base costs. It can, cruelly, mean losing the support you need to successfully finish the game. That's something you ought to know going in: XCOM's dedication to consequence can result in many-hour failed campaigns.

But, thankfully, the game rewards good planning once the skyranger hits the bubbling tarmac. No matter how dire things are back at base, you're only a series of shrewd moves away from (one, temporary) victory.

Get it right, and you're rewarded with something infinitely more tangible than the post-match trinkets you're used to in other strategy games: the continued existence of men and women you've grown fond of. The circumstances are never less than dire, but you'll never want to stop pushing back.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

857 days ago

Whether its in the meta-game or on the battlefield, strategy and planning are at the core of every decision in XCOM. Every action you take has a cost benefit ratio. If you spend too much on research and base upgrades, you might have access to all the tech, but might be left with too little funding to properly equip your soldiers. If you send your entire A-squad on a difficult mission you might stand a better chance of winning, but you also run the risk of losing several key operatives at once. If you move your trooper out of cover you might get a better shot at that Chryssalid, but you equally might wind being transformed into a shambling zombie.

In XCOM, particularly on iron man mode, such decisions have a cumulative effect and a series of poor strategic choices can quickly spell disaster...

1
LewisWulfen (after 9 days 18 hours play time)

716 days ago

Yes. If you plan poorly, you quickly end up with a squad of rookies that are totally outclassed!

89
Matt Purslow (after 2 days 3 hours play time)

1049 days ago

XCOM doesn't so much reward strategic planning but demands it as a bare minimum requirement. You wont progress without it, but also you won't stand still: instead you'll crash and burn. Strategy is required on two fronts: in the field as you direct your troops, and in the political sphere as you manage your base and trade with other XCOM outposts. Keeping world panic levels at bay is essential for ensuring countries don't pull out of the XCOM project, and keeping those countries safe requires solid combat decisions when on the ground.

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

I would suggest it punishes poor strategic decisions rather than rewarding planning. The game is fairly easy going on research order and spending, on normal difficulty at least, so unless you make repeated poor decisions you shouldn't find yourself backed into a corner on the base screen. The one area where it does have an advantage is in the development of troops, getting a good spread of classes and experience in the early game so that injuries later don't lead to rookies facing off against the more powerful enemies.

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What kind of decisions does XCOM: Enemy Unknown ask you to make?

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

Because XCOM's base-building metagame feeds into the turn-based tactics on the ground, strategy informs every purchase. You will spend an inordinate amount of time flicking back and forth between the menus of your Workshop, Hangars and Labs. Do you leave your most experienced soldiers underequipped to meet an always-escalating fight, or risk letting a UFO whizz on by because you don't have the ships to intercept it? And can the spend of either be justified by selling an alien computer you don't currently understand but might, one month soon, power a plane that saves an entire country?

In XCOM you sit at the centre of the butterfly, pulling the strings to flap its wings.

89
Matt Purslow (after 2 days 3 hours play time)

1049 days ago

The most obvious big decisions are in the metagame, where assigning resources to research projects will have you pondering for a good while. You have to take into consideration how long things take to build: you can get a satellite over the US in two turns, but is it better to buy weapons with the money and hope that you'll still have time to get a dish in orbit before the country goes into panic mode?

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

In the strategic game it's all about time and resources - which tech to research next, where to spend your cash. Both are in limited supply early on and I've rarely found it to be a simple decision in the arms race against the aliens, more an educated guess at which is the most urgent.
There are plenty of decisions for you to make during troop development too. Which skills to choose as they level up, and with the Enemy Within expansion decisions on bio- and cyber-enhancements. These tend to be more tailored to play style, so have less impact on the long game, but are still an interesting diversion.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

857 days ago

From far-reaching, broad policies, such as where to locate your base, down to small-scale, yet potentially significant choices (do I take along an extra medi-kit or a spare grenade), XCOM gives you a wide range of scaled decisions to make. Underlying every one are three major factors money, manpower and technological progress... ultimately the aim of the game is to make the correct series of choices that will allow you to balance these three elements in harmony!

1
LewisWulfen (after 9 days 18 hours play time)

716 days ago

It makes you choose between building bases, researching technologies and making ships. You also have to make tactical decisions

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How well does XCOM: Enemy Unknown let you develop your character?

89
Matt Purslow (after 2 days 3 hours play time)

1049 days ago

Each soldier you employ can become one of several different grades of soldier: a medic, sniper, heavy-infantry .etc. Each type has access to a simple tech tree, and development of the tree can help you mould troops into very specific-purpose soldiers. Their skills also make them exceptionally memorable, and makes it all the harder when you lose them in battle.

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

Troops in XCOM will be assigned a class when they first level up, and after that each level gives the player the option to pick a skill. On top of that, with the Enemy Within expansion, there are advanced options for biogenetics and cybernetics which can substantially alter the soldier. Each can also have their name, nickname, and appearance customised. This gives the player quite a wide scope for creating individuals, although in the tactical game the differences don't stand out much.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

857 days ago

In XCOM your character (the 'commander') remains extremely under-developed and that is no bad thing. Were XCOM a book, it wouldn't be an epic, first person narrative, it would be a compendium of short stories written in the third person. Where character development takes place, it takes place in your imagination as you attach individual stories to the soldiers under your command. As their daring actions are etched into the memory, you come to care about your rag-tag band of alien killers and the memorial wall at the barracks serves as a fitting and poignant reminder for the heroic dead. Customization of your soldiers only adds to this sense of attachment; you can name your troops, grant them rewards for valiant service and kit them out with some truly outrageous attire!

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How does XCOM: Enemy Unknown reward you for playing tactically?

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

Playing tactically is the core of the game. Not doing so will quickly lead to failure. Cover, fire arcs, overwatch, and positioning are all essential skills, and the reward is having your troops survive and develop. Charging your squad blindly into the battle will certainly result in their deaths in short order.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

857 days ago

Playing tactically means survival!

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Are the aliens in XCOM: Enemy Unknown scary?

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

Even the littlest grey man with the lousiest shot can lay low your crack sniper on a bad day - so in that sense, they're all scary. They're scariest on your first playthrough, when the enemy truly are unknown - learned about only through experience or autopsy. The chryssalid in particular will leave you traumatised the first time its snaps one of your favourite soldiers.

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Matt Purslow (after 2 days 3 hours play time)

1049 days ago

Design-wise, XCOMs aliens are very X-Files via comic book. Traditional conspiracy-theory aliens drawn in cartoon-like colours. Don't let this fool you though; the moment you see a speedy Chryssalid hatch onto the map, your pulse will rapidly fire through the ceiling. Powerful enemies are genuinely frightening, because the death of just one operative can lead you down the path of destruction, and something like a Chryssalid can murder two of your troops in a turn. Terrifying.

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

Not scary in a horror sense, but they are threatening. Having an experienced soldier caught out of position won't make the player jump, but it can certainly lead to some tense and painful moments while you desperately try to swing their chances of survival in the right direction. So scary in the sense that any given enemy can cause your downfall if a wrong move is made.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

The aliens in XCOM are perhaps at their scariest when you can't see them. In terms of aesthetics, they're a little too cartoon-like to put the frighteners up you. However, what they can do to your soldiers if not handled correctly can be pretty scary. The tension is only heightened by the fact that each alien has its own, unique, early warning sound effect . There's nothing worse than tip-toeing across a darkened map, only to hear the tell tale sound of grinding metal for a lurking Sectopod.

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What is the future like in XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

A lot like the present - this in an Earth driven to panic by attacks on its cities from an enemy it can't keep track of. Cynically familiar, too, is the way the world's nations will only fund an international effort they're already seeing results from - and quickly pull support once they believe there's nothing in it for them.

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

Only the researched technology is obviously futuristic. The future of XCOM is so near that the tactical maps are indistinguishable from a modern setting, although the base has a few hi-tech touches like holograms. Of course the main difference is the alien invasion, and XCOM makes a good job of keeping it apparent, from sporadic cutscenes to signs of alien attack on the tactical maps.

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Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

Not too dissimilar from the present, only filled with diners, truck-stops, construction sites and neo- classical buildings... or that could simply be the result of the overly repetitive maps... In terms of politics the nations XCOM answer to seem predictably self-interested, and are all too willing to collaborate with the invaders if things don't go their way. Technology wise, you start off at a level roughly analogous with modern military standards, but things rapidly take on a sci-fi tone when you begin researching alien tech.

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Does XCOM: Enemy Unknown respect the military?

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Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

Yeah, I would say so. Speaking as an ex-serviceman myself. While the troops might still be, basically, game pieces, it does encourage the player to become attached to them and preserve their lives. There are no cynical references to shadowy military agendas that are common in games, you and your troops are cast squarely as good guys.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

I suppose it does in the sense that XCOM -the last line of defense against the alien invasion- is itself a military organisation. That said, questions have to be posed as to what the world's regular military forces are doing to combat the extraterrestrial threat... the assistance of a few attack helicopters could go a long way in solving the problem!

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Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

It's a good advert for internationally-funded task forces, I guess, and gaming isn't full of those.

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Does the setting of XCOM: Enemy Unknown feel original?

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Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

It doesn't stand out as being particularly original. It's fairly close to a realistic, modern setting, and alien invasion is a well covered trope. Not that the setting isn't detailed and well developed, based as it is on a long line of games set in the same world, but there isn't much that would come as a great surprise.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

No! XCOM: Enemy Unknown is fundamentally a remake of 1994's UFO: Enemy Unknown. Although the art style and certain game mechanics differ, in terms of setting, it sticks pretty closely to its source material

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How does XCOM: Enemy Unknown run on your PC?

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

It runs as well on my three-year-old Acer laptop with integrated graphics as it does on my Alienware X51. Which is to say, smoothly and without hiccups.

89
Matt Purslow (after 2 days 3 hours play time)

1048 days ago

It's chunky, cartoony art style and flat-matte textures means XCOM works astonishingly well on all sorts of set ups. The fact that the iPad port is basically identical to the PC original should speak volumes about the kind of PC that can run XCOM at it's best settings. And don't be fooled by that: XCOM is still a great looking, polished game.

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

I've never had performance issues of any kind while on my desktop PC. I also play it on my Surface Pro 3 with barely a stutter, although the game's touchscreen mode occasionally leads to a frustrating mic-click and has a few GUI issues in the strategic screens.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

Sweet as a nut and on max settings too. I have a pretty high spec laptop which comfortably runs everything I've thrown at it thus far and XCOM ranks among the least resource hungry games I play. That said, it does crash occasionally, but that has more to do with inherent software glitches than anything else.

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How good is the Mac port of XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

Don't know/Haven't played it

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How good is the Linux port of XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

Don't know/haven't played it

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Would you buy at full price or wait for a XCOM: Enemy Unknown sale?

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

I pre-ordered the special edition and still consider that good value for the amount of enjoyment I've had playing. That said, it's old enough to be regularly on sale these days. So while I think it's still worth full price, I'd recommend keeping an eye out for a discount unless you have a burning desire to play it right now.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

I paid full price and given the number of hours I've put into it, its probably the best value entertainment I've ever had. The game is a few years old now with a sequel pending so this question is kind of moot now as it regularly features in cut-price sales.

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How good are the graphics in XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

As good as can be expected for the scale and age of the game. The close-ups of your people and those in the cutscenes are a little uncanny valley, but really that's my only criticism and it isn't a big one. The base looks good, having just enough animation to look active without being distracting. The tactical levels are well detailed, although a bit more variety wouldn't have gone amiss considering the amount of times you see them.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

Its an attractive and colorful game that never makes any pretensions at photo-realism. Given that it adopts a timeless, cartoon art-style it has aged very well and will, no doubt, continue to do so.

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How good are the sounds in XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

Pretty good, surprisingly for a turn based game. The music is orchestral and dramatic, dynamically ramping up in combat. The ambient sound is detailed, with faint screams and sounds of gunfire in the distance suggesting a larger world than just the tactical map, while alien shrieks and moans remind you that the bad guys are out there. The weapons sound distinctive, although it only distinguishes between the fairly generic gunfire or laser sounds. Lastly, the soldiers are quite chatty without being irritating, but it has been pointed out by many that having a multinational force all with American accents is a bit jarring.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

The sound production in XCOM is pretty good. From the suspenseful musical score to the eerie sound effects, everything is aimed at heightening tension.

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How active is the PvP community in XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

PvP in XCOM is handled a little like Warhammer: players are each handed enough points to buy them an equal force before the match begins, and few enough restrictions that they can recreate the abilities of their most effective single player squaddies. Shooting at humans is novel, and the game just as compelling in multiplayer. People still seem to be playing in high numbers. But.

Every turn is subject to a strict timer. Even on its most generous setting, the clock shortens the decision-making process to a matter of seconds - where the single player game encourages you to make a cup of tea and consider your options. I can understand the practical concerns, but I'd be playing XCOM PvP far more often if it simply let us decide that five-minute turns were fine by us.

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Why do gamers stop playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown after playing for many hours

169
Jeremy Peel (after 14 hours play time)

1121 days ago

I started playing on PC and continued on different devices - consoles, tablets and phones. It's a multiplatform game that translates well to touchscreens, and I've taken full advantage of that. I'd absolutely love to share campaign progress between different machines, but that's not currently possible.

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Matt Purslow (after 2 days 3 hours play time)

1049 days ago

Stopping playing after 51 hours isn't anything to sneer at! I finished a campaign and half-finished a second one, but new games came out and you know how it is. But the 51 hours I spent with XCOM were some of my most memorable gaming minutes.

Why do gamers keep coming back to XCOM: Enemy Unknown

1388
Dog Pants (after 4 days 16 hours play time)

953 days ago

It has a moreish compulsion to perform the next turn, research the next technology, right up to the end of the game. What's more, despite the formula being pretty much the same throughout the game, I've just never found myself getting bored of it. Maybe it's because there are no 'flat spots' - no parts of the game where I think 'oh no, I've got to grind through this now.' That's in part to a good, accurate set of difficulty settings, great pacing of set-piece missions, and a healthy number of game options to tinker with.

196
Silentius (after 18 days 6 hours play time)

856 days ago

XCOM has been part of my life since the mid nineties. I put a ridiculous number of hours into the original Microprose games and I've done the same with Firaxis iteration. I guess I see it as the perfect blend of multi-tiered strategy and tactical combat. What is more, the game gives you great latitude for creating your own narratives. Building up a soldier over a long series of missions, only to see them fall victim to a stray plasma bolt, can be a genuinely harrowing and emotional experience... something I find wanting in most games. Also, the additions of the 'second wave' game options, the XCOM: Enemy Within expansion and the excellent Long War mod means there's plenty of scope for replayability.