XCOM: Enemy Unknown + Enemy Within Review

The original X-COM: UFO Defense is often regarded among the top strategy and PC games of all time and so after a decade of inactivity we finally get a reboot to the series. XCOM: Enemy Unknown follows the spirit from the original game but it also applies over a decade of advancements in gaming by streamlining the overall experience. Be sure to check out the written review as I also took the perspective of a massive fan from the original game and I’ll say that there are a few surprises to be seen below.

Plus – The Good

  • Streamlined strategy is accessible to any player skill level.
  • Still maintains the spirit and originality of the 1994 X-COM.
  • Multiple options for added variety and replayability.

Minus – The Bad

  • Lacks some options for deeper strategy and gameplay.
  • Camera clipping issues during cinematic shots is distracting.
  • Extra weapons and armor variety would be appreciated.

 Score 8 Large – The Verdict

Reviewing the new as a fan of the old

X-COM is not a new name to the gaming world, the original X-COM: UFO Defense (UFO: Enemy Unknown in the rest of the world) released in 1994 and immediately received high praise with nearly every publication awarding it scores in the 90% range. From the initial release we would see another 5 games in the franchise over a span of 7 years, unfortunately the reception declined with each subsequent title resulting on the franchise being put on hold for a decade. In 2012 we got XCOM: Enemy Unknown which rebooted the series. If you watched the video review you should know by now that the game is very good overall, however as a fan of the original game is this reboot any good? Let’s discuss further in this extra review.

One of the most unique aspects from the original X-COM game was the turn-based combat system. At the start of a new turn, every unit receives an allocation of TU (Time Units) which are consumed in varying amounts with every action performed over the turn. This older system did have a lot of complexities and required lots of pausing and thinking due to how TU were used. For example if I wanted to walk down to the end of an alleyway I would walk up to the edge while still in cover, make sure I have enough TU left and then take another step and look in all directions to see if the coast is clear before executing my next action. In this new reboot this entire system is dropped and the process was streamlined by using a system of two action points per turn. To accommodate the change you don’t have to play around with inventories anymore, characters have cones of vision and you only do two actions per turn. Using the same alleyway scenario I can tell how far I can run with my first action point as the game contours the tiles within distance, so that means I can instantly click to move my character into cover and vision at the end of the alleyway. On one hand its fantastically quick and simple system making it extremely accessible to new players but on the other it does lack a massive amount of depth and strategy from the previous game.

Another differentiation would be soldiers and how they are treated in both games with the original X-COM gives you the freedom to use soldiers as you see fit. Soldiers start off with stats which are randomly assigned within a specific range and you can improve them over time as well. Every action or skill is tied to one of the stats, the more you perform them the more you increase stats after successful missions. Since the stats are randomly assigned you tend to take advantage of the dominant one which eventually shapes each soldier into specific roles and uses. Knowing this meant you could do some pretty neat stuff such as training extremely specialized soldiers or deciding to go into multi-role strategies instead, the choice was yours and the game allowed you to do so. Now when we look at the new game this entire system is once again streamlined and simplified down to the point that everything is pre-determined for you. Gone are the individual stats and character growth, instead you have fairly linear progression based on experience. As soldiers accumulate XP they will rank up to 7 times with a new class specific ability available. While the game does give you the choice between 2 abilities on 5 of those ranks there really isn’t any deep focus or customization for that soldier compared to the original game. Like the original game some soldiers are gifted with psionic powers which in turn changes their class and abilities. The Enemy Within expansion does add more variety with MEC Troopers and genetic modifications to create superhumans which brings it closer to the original game in terms of depth but still does not match it.

Going by those two aspects alone you may think both these games are significantly more different than similar and you would be correct in thinking so. The new XCOM: Enemy Unknown was designed to be a reboot of the series and thus it took into account the changes seen in the gaming industry over the past decade since the original release. Modern games have become increasingly simplistic and streamlined to appeal to the widest audience audience possible but fortunately for us the new XCOM took a few steps away from the ‘too dumbed down’ line. In many ways the depth and complexity of the original game could be attributed to limitations and the lack of capabilities we had at the time. But when you go back and play the original you realize that it isn’t just the complexity but rather the entire package that made it the icon it is today.

Looking at this new game as a fan of the original it does leave me a bit disappointed despite massively enjoying both of them. The best comparison would be looking at the original as a chess match versus a comparable opponent while the new game would be a match of shot glass checkers (draughts for the rest of you) with some friends. Both games shame some resemblance with their checkerboard and they both some sort of challenge as well, albeit in different ways.

Full disclosure

  • Play time: 49h according to Steam.

  • Completion: Two full playthroughs with a partial third.

  • Last played:  November 1st, 2014 – Review date.

  • Version: Latest as of November 1st 2014.

  • Platform: PC – Windows.

  • Acquisition: Via Steam – 45$ [Game] and 10$ [Enemy Within Expansion].