“Threatened by an unknown enemy, the Earthâ€™s governments unite to form an elite paramilitary organisation, known as XCOM, to combat this extraterrestrial attack. As the commander of XCOM, you control the global defence team in a battle against a terrifying alien invasion by creating a fully operational base, researching alien technologies, planning combat missions, and controlling soldier movement in battle.”
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a very rare beast. A remake of the 1994 classic strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown (also known as X-COM: UFO Defense) and as such is a turn-based squad-based tactical role-playing strategy game. Apart from forming an entirely useless and unpronounceable acronym (TBSBTRPG anyone?) turn-based games of this sort are known for one thing; their almost total absence from the console market. When they made the move to new shiny consoles and started wielding gamepads instead of the strategy-friendly mouse, gamers pretty much had to say goodbye to the strategy genre. The problem was further compounded as publishers force-feeding console gamers a steady diet of ADHD-inducing all-action adrenaline-saturated flashiness and then insisting console gamers wouldnâ€™t be interested in more cerebral slow-paced strategy titles. Ok perhaps we werenâ€™t quite force-fed but no one was doing turn-based titles of consoles and that was pretty much an end to it. No one would dream of making a triple-A full-price-actually-in-a-box strategy game. That would be crazy.
Developers Firaxis Games seem to have taken on XCOM as much out love and respect for the franchise as anything else. No stranger to the turn based genre the game seems to be in good hands. Firaxis Games are best known for putting together a little known turn-based franchise called Sid Meierâ€™s Civilization (you may have heard of it).
I got to play the early XCOM demo for the XBox 360; and as the game is due for released on October 12th I have to assume it was fairly closed to the final code. PC gamers should note that the demo is currently available on Steam.
The game was immediately visually engaging in a way I wasnâ€™t quite expecting. It looked great and definitely had a big budget aesthetic. This was augmented by a dynamic camera that got you into the action from the viewpoint of your squad and kept the feel of pacing despite the turn based nature of the title. The game didnâ€™t feel slow by any means. The streamlined nature of the gameplay seems to work really well and despite some radical tinkering with the mechanics the game felt true to the original.
On the negative side there are only a few minor criticisms. There are slight frame rate issues while moving the camera – as well as the camera being slightly awkward in general. Character lip syncing was very bad and quite distracting during the cutaway sequences. An overly prescriptive tutorial might be slightly overcompensating for the presumed absence of the genre from the market, and this might also be reflected in the fact that the demo I played was far too easy; but I would hope this would not be indicative of the broader game experience.