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XCOM: Enemy Unknown PS3 Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

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XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Image © 2K Games

My squad is pinned down behind minimal cover and things are going very badly. Sgt. Banerjee is bleeding out and she won’t make it back if we press forward. We didn’t plan right and we don’t have a Medikit to save her. We could turn back and head to the ship but the global crisis that could ensue if we let the aliens live would be unfathomable. And who’s to say we’d make it back without casualties? We could probably push forward and take down the enemy. But Banerjee would die. And I may have to let her.

With its brilliant, unique meld of strategy and the heat of combat, “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” is about to suck up all of your free time. This is one of the most addictive and accomplished video games of the year, a true gem of long and short term strategy that only gets more remarkable as it goes along. It’s the rare game that seems to make time go faster. You start playing. You look at the clock. And three hours have passed in the blink of an eye. “XCOM” is a rare game.

Game Details

  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Developer: Firaxis Games
  • ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
  • Genre: Action, Strategy
  • Pros: Perfect Balance of Planning and Combat, Every Decision Has a Result
  • Cons: Lacking a Bit of Visual Pop, Gets Repetitive in Some Areas

The world is under assault from an extraterrestrial force about which we know very little. You run the command center that will be Earth’s last defense. It’s up to you. And this is no mere standard combat title. You won’t just be running and shooting aliens like “Resistance” and "Killzone." Those are different games. This is a strategy/tactical game on multiple levels, from deciding what weapons & facilities to build to further the overall effort to turn-by-turn action on the ground. Almost every decision in “Enemy Unknown” has a repercussion whether it’s something as simple as taking a risky shot and missing or something as global as choosing to help stop an alien attack in Mexico instead of Japan and what that does to Asia. And then there are the decisions like the fate of poor Sgt. Banerjee. “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” is a game that forces you to use your mind, to think ahead a few steps or even multiple hours of gameplay from then, and to live with the impact of your decisions.

Gameplay

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Image © 2K Games

The bulk of the gameplay of “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” happens back at mission control where you are required to juggle a large variety of tasks. What should your scientists be researching? The answer could lead to further details about how to defeat the aliens or could even produce new technology to give to your soldiers on the ground. What facilities should you build to further the cause? You could create a lab for quicker and better research, uplinks to support satellites to find trouble sites around the world, and much more. How should you equip and upgrade your soldiers? Weapons, skills, and those valuable Medikits – every decision has a result that your men and women will feel on the ground in the heat of battle.

Don’t worry. “XCOM” is not all tactical and strategic. You will be on the ground, moving soldiers, and shooting aliens, although it won’t be in the way that modern action games fans have come to expect their E.T. action to go down. Combat works on a turn-by-turn basis. Move your soldier to cover. Shoot, throw a grenade, or enact any number of other specialized maneuvers like healing, stunning an enemy, or just going into “Overwatch” mode so you can shoot anything that moves in your line of sight. And then it’s the alien’s turn. When you realize that you’ve perfectly flanked your enemy and that there’s no way they’re going to get out of there in one piece, it’s an incredibly satisfying moment – much more so than a traditional shooter game. Conversely, when you realize you’re the idiot who has an entire squad hiding behind a rotten log and being increasingly surrounded by enemies for which you are not prepared, your gut sinks at the realization that all of your soldiers are not coming back alive.

What’s most stunning to this gamer about “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” is the variety of gameplay and yet it all feels of a creative whole. Very rarely has there been a game that blended strategy with action in a way in which both halves of the experience felt more intertwined on every level. It all comes back to that overarching sense of responsibility that the game creates. There are very few decisions here that feel like afterthoughts. How many soldiers in your squad should have grenades? It may seem like nothing until you’re on the ground, pinned down, and really wished you had another one. Should you give Laser Pistols to Japan’s effort? What if you need them later? And if you don’t give them and Asia falls to the alien attack, will it matter that you kept your soldiers better-armed?

Graphics & Sound

It would be false to call “Enemy Unknown” a visual masterpiece. It’s a simple-looking game but it is so intentionally and the game has an aesthetic that never distracts from the experience. It’s the games that are inconsistent on a graphics level (glitches, clipping, bad frame rates, etc.) that are a problem. There’s none of that here although I do wonder if some of the on-the-ground combat couldn’t have been a little more visually refined on a design level. I think the developers are trying to appeal to the old fans of the original game with a nostalgic look but “XCOM” could have still done that with a bit more visual pop. The audio is solid but not spectacular although the voice work from those who work for and try to assist you at Mission Control is better than average.

Overall

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Image © 2K Games
If you’re reading a video game review, you almost certainly have played an action game about the day the Earth stood still. Games in which we have to take down forces that have traveled light years to turn us into interstellar slaves are common. And yet, unless you’re a fan of the 1993 original, you’ve probably never played a game like “XCOM: Enemy Unknown.” It’s not just action. It’s not just strategy. More and more, the games that truly stand out are the ones that not only fall into multiple genres but redefine them. “Enemy Unknown” truly stands out. Sgt. Banerjee's death won't be in vain.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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