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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview

/ Sep 5th, 2012 3 Comments

Another one bites the dust. There will be no respawn for this soldier.
Another one bites the dust. There will be no respawn for this soldier.

XCOM: Enemy Unkown

The interaction between extraterrestrial life and humanity has been imagined and re-imagined again and again. From James Cameron’s Alien to Steven Spielberg’s E.T.. From terrifying monsters lurking in the shadows to a sweet childish being who only wishes to be reunited with his kind. Who would they be? What would they look like? What would be their motivations? Would they extend an olive branch in peace? Would we?

Firaxis and 2K Games newest title, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, tackles these questions once again with some new touches on an old story. In a re-imagining of Mythos Games’ popular classic UFO: Enemy Unknown, Earth has become a battleground bringing the most powerful nations of the world together in the form of XCOM, a paramilitary organization that is humanity’s last hope.

As the commander of XCOM, you must take control of this small, elite global defense team and create a functional base from which to plan your operations, research this new, relatively unknown enemy, plan combat missions and direct your soldiers on the ground in order to ensure success. However, your mission is easier said than done as players cannot rely only on a steady trigger finger but must carefully plan their attacks to utilize what little resources are available.

The newest X-COM title has been described as two games in one, bringing together the action and strategy genre together in perfect harmony. Utilizing a turn-based system of play, the game turns on a dime from strategy to direct combat before switching back again. Players will not only be expected to be able to plot attacks from above, but also direct their people on the ground in a short-on-time, stressful environment and vice-versa.

Researching aliens and their technology is imperative for mission success.

Researching aliens in XCOM.

In development since 2008, the game was originally announced to be a shooter. However, it has instead harkened back to its roots and to X-COM’s obvious ties to tabletop gaming. Players expecting a Call of Duty-esque shooter will be disappointed but shouldn’t abandon the idea just yet. Even with a turn based system, action will not be absent and players may find the ability to pre-plan their shots both exhilarating and maddening at the same time.

Correction: Yhe fact that the game has been in development since 2008 is correct, however, this game is an entirely different entity from the shooter by the same name also in development. Gaming Illustrated apologizes for and regrets the error.

Between missions, players are returned to base to upgrade their unit, manage their resources and fund research. While there is only one base of operation, players will have the chance to expand it, modifying their experience as they pick and choose how to deploy resources. The base has been best described by developers as an “ant farm” with new “chambers” being excavated by the player.

Valuable resources are best obtained by keeping XCOM member nations happy. A happy member nation means more funding and this is achieved by various decisions made in the game as well as keeping a careful watch via deployed satellites. If a nation feels they are not protected, their state of panic rises too high in turn and you may find them leaving XCOM and leaving you out in the cold.

After you’ve done as much as you can at home base, it’s time to take another mission and head back out to fight off the alien invaders. While the game might lack outright RPG elements, your decisions nevertheless have an effect. Choosing missions becomes a delicate balance between assisting nations in need and keeping your own unit intact. You will start to lose people fast. In this game, there is no respawn. Rather, all those who die find their names on a memorial wall back at the base which you can visit between deployments. They will drop like flies.

Whether to fine tune your skills for the campaign or to take a break from the war, XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s multiplayer mode is a great place to start. Although it has only one mode of play, Team Deathmatch, players will likely be able to modify the experience enough so that no game is the same. Each player starts each match with a 10,000 point budget to spend building their team from a selection of every alien in the game.

With such a variety of alien types, players must learn to adapt.


With such variations possible, it is likely that even with some limitations, each player will never be the same and thus no game will be exactly the same. Your strategy must also be developed independent of your opponent as their own lineup will be a mystery until you encounter them on the battlefield.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown has picked up numerous awards already at this year’s E3, despite it being the first Firaxis title without Sid Meier’s name attached (though he is assisting in development).

XCOM: Enemy Unknown lands on October 9 for Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Pre-ordering now guarantees you get it on release day along with the Elite Soldier Pack, which includes a classic X-COM solider, aesthetic upgrades for your unit and complete color customization. Ordering the PC Special Edition gets you that plus a fold out poster of the XCOM base, art book, an XCOM patch and digital bonuses like multi-monitor desktops, a soundtrack and much more.

CORRECTION: In paragraph 5, sentence 1, the fact that the game has been in development since 2008 is correct, however, this game is an entirely different entity from the shooter by the same name also in development. Gaming Illustrated apologizes for and regrets the error.

Miranda L Visser

Miranda L Visser

Gaming since she dug an NES out of a dumpster down the street from her home as a child, Miranda L Visser contributes to Gaming Illustrated while working on her M.A. in Norway. She dearly misses steak and being able to walk down the street to buy cheap games.
Miranda L Visser
Miranda L Visser

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3 responses to “XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview”

  1. Sean says:

    Actually, XCOM Enemy Unknown was not originally announced as a shooter. The announced shooter was and still is a separate title simply titled XCOM.

    Brilliant branding strategy, huh?

  2. Marclem says:

    Yea Sean is right, that xcom fps is being made by a 2K while this one is by Firaxis

  3. Alex says:

    True story Sean.

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