XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview

The over-the-shoulder view of taking action.

With all the attention being paid to the upcoming XCOM first-person shooter, many people don’t seem to notice that 2K Games is also working another title in the series, one more faithful to the series’ roots. XCOM: Enemy Unknown returns to the squad-centric, turn-based strategy that the franchise is famous for, serving as a reimagining of its first ever title, X-COM: UFO Defense. Thrown together with all the bells and whistles that current-gen technology has to offer, the game is shaping up to be a much-needed upgrade to its thoughtful, dormant genre.

Enemy Unknown‘s plot is derived directly from the original XCOM title’s; reports of alien sightings, abductions, and even attacks have begun popping up all over the world. Some nations have tried to fight off the invasion from this mysterious extraterrestrial force to no avail. In a conglomerated effort to save the world, countries from around the globe combine to form the elite military force known as XCOM. The player assumes the role of its commander, and it’s up to him or her to stop the alien threat from taking over the Earth.

Our demo session began as a squad of XCOM soldiers landed in their dropship and set out into a barren city to investigate the alien menace. The black fog of war, a staple of the strategy genre, surrounded the squad. As they moved towards a gas station, we got our first view of the extraterrestrial threat, classic grays with the crouched posture of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. With a confrontation upon the group, the game’s action/movement mechanic kicked into full swing. The player has the option of moving a squad member once or twice. Doing the former will allow for an action to be taken as well, while the latter will end that soldier’s turn.

The game is all about picking the right action while being sure to maneuver troops in a manner that will flank and out-position the enemy. When the game’s heavy class trooper laid down suppressing fire on one of the aliens, for example, the sniper could run from cover to cover and get to a rooftop without being lit up like a Christmas tree. The game takes a more cinematic approach to showcasing these actions over other games in the genre, as the camera comes in close to unfurl in full animation.

This is where players will pick their missions in an attempt to save the world.

Just because a squad member is behind cover doesn’t mean that he or she is safe. Environments are destructible, and death is permanent. This was made apparent after the squad downed the grays standing in their way. One of the soldiers moved to the edge of doorway that housed a few beefier aliens, which can crash through walls. The poor commando didn’t stand a chance as the massive brute blew away his protection and pummeled him to the grave. Our heavy was able to dispatch the beast with his special rocket launcher as the sniper picked off the others, but it was already too late. Despite the mission’s success, the squad would need a new recruit to replace their fallen comrade.

Once debriefed and back at the base, the XCOM headquarters becomes the game’s between-mission hub. It’s here where players will level-up their soldiers, give them names, research upgrades, and choose new missions. The layout of the base is designed to look like an anthill, and features various facilities for the organization to train and grow. Despite the headquarters having a basic layout, future upgrades and facility placement is entirely up to the player, though bonuses are given based upon placing certain rooms next to others.

Even though XCOM has international backing, that support isn’t unwavering. From the mission control room, a holographic globe will show where the alien threat is most dire. If those threats aren’t dealt with quickly, the rising panic can result in entire nations changing their mind about the effectiveness of the institution, causing them to pull out and try their luck on their own. Doing so will cut XCOM’s funding and bring about the organizations folding, ending the game.

It’s clear that 2K and Firaxis Games are hoping to revive this classic strategy series in what they feel to be the most honest way possible: honoring the series roots while providing upgrades that come with a near two-decade gap in technology. Time will tell if fans will feel the same way when XCOM: Enemy Unknown releases later this year for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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