Developer's strategy pays off with reboot of 'XCOM' series

Special to the ManifestoDecember 13, 2012 

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is based on the 1990 series in which an elite paramilitary group battles aliens that are invading Earth.

PHOTO COURTESY GAMES PRESS

  • VIDEO GAME REVIEW

    'XCOM: Enemy Unknown'

    About: A reboot of the turn-based strategy series that sees humanity fighting an alien invasion.

    Players: Single, multiplayer

    Pros: The game offers an excellent blend of strategy elements and has high replay value.

    Cons: The graphics aren't the best, and sometimes there are awkward camera angles.

    Availability and price: $59.99 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

    ESRB rating: M

    Manifesto's rating: 9/10 (Xbox 360)

    Metacritic rating: 9/10 (Xbox 360)

It had been a long time since I'd played a decent turn-based strategy game, so I had high expectations for the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a reboot of the 1990s series that saw mankind fight back against alien invasions.

XCOM has had a curious history. The most recent entry in the series dated to 2001 and wasn't even a strategy game. You have to go back to 1998 for the series' strategy roots. It's been so long that I'd wager a good many players in the target demographic probably have never even heard of, let alone played, any XCOM titles.

But those earlier titles were classics, and, thankfully, developer Firaxis Games hasn't let me down, because Enemy Unknown delivers.

At its core, the game focuses on the combat element of the turn-based action. But once you exit the tutorial, the depth of the game becomes clear.

You're not only tasked with killing aliens on the battlefield, you're also responsible for managing the finances of your base of operations, upgrading technology, capturing enemies for research, expanding the base and keeping certain units alive at all costs.

In other words, there is a lot of strategy beyond just the in-game combat. And that's why it has such high replay value and is quite addictive.

Very rarely did I ever get bored with missions. With the sheer number of options and customization, each mission has so many outcomes and methods of execution that it's easy to keep playing and get caught thinking you should play just one more.

There's not much in the way of a story, but, in all honesty, that's OK. It's the strategy elements we're here for, not a rich sci-fi plot. The core story places the player in charge of an elite unit of humans tasked with keeping Earth from falling into the hands of an attacking alien species. During the game, you can capture various enemy alien units and examine them, replacing certain gear on your soldiers with upgraded alien technology.

The graphics aren't stellar, either, and camera angles are poor at times.

But this is such a rich and rewarding game that its flaws can be overlooked, and it's easily recommended for all fans of the strategy genre.

Beyond that, it's so well executed that it would be an excellent introduction to this style of game for newcomers. The turn-based strategy genre doesn't have a rich and robust release cycle, so there are plenty of gamers who have not experienced a title like this.

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