When I first started reading about XCOM: Enemy Unknown
, and saw it described as a turn-based tactical video game, I couldn't jibe that with the screenshots I looked at, which made it look like a first or third person shooter. I finally got a chance to spend some quality time with the game, and now I understand what it all means. The successor in name if not in developer to 1994's X-COM: UFO Defense, XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Elite Edition Complete version
from Steam with all the downloadable content available to date, integrates cinematic shooter-style video elements with turn-based, squad level combat and then mixes in some real-time strategy-esque base-building to create an immersive experience with elements to please a variety of gamers.
Developed by Firaxis and ported to the Mac and released in April 2013 by Feral Interactive
, XCOM became an almost instant classic when it was released. With a focus on strategy and tactics rather than just firepower, it challenges players to think before they shoot, because sometimes shooting is not what is called for. We're evaluating the Enemy Unknown - Complete Edition
from Steam as a cohesive whole, rather than in pieces.
You play the head of XCOM, a multinational organization whose job it is to protect earth from alien invasion, and the events start with just such an attack. Gameplay is divided into two phases: battles & resource management. During battles, you take your squad on a variety of missions and, as discussed above, battles take place in a turn-based environment. As your soldiers survive missions and rack up the kills, they level up to more advanced abilities and additional load out options. There is definitely a priority on making sure your high ranking soldiers survive, making you pay real attention who you send into unknown danger, and who you protect until the dangers are more clear and they can do maximum damage.
Over time, you get access to more advanced weapons and options, and that brings us to the resource management phase of the game. In addition to running your squad through their battles, you also have to manage your XCOM base. This phase takes place in "real time," with a clock and calendar at the bottom of the screen showing the passage of time.You have a variety of ways to earn upgrades through research and engineering, and you also have to pay attention to your cash flow and conditions in the rest of the world. If places get too panicked, they'll leave your alliance, leaving you more vulnerable to attack.
At first I found myself spending more time than I expected in this phase of the game, as in many cases this part of a game is a minor interruption to battles. But in XCOM this part of the game is as important as successfully carrying out missions with your squad. The decisions you make will affect how the game progresses and the effectiveness of your soldiers in carrying out different types of missions.
Ironically, once I realized the importance of this phase, I spent less time in it because I had a better grasp of what I needed to take care of each turn before getting back to finding and carrying out missions. You might even find yourself passing on a mission if your best soldiers haven't been discharged from sickbay after their last battle.
For me, XCOM offers an almost perfect blend of turn-based tactical combat and real-time resource management. The cinematic aspect of the battle scenes helps to hide, for a while anyway, the similarity of many missions, especially earlier in the game. Not that they aren't fun, and there isn't variety in your orders, but to some extent each mission follows the similar pattern of find cover, find the targets, flank and advance, achieve objectives.
That's a bit of a simplification, but if you go too quickly from one battle into another, it can begin to feel that way. I understand that this has been aided somewhat by the Enemy Within
DLC, that was rolled into the package we reviewed, which makes me wonder exactly what it was like when the game was first released.
The resource management part of the game also helps cover this slight deficiency in gameplay. Juggling cash, resources, research and engineering projects, troop upgrades and world peace can also be a little overwhelming if you do it all the time, and sometimes you just want to take a break and kill some aliens. So both parts of the game really do complement each other, and help keep things moving along as the plot thickens.
The game ran fine on medium graphics settings on my 2009 iMac with 512MB of VRAM, so any fairly modern Mac desktop or laptop shouldn't have a problem with it. That's the advantage of the turn-by-turn gameplay, as opposed to it being an actual shooter: everything isn't always being rendered in real time, so the requirements are lower even though you still get a little of that shooter feel.
Sound was a bit of a mixed bag. The music and battle sounds were fine, but the small number of phrases your soldiers repeat over and over gets old fast. Also, even though your soldiers have different nationalities, this doesn't come through in their voices. Both those things may be relatively small factors, but to me they make a difference in how immersive the game becomes. Cross platform multiplayer is available in the Steam version (the version reviewed here), but I was unable to review that aspect of the game for this review.
Offering a nice blend of turn-based action and real time resource management/base building, XCOM: Enemy Unknown
appeals to a wide audience. Winner of many Game of the Year awards, the engaging story and amazing depth will keep you glued to your screen for many happy hours; and once you've earned your chops against the computer, you can jump online and see how you do against human opponents.
The XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Elite Edition
is available on the Mac App Store for $35
-- this lacks the Enemy Within
DLC. The Complete edition, as reviewed here, sells for $50 on Steam
. A Mac Store version can be boosted with the XCOM - Enemy Within
DLC by way of an in-app purchase. We highly recommend either the Steam Complete edition, or the DLC for XCOM from the Mac App Store version to supplement the game.
Who is XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Elite Edition for?
Fans of the original, those who like turn-based tactical combat games, fans of base-building games, and maybe even shooter fans looker for something a little less twitchy and more strategic and tactical, should enjoy this game. It does a nice job of easing you into the gameplay before escalating things.
Who is Enemy Unknown - Elite Edition not for?
If you want a shooter, this game isn't for you, though gameplay images might make it appear otherwise. Likewise, if you want a game you can jump in and finish in a few hours, XCOM is not for you. The game has both depth and breadth and potentially limitless replay value with different difficulty levels, expansions, and the ability to make different decisions in the base-building part of the game.
-- Steven Marx