April 16, 2012

PAX East Preview – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

If you were to ask me for a list of my favourite games of all-time, Microprose’s seminal 1994 PC title X-COM: UFO Defense would be somewhere near the top. I couldn’t contain my excitement when 2K Games announced back in January that Firaxis had been working on a re-imagining of this classic strategy game and that it would be releasing in 2012. I attended a preview session for XCOM: Enemy Unknown during my final hours at PAX East that served as an apt finale for the weekend adventure.


Not to be confused with the first-person shooter, XCOM, being developed by 2K Marin, XCOM: Enemy Unknown stays true to its roots and comprises real-time strategy gameplay in the iconic “Geoscape” global view, base building and management in the new cross-sectional view, and turn-based ground combat in the extensive tactical view, all rendered in gorgeous 3D. As in the original, events transpire in real-time in Geoscape view, allowing you to survey the entire planet for alien contact and decide your global strategy. No details were divulged as to the mechanics of UFO interception, but I’m interested to see Firaxis’ take on the mini-game format used in the original. We were informed that while you can only deploy a single XCOM base, your choice of location will decide specific perks. I can never resist building a main base around my real-life geographical location, so I am curious to see what benefits are ascribed to Canadian UFO defenses. The base-building view evokes an ant farm-like vibe as you assemble your modular underground base both laterally and vertically with interconnecting corridors and elevators. This view also allows the player to zoom in on any particular module to activate its function, such as researching a recently procured alien artefact, or to simply observe the mundane activities of the tiny minions within.


Players will be spending most of their game engaged in turn-based combat in various locations around the globe in tactical mode. The PAX East demonstration involved an alien encounter scenario at a North American gas bar and diner. The XCOM team moved carefully around explosive gas pumps and nimbly up ladders and over rooftops to exchange fire with and ultimately prevail over two alien types. Expect your favourite alien races to return, such as the archetypal Sectoids and the beefy Mutons observed during our demo, as well as the introduction of new varieties. Each soldier class has its own distinct look, movement allotment, weapon selection, and set of abilities. For example, snipers are lightly armoured with the ability to move long distances in a single turn, but cannot fire their powerful weapons in the same turn in which a movement was made. Camera control is not limited to a single isometric view, permitting strategic evaluation from many angles, and since cover and line of sight are to play a significant role in combat, this is a welcome addition. During our demonstration, we observed how a heavy soldier can destroy walls or other cover objects to expose enemies to weapons fire from strategically placed squad mates. Also new to the tactical mode is a dynamic camera view that serves to highlight particular actions occurring during each side’s turn, and can pay out with a rewarding cinematic view of an explosion or kill shot, or conversely, add gravity to a poor tactical decision resulting in the death of one of your units. As with previous XCOM titles, unit death is permanent, adding to the sense of dread as you send your team of leveled-up veteran soldiers to explore the latest UFO crash site or disturbance.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is certainly in capable hands at Firaxis and I expect that they will continue to bring the love and attention that this title deserves. Expect a full review when it launches on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC this Fall.

About the Author

is an avid gamer on all platforms, unapologetic graphics whore and peripheral junkie. He is also a drummer both electronic and acoustic, a loving husband, and adoring father to two lovely girls. Follow Craig on Twitter as @Talus as he eats sandwiches and posits on the latest inconsequential happenings in the games industry.



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