21 October 2012

X-com: Enemy unknown (PC game review)

X-com: Enemy Unknown, is a turn based squad based tactical game where you are battling an alien invasion of Earth. The "X-com initiative" are a group of countries that have come together to fund your operation and it is up to you to protect them from alien attacks while you try to progress the campaign and save humanity. It is brutally hard, and extremely satisfying.

The campaign involves several elements, on one hand you have a base of operation which you have to expand with power supply, labs, workshops and other rooms. It is also at your base where you perform research of captured alien technology and alien bodies to improve your own equipment, and it is in the base where you build weapons, fighter jets with which you protect the skies, hire new troops and can keep track of the terror level across the globe and in individual countries.

On the other hand you have the turn based combat missions, these range from interfering with an alien abduction where aliens are harvesting humans, missions where you have to stop terror attacks where aliens slaughter civilians, missions where you have to escort VIP personnel to safety and then you have missions tied to enemy UFO craft. These later missions involve both shot down and intact alien space ships that you have to attack and neutralize in order to salvage technology important for your research on how to stop the alien menace.

Soldiers start out as rookies, but may rise through the ranks with a lot of luck , to reach the rank of Major, along the way they will also randomly get a combat class (heavy support, sniper, assault, support) and unlock a small but very treasured skill tree of battlefield skills and improvements on their abilities. Making it even harder though, wounded soldiers have to rest in the infirmary and you may find yourself short of experienced soldiers or even short of any soldiers at all in some scenarios if you aren't careful. Also, exposing your soldiers on the battlefield through stupid tactics and rash decisions almost ensures that they will return to base in a body bag.

Alien invaders range from small "Greys' "to alien infiltrators, and other specialists of various kinds. There aren't many alien types but those that exist provide a deep enough spectrum of "elite/specialist/regular" variations to make it interesting. During a mission there will also often be a healthy mix of these aliens working together so you won't have to battle a single type in every mission.

Apart from the turn based mechanic, soldiers also have two action points which can be spent on such things as movement, shooting, reloading or performing other tasks. The movement range is marked in blue and yellow to show how far you can move for one or two action points, and there are options for overwatch, throwing smoke and extensive use of cover.

The environments are packed with fully destructible terrain, making the game extremely gratifying if you are into destruction and mayhem. Firing rocket launchers at a gas station or mall where aliens are hiding and see walls and interior explode and burn is awesome. The game keeps a healthy balance between your trigger happiness and rewards from salvaging intact enemy bodies and material. During UFO raids you will do best not to go crazy because you may destroy extremely valuable  equipment needed for your research, blowing enemies to pieces with rockets also makes you unable to salvage their carcasses or broken weapons for further investigation.

Everything alien is a resource in this game, and various thing are needed to create stuff in your lab, workshop or when asked to provide it by the X-com council of nations.

The music is also good, it sounds a lot like the music from Deus Ex: Human revolution, a soundtrack I liked a lot.

There isn't a lot to complain about in this game, but there are a few rough spots worth mentioning.

First of all the installation was a pain in the ass, as the game starts downloading files through STEAM and you have to force install from the disc.

Game wise the game has a couple of problems. I'm not sure the "to hit" percentage "rolls" are working as they should as you sometimes get rather unbelievable misses. There is also a fair amount of very improbably line of sight drawn between your soldiers and aliens and vice verse. Sometimes you can target something even though you can't actually see it.

The action point system on its own is good and fine, but it causes a problem if you accidently click on a spot and your soldier starts running there immediately spending your action before you know it. I think that perhaps a fully fleshed out action point system like that in the Fallout games would have allowed a bit more management of your actions.

There is another annoying issue tied to the camera, which you learn to live with but it should have been better. The camera has only 4 top down angles, and when you are inside a building or alien ship or even outdoors walking on elevated areas the camera angle causes a path finding problem. Sometimes you won’t be able to "find" the correct spot where you want to go unless you rotate the camera angle.

The maps are fairly small, but I don't find that to be a problem, they are however not randomly generated. There are a lot of maps though roughly 40 of what I could see before they started recycling in my campaign,. The maps are good looking and have obviously hand placed objects on them. I think a game like this would have benefited from a random map generator.

All in all, this is a damn good game despite the above mentioned flaws - and I highly recommend it if you are into turn based games. And even if you aren't you should still check it out. There is a downloadable demo of the first 2 tutorial mode missions that can be tried out.

I rate this game as a 8.5/10 with a high replay value.


  1. I never saw this game back in the day when it first came out. I've been following this with interest, thanks for the review I may check the demo out

  2. I used to play this way back in the past. It was a good fun game then, but I am not sure if I will get the updated/new verson.

  3. I loved the original and will likely pick this up at some point.

  4. I've got this game on Xbox and love it; after a couple of missions it becomes incredibly tense and exciting ;) be aware though, the demo is very limited and doesn't convey the game's qualities very well.

    1. True, the demo is a bit unexciting, but it does show how the game mechanics work and bare bones of the game experience. Always better than jumping into buying something blindly :-)

  5. Thanks for your review.
    I ordered a copy two weeks ago and it should arrive tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to this game since I knew the original one from the 90's very well...


  6. im just in the process im installing the game now - it's taking awhile but that's nothing new for a new game these days. The original XCOM was pretty ground breaking in it's day and was extreamly in depth. Unfortunately all the sequels that were spawned stated looking better but getting less ans less in depth - i have high hope for this version.

  7. Got the game ordered and looking forward to checking it out. A fan of the old X Com games when they were new (well most of them, Infiltrator sucked) but this updated version should be good and challenging. Cheers for the review

  8. I totally agree with the above, the new version which I have played for a few hours now is absolutely fabulous!
    The really managed to take the core of the old game and transported it into a new and cool game.
    Especially the Iromman - Mode adds a lot of tension to the game, you move much more careful when you know that every move could be your soldier's last.

    The only thing that is really bugging me at the moment is the limited camera control, but I hope they will fix this soon.

  9. I don't thank you! I've bought it because of you, and now, I can't stop playing it.


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