Coming to this game was an intimidating task, I have never been a pc gamer. I grew up with a controller, and keyboard/mouse configurations were always alien to me. Enter XCOM:EU, the rebirth of a franchise notorious for its difficult, opaque pc roots. How was I possibly going to get into this game’s groove, I thought to myself. The answer was listen, pay attention and think.
XCOM punishes those who don’t pay attention to its established rules. It’s very much a throwback to 90s gaming in this respect. The information is there, and it’s up to your patience and attention span to lead you through the inner workings of this alien invasion odyssey. However, this design approach doesn’t slow it down. The missions are intense and engaging because of said design, and offers a wide variety hard choices and decisions that will fundamentally change the flow of the game.
Soldiers can die permanently, civilian rescues can fail miserably, and VIPs can end up being future alien cadavers. The death of soldiers can particularly heartbreaking if you personalize them. You can do most rpg customizations of a character (name, skill trees, appearance, gear), and while the customizable aspects can be limiting (everyone sounds like an American, but this dude is from South Korea?), it is always dramatically tragic to lose a captain that had a bright future ahead of her.
The personalization, turn based tactics, dynamic in battle camera angles, and general atmosphere of the battlefield allow you to create meta-narratives, and this is definitely one of the most impressive things about XCOM. I had my friend and his girlfriend join XCOM and they both died, at the hands of a flanking alien who throw a grenade at the car they were taking cover on. Boom. Heartbroken, I drafted their son (who was in search of revenge against the alien menace) only to have him die while he was healing another solider. These heartbreaking narratives are possible to map onto the game because of how incredibly well designed the chassis of a game underneath. There a true battlefield moments of heroics, despair, and discovery in just about every encounter that is match the best multiplayer moments of shooters like Battlefield, without even being an FPS. It is a sandwich of complementing systems that also make it impossible to stop playing.
On top of the tactical mission-to-mission gameplay, you have a macro, resource management-esque meta game. Here, you operate a base-building game, which monitors the state of earth, the scientific breakthroughs of your organization, the manufacturing of weapons, interceptor jets, and A LOT more. So much more that I could write paragraphs easily 4 times the length of this entire review.
This part of the game is a constant ball of stress in the best way possible. You need to make choices and prioritize goals. Spreading yourself too thin without clear goals in mind will ensure that all countries will pull their funding of your organization, which will make you straight up lose the game. No, it isn’t a game over screen from which you just re-spawn. Hours of mismanagement can only be avoided if you have made multiple save states far earlier in the game. Saves 5 days from your monthly evaluation deadline will not suffice.
That chassis does show some rust in spots, though. Aliens can get a free move against you, which can be a matter of success or failure in some battles. And although the game is fundamentally based on probability and dice rolls, it can be infuriating to see an LMG wielding solider miss a shower of bullets 4 meters from an enemy because his offense is inherently low. Finally, the inconsistency of shooting through walls can also be puzzling.
With those gripes out of the way, I literally have no other significant problems with the game. Some have billed it as a remake of the original, but in the modern gaming climate, that implies nothing more than an hd coat of paint (See, sony’s vast sea of ps2 HD remakes). This game deserve much more recognition than that. It’s an entire re-imagining of the 20 year-old original. It’s the Jimi Hendrix All Along the Watchtower to Bob Dylan’s; respects the legacy of the original, but its a different beast of excellence in its own right.