A crowded street, somewhere in Germany. A streak of light, a loud impact and a mysterious asteroid crashes into a busy suburban street. Men and women close in on the object, investigating the metallic structure, like kittens with a ball of string. Then it attacks…
This is XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A modern day retelling of one of the 90s best-loved strategy games by one of the world’s greatest strategy game developers, Firaxis. Not to be confused with the upcoming rebooted first-person shooter game of the XCOM brand, Enemy Unknown brings the classic strategy game to the modern age with updated graphics and intuitive controls. And after a hands on session last week, it could be the first strategy game to truly succeed on a console.
As commander of the global XCOM unit, you are tasked with both investigating and fighting an alien invasion. A collective of some of the world’s largest and most influential nations (including Australia), you are tasked with developing a fighting force capable of saving the planet from the extra terrestrial invaders.
Playing through a few tutorial levels at a preview last week, it’s evident that a lot of care has gone into creating this modern telling of the game. Graphically spectacular (playing on high-end Alienware PCs with Xbox controllers) and offering a deep level of progression options, you are required to balance the task of protecting the entire planet with keeping the funding nations happy, all while investigating your enemies for better technology and weapons in the battle against them. Add to that the threat of losing funding from XCOM nations if you ignore their plight too long, and the responsibility to promote your soldiers as they gain experience against the alien enemy, and you have an exceptionally engaging experience.
The tutorial missions opened with a squad of regular soldiers investigating the German alien attack. Through the course of that first mission, all but one member of your squad is wiped out teaching you the basic controls of the game. Each soldier has two turns to move and attack within a set distance, or double time it to a further distance while sacrificing your attack. Each class of soldier has his or her own skill tree to progress through, with the sole survivor of the first mission gaining the ability to wield a rocket launcher after the first mission.
Between each mission, you return to the XCOM base, a large underground bunker at an undisclosed location of your choice. There you will engage with your engineering team, who research new weapons and weapon upgrades, and your science team, who will study the bodies of your alien victims to bring new technology to your arsenal. As the game progresses, you can expand your base, adding rooms to help you progress in your mission.
During the course of the game, you will be given key decisions to make that will affect how the game plays out. At one point during the tutorial, we had to decide whether to send a team to a north American invasion site or a Chinese site. We chose America, and as a result the panic level in China rose from one to three (out of five). If the panic level gets too high, the country will pull its funding from the XCOM project, so keeping everyone happy is an additional challenge.
Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the game is the three dimensional landscapes. While you almost always want to have your troops in cover, you can also send soldiers to the top of some buildings for a better attacking angle. In one mission, we conveniently located a sniper on top of a bus to take down the alien scumbags in our way… at least until he almost died from being too exposed. During a hands off demonstration at the same event, 2K showed us soldiers using jetpacks to achieve the same height benefits for flanking the enemy.
The game is set to launch in October. We can’t wait.