Review: XCOM: Enemy Within
Many games of the last generation have tried to get us to feel emotions, through well done cut scenes, big name voice talent and all that malarkey. Some succeed but most fail, making me feel utter contempt for the developer’s view of ‘do bad stuff to protagonist, emotions happen’. Those sort of games and developers need to play the pure emotion rollercoaster that is XCOM: Enemy Within. An expansion to last year’s brilliant XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Enemy Within sits you down and says to you as a player “The world will end if you cock up, so pay attention.” You’ll never have a more tense and emotion journey as you will with Enemy Within. Seeing your favourite trooper being gunned down by alien invaders is possibly the most gut wrenching experience ever put in pixel form.
The story of Enemy Within is not much different to that of Enemy Unknown. Aliens coming to our planet and abducting citizens, destroying governments and basically just make a nuisance of themselves. This time however, there are human sympathisers who also decide that they want a piece of XCOM as well. It’s hardly Citizen Kane but it serves the game well, every so often you’ll be given a story mission that shed more light on your aggressors but it’s nothing to you couldn’t have already guessed. The enemy human faction isn’t really given that much backstory or development, they’re just a bunch of under-equipped but incredibly keen morons, but more on them later.
The gam play is where the majority of changes in the expansion have taken place. New unit types, upgrades, maps and mission types are all there to spend hours devouring. The two biggest changes are the addition of mech troops and ‘Meld’, an alien resource whose properties are basically explained as “Sod logic, SCIENCE!”. With Meld you can build your mechs and also upgrade your non-mech troops with biological augments, such as invisibility and health regeneration. Meld can be found on the battlefield and you must collect it before the timer runs out and the containers are destroyed. This gives you an interesting choice, do you go after the Meld and risk your troops safety or take it slow and see if you get lucky or not? It’s clearly a step by the developer to get players out of the stutter stepping habit of moving short distances and going into ‘overwatch’ (a mode that gives troops a chance at shooting any aliens that move during their turn) however I found that I could easily get one if not both of the canisters by playing the way I’ve always played.
The mechs themselves add a lot to combat. They cannot take cover so are basically bullet magnets but their massive fire power still makes them threats to be reckoned with. I named my mech Roger Daltrey and to my delight he was an absolute power house of carnage. With reckless abandon he would fire his particle cannon at one poor unsuspecting sap before rocket punching another into the stratosphere. That said, I never felt over powered with dear Roger, when in the middle of fire fight I’d be sure to pull him back before he was taken out so he could live to fight another day (for the record, Roger, to date has killed 124 Xeno scum).
The addition of a third faction in the form of EXALT is a tad problematic. They fight with tactics similar to XCOM with support, heavy and sniper troops but it’s clear not enough work was put into their AI. At one point Alice Cooper (my sniper and glam rocker) was surrounded by two EXALT heavies, only for one of the heavies to climb down a pipe, then climb back up, wasting their turn with the second fairing not much better by doing nothing but reloading, Alice was deeply troubled by this, so quickly dispatched the pair. EXALT missions range from protect a location from waves of troops to escort your operative from location to location. These do make for some nice variety from the run of the mill seek and destroy missions you get with the aliens but you’ll find yourself learning the tactic of EXALT very quickly, making them less feared traitors to the species and more like hapless comedy goons with automatic weaponry.
XCOM’s multiplayer has always struck me as a bit of last minute addition. Its many connection issues and bugs can make it an infuriating experience at times with soldiers being unable to move, shots going through several thick walls and more. It does have some good additions to Enemy Unknown with the ability to save squads for later use being a useful time saver. It can be fun at times to play with a friend and experiment with alien troops but this was clearly after-thought to such a good single player experience.
To sum up
One particular highlight of this expansion was a mission where the XCOM base itself is overrun by aliens. I don’t want to spoil it too much but this mission alone was worth the price tag alone, it had some of the most nail biting moments I’ve ever experienced in a game. It’s moments like this that make XCOM: Enemy Within one of the most emotionally charged games I’ve played. Every move has weight; you’re constantly second guessing yourself as your move towards the terrifying unknown beyond the next corner. This is a game where everything can go wrong in thirty seconds when a critical shot is missed, a country withdraws support and funding or the lynchpin of the team is taken out by a exploding car. For these reasons and despite some odd AI and multiplayer XCOM: Enemy Within is great game for series veterans and new comers alike.
XCOM: Enemy Within is out not on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.