I recently played XCOM: Enemy Unknown and it kicked my butt.
The impact it made on me
On my first attempted playthrough, after quite a few hours of hard-fought victories and about a half dozen or more recruits, I lost my favorite character, Pox. She was my main support who had been with me from the very beginning. She healed and assisted her squad on nearly every mission from the start.
It was a strange thing losing her because I realized I had just assumed she was going to be the one that made it to the end. But when her face was eaten by a Chryssalid seemingly out of nowhere, I realized I had grown attached to her in the same way you would your favorite character in a movie or TV show.
It is in these moments that I am reminded of just how special and unique XCOM: Enemy Unknown truly is.
On the surface, it is a tactical turn-based strategy game with a strong base building element. It is all of the seemingly mundane choices at the base that can end up really affecting your game. Should I build new weapons, items or armor for my team? Should I research this alien technology? Should I spend what little time and money I have to build and launch a new satellite?
Then there is the turn-based combat. You command a crew of 4 to 6 soldiers through various scenarios ranging from search-and-rescue to just kill-all-enemies. It is so very satisfying when things go your way. There are few games that give you this level of gratification when a perfectly performed strategy goes as you planned.
In contrast, very few games are as devastating when everything goes bad. But the game is almost always fair in that regard.
It does seem that an enemy unit can get the drop on you, but I found when this happened I had put a unit with his/her back to the fog of war, essentially putting my unit on the wrong side of cover from the area I had just swept through and cleared.
So I shouldn't have been surprised when an enemy reminds me what game I’m playing.
You really have to be careful of your decisions in combat as you will find just one mistake can put the whole team in jeopardy. Taking too many chances can really come back to haunt you.
Careful unit movement can save your team and using all of your unit's actions to the best of your abilities will make all the difference. But above all else, I found that moving from cover to cover and making use of overwatch was essential to victory.
One of the aspects of the game I really enjoyed was leveling up my units. Over time, my team evolved into this cool dynamic group with its own personality. Each character started to bring with them a story of their own, crystallized into a personalized nickname that you are able to give them.
What grinds my gears
I did find myself getting frustrated at some parts of the base building and panic management, the latter of which is a part of the game I haven't even mentioned.
In a nutshell, you have to assist countries around the globe with alien abductions to lower their panic levels, otherwise, they will lose faith in XCOM and pull funding, causing you a lot of headaches since there already wasn't enough money to go around, making the game even more difficult.
But, if these annoyances weren't in the game, would it be nearly as impactful when you succeed? It is hard to say, to be honest. All I know is that I was always itching to get back onto the battlefield whenever I was stuck at base.
All and all, I love this game. It is brutally hard at times but always keeps me wondering what I could have done differently to mitigate the damage for my next attempted playthrough.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Developer: Firaxis Games
Released: October 8, 2012