Review | XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Game of the Year Contender

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the hardcore strategy console gamers have been waiting for. In the wake of the negative reception to 2K Marin’s first person shooter XCOM, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a remake of the 1994 classic, UFO: Enemy Unknown. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy RPG that puts players in the role of the commander of the XCOM Project, a global military organization formed by The Council in order to eliminate the alien threat that has befallen Earth. When you’re not instructing your soldiers on the battlefield, it’s your job to make sure that the jet fighters are equipping with the best weaponry to take down enemy aircrafts and research and develop weapons and technology to take down the enemy. Without a shadow of the doubt, XCOM: Enemy Unknown raises the stakes of the war after each and every battle.

Firaxis, studio behind the Civilization series, took a huge risk with releasing XCOM: Enemy Unknown to a generation of console gamers spoiled by games such as Call of Duty, which can be a stroll in the park almost all the time. Even on Easy Mode, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is hard. I played the game for eight hours flat and lost. At the start of the game, over a dozen nations are part of the Council and support the XCOM Project but if they are overwhelmed by the alien threat, they will put their support and your chances of losing the game will be heightened. Placing satellites over these nations will help detect any UFOs in their area and maintaining a certain panic level. However, there will be times when you’re offer three missions, each from a different location and offering different rewards, such as money, engineers, scientists or troops. You will need to decide which country and its reward are more important and bare the consequences of the other two having increased panic levels.

Occasionally, The Council will alert you of a special mission they will need you to carry out. These missions are typically rescue missions or bomb disposals, but you will be rewarded with money and global panic reduction. Each month, The Council will grade your performance based on scientific and engineering developments, successful UFO interceptions and ground missions.

Launching satellites of each nation will add more money to your monthly allowance. It’s your decision as to whether or not this money goes to constructing new satellites and uplinks or towards plasma rifles, armor and jet fighters.

Combat against the alien threat is lethal and cover is vital in your squad’s survival. While some cover objects like wood can be shot through and cars can be blown up while your soldier is crouched down next to it, not even the more secure cover areas will ensure that your soldier will hit his target and your target won’t always miss. Combat on the battle field is akin to playing chess, only your pieces carry plasma weapons and you won’t exactly know where your enemies are until you’ve come near them which can be frustrating if you’re searching a large battleship and there is only a small group of aliens left. The enemy doesn’t seem to make movements until they’re discovered, however, your soldiers will hear noise coming from a certain direction indicating where exactly the aliens are. Still, after eliminating that small group you won’t know how many aliens are left to kill until you’ve kill the last one and completed the mission.

Having a balance of character classes increase your chances of survival. You’ll need to balance out your squad evenly with specific classes. Would you like more snipers in your squad to provide cover fire for your front-line assault guys or would you like your medics to be up and close in with action along with them? Maybe you’ll like your heavy Gatling gun soldiers to lure out the enemy so your support squad can flank them. Choose wisely because no matter how good you are at the game, eventually one of your soldiers will die. If you name your soldiers after idols or close friends and family, it makes that soldier’s death more hard to cope with and the war that much more important. There’s nothing like building your regular Joe up to a total badass equipped with all the best armor and abilities and watching him totally brutalized by a Muton.

While you’re taking a minute from the campaign missions and focusing on making your team stronger, you’ll notice that the map designs and mission objectives are being looped in a very short cycle. It can easily makes XCOM: Enemy Unknown feel quite repetitive but each map offers newer enemies and with newer enemies come higher stakes.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown features a 1-on-1 deathmatch mode, where players pick a team of humans or aliens up to a certain point value. Each player has a set amount of points and can use those points to recruit higher ranked soldiers to their barracks. It’s much more fast paced than the single player campaign and feels completely irrelevant in comparison. Unless you’re fascinated with playing as the bad guy, you’ll likely ignore the multiplayer mode.

Closing Comments

XCOM: Enemy Unknown will definitely go down as the best game of 2012 that no one played. I’ve wanted a hardcore strategy game on consoles for years and this has flown under my radar, along with perhaps thousands of others. If you’re a console gamer who can’t afford to build a PC that can run Starcraft, rejoice, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is for you. PC elitists who curse consoles for not having high quality strategy games be damned. Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown deserves all the praise it gets and we hope to see more console support from them in the future.


  • PC-esque game works flawlessly on the consoles
  • Makes dying fun again
  • Works your brain constantly as you figure out which decision will affect you in the long term, good and bad
  • High replay value
  • Multiplayer mode for those who want to play as the alien threat


  • Repetitive map design
  • Cooperative multiplayer would have been preferred
  • Enemies don’t move unless you spot them, which in turn gives them a free move


*XCOM: Enemy Unknown was reviewed on the PlayStation 3

  1. October 31st, 2012
  2. October 31st, 2012
  3. January 6th, 2013

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