A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Beating Back Alien Invaders – XCOM Enemy Unknown Impression

This game is brilliant. If you read nothing else of what’s written here today, just know that XCOM Enemy Unknown is an amazing game and I think it’s brilliant. Allow me to expand upon that though…

My first game is still a work in progress. I’m in October 2015 and I’ve just recently taken down an alien battleship. My best soldiers minus one are on the hot team (what I call the guys who are ready to go). That one other soldier? Oh, he’s in Psi Training. Who is he? He’s the guy who survived the tutorial, Colonel Emilio “Road Block” Garcia, my main Heavy. His suppression skill gets plenty of use and his rocket launcher has come in handy more often that I’d like to admit. It was a tough decision to leave him behind to determine his psionic capabilities, but I’d already tested a few other soldiers and the other Heavy, Major Klaus “Kong” Meyer, needed to stretch his psionic capabilities a bit.

Let me give you a breakdown of my hot team (I’d give you a screenshot of them, but they’re a little too busy currently for a group photo):

Heavy Col. Emilio “Road Block” Garcia, 35 Missions, 55 Kills

Sniper Col. Esperanza “Lady Grey” Martinez, 34 Missions, 94 Kills

Assault Col. Maria “Wildchild” Smirnova, 34 Missions, 46 Kills

Support Col. Karen “Angel” Barnes, 32 Missions, 38 Kills

Assault Col. Fergus “Spitfire” Stewart, 25 Missions, 25 Kills

Support Col. Remy “Freud” Andre, 20 Missions, 34 Kills

I have other soldiers, but I just keep using this amazing team since they keep performing so well. During missions, I find myself actually talking to them. I left their default names and callsigns because I like for them to be their own people. These soldiers are my people and I will ensure they come out of every mission none the worse for wear. Unfortunately the alien invasion doesn’t allow for vacations, so I can only hope that when this is over, the team can stick together at least for a trip to Disney World or something.

As this is my first game, I was restricted in my base placement to either the United States or Europe. I picked the US (sorry, but I preferred the Air & Space bonus over the Expert Knowledge one, at least for my first play through). It took me until September to have complete coverage of satellites, but I managed it. Before that happened though, several nations had flirted with leaving the XCOM project, such as Argentina, the United States, and Egypt nearly did so until I assaulted an alien base in Siberia and reduced the world panic levels by two notches. Mind, Egypt did leave in some sort of parallel dimension because I reloaded and assaulted the base right then, praying it would keep them in… never have I been so glad to be proven right.

The game has gotten fairly difficult, even on the easiest setting. Elite Mutons and Sectopods are some of the most dangerous enemies I’ve faced to date and Thin Men have been reduced to some kind of vacation from the tougher creatures the aliens can field. I’ve encountered and slain two Ethereals thus far. I didn’t want to give them the chance to mind control any of my soldiers or make them panic, so I chose my soldiers over a new interrogation. I have no regrets.

The first Ethereal I encountered, I was terrified of pushing forward until something snapped inside me. At this point, I’d been keeping my soldiers outside of this “overseer” UFO, waiting to see the Sectopod that I knew was pounding around just out of sight in the woods while I knew there was at least three aliens remaining inside the ship and I was expecting all three of them to be Ethereals (based on my experiences with the original game). I finally moved my soldiers into the UFO through an opening on the right side of the door, slowly moving forward, Assaults leading, Supports backing them up, Sniper covering and keeping an eye out for the elusive Sectopod, and the Heavy minding the exit. Eventually Wildchild opened the central chamber door and saw two Elite Mutons and the dreaded Ethereal. The two guards scampered to the far side of the room and covered against the wall while the Ethereal just stood there, menacing. We quickly determined that this new alien had to die. Wildchild moved up, taking cover against a wall that blocked her view of the Mutons but not the mind bending Ethereal. She fired a rapid shot from her newly minted Alloy Cannon up the ramp, shredding away the Ethereal’s abundant health. I followed up with Spitfire nailing the slender creature with a Flush, finishing it off. That left the two Elite Mutons. Freud moved up to the side of the doorway into the inner chamber, but he couldn’t see the Mutons. Remembering where they were, he tossed an alien grenade, nailing both of them and blowing out the wall they were hunched against. Angel was a very short distance away from the blast, so she lobbed her alien grenade onto the armored aliens, further injuring them. Road Block rolled up then and sprayed them with suppression fire, leaving them with very little health and a significant penalty. If one of them moved, it was probably dead, and thus, they were stuck with a conundrum. Neither of them moved and Road Block sprayed another blast of suppression fire over them, finishing them off.

Sitting back, taking a deep breath, I sent my brave soldiers looking for that errant Sectopod.

Now, aside from the experience, there’s this whole thing about mechanics I like to talk about from time to time. The game runs pretty smoothly since the patch they released right after the game dropped. I’m experiencing a couple of issues though:

1) When a Berserker is shot, it runs a few tiles toward whoever shot it. When this happens, the game seems to chop a bit. It’s very noticeable.

2) When attempting to move soldiers inside an Abductor UFO (I think that’s what it’s called), I was having serious difficulties selecting the right place to move my soldiers. It would keep moving the target to the other side of a wall or a level down. That was really frustrating, but I managed to find some work-arounds (the genius was in the rotating camera).

3) Another navigating the UFO issue is the randomly appearing roof. I understand that I can move my soldiers onto the top of the UFO, but it’s really annoying to have it show up when all my soldiers are INSIDE the UFO. It forces me to drop the camera down a step and then makes it kind of annoying to move them around. It doesn’t seem to happen so much in the Supply Ship and I don’t think the Battleship has much of a roof (seeing as we landed IN the thing I think).

Anyway, that’s it for issues. The game as a whole is an incredible masterpiece that has recreated the feelings I gained from the original. I am proud of my soldiers now, just like I was then. I am scared for their safety now, just like I was then. I am struggling to keep ahead of the alien menace now, just like I was then. All while it looks fantastic and plays smoothly. I’m enjoying myself, even though my adrenaline is surging and I’m nervous most of the time. I think this has entered into my “must keep available to play at all times” category like the original game.

Thanks Firaxis. You made something incredible. I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. Thanks to Lead Designer Jake Solomon, I’m forever thinking “That’s XCOM, baby!” whenever my sniper misses an 85% shot.

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