XCOM: Enemy Unknown, by Firaxis Games (Not to be confused with XCOM, which is a squad based first person shooter in development at 2K Marin), is a revival of the classic, turn-based XCOM style. I got to sit in on a 30 minute guided demo of the game, which took place primarily at a gas station and featured a pretty decent cross section of the gameplay contained within.
Enemy Unknown is set in the present day. People are being abducted, alien life forms are being spotted all over the world, and it’s up to XCOM to repel this invasion. To do so, you’ve got a four person squad composed of a support soldier, heavy weapons expert, assault trooper, and sniper, each with their own unique abilities. For example, when you take a turn, you’ve typically got two options – move, or action. Support soldiers, however, can move and take an action. Snipers, on the other hand, can only do one or the other at one time, but they’ve got the added advantage of a grappling hook that can be used to get them to elevated positions.
The gas station at which the demo took place had a number of Sectoids crawling around, the XCOM series’ basic grey aliens. They’re not particularly fearsome on their own, but they can combine their mental abilities using a mind merge in order to make themselves more formidable. They’ve also got an ability called Overwatch, which takes up their turn, but allows them to attack automatically whenever something enters their field of vision.
During the battle with the first group of Sectoids, the heavy weapons expert laid down suppressing fire, effectively trapping the Sectoid in place while the sniper took pot shots and the assault trooper lobbed grenades. This combining of abilities, along with proper unit placement, is the key to success in Enemy Unknown, and it appears there will be no shortage of options in this regard.
The next encounter, a little bit further on, was against a group of Mutons, another classic XCOM enemy type. Mutons are much larger and tougher than their Sectoid brethren, and also happened to hold a much more defensible position, inside of a building instead of out in the open. As the team closed in on the Mutons, the heavy gunner took position right outside the building – this proved to be a mistake. The Mutons came packing a Berserker variant, which was not only able to plow through the wall where the gunner was hiding, but pummeled the gunner to death all in the same turn. And just like previous games in the series, death in Enemy Unknown is permanent. Rest in peace, assault gunner, we hardly knew ye.
The battle concluded when the heavy weapons expert used a rocket launcher to blow apart the rest of the wall, killing the Berserker and exposing his buddies to sniper fire in the process. From there, the demo shifted gears and gave us a glimpse of the home base, affectionately known by the dev team as “The Ant Farm.”
Basically, it’s a side view of a subterranean command center, and yes, it does resemble an ant farm. You can outfit your base with a barracks to train and outfit troops, as well as customize their look, name, etc., engineering bays to build weapons and new facilities for the base, research labs to requisition enemy tech, and more. Placing certain types of facilities in close proximity to one another also yields bonuses, such as putting two power modules next to one another, which increases power output. The deeper you dig, the more it will cost to place a base module there, so you’ll need to spend your resources wisely.
Fans of the series, particularly those who were off put by the first person shooter XCOM, are probably going to be pretty pleased with Enemy Unknown. It’s already looking pretty polished, and stays much truer to the previous entries in the series. The game should be out this fall for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, and those who are planning to buy it on a console will be happy to know it hasn’t been dumbed down or simplified for use with a controller.