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October 28, 2012
XCOM: Enemy Unknown - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
12/10/20122K Games2K GamesFiraxis12
Media HDD Install Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a remake of the classic.
Besides Sim City and Civilization, the 1994 PC turn-based game XCOM: UFO Defense was my all-time favourite strategy game. When it was announced that the game was coming back, and heading to PS3, in late 2012 I was overjoyed, and that only increased when Firaxis (current developers of Civilization titles including the superb Civilization Revolution on the PS3 a few years ago) was handling development there was little doubt that XCOM: Enemy Unknown was destined to be one of my most wanted games of this year. So here it is and, to cut to the chase, it's phenomenal. But you want to know about the game? Read on...

XCOM: Enemy Unknown places you as the Commander in control of a secret paramilitary organization called XCOM (short for eXtraterrestrial COMbat). Your task is to defend against a terrifying global alien invasion by managing resources, advancing technologies, and overseeing combat strategies and individual unit tactics.

With development having started four years ago with a team of over 50 staff (all of whom have played the original game), this latest game from Firaxis is no rushed title, and it shows. From the moment you start up the game you are thrown into a chaotic situation with a cut-scene showing the landing of a mysterious object which then captures civilians.

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Scanning the planet for aliens.
The alien invasion has begun and you are soon thrown into a tutorial mission which gets you to grips with the game. While the majority of soldiers don't survive that mission, it's not long before you're in complete command of everything. Combat missions, staff and soldier management, R&D focus, powering the facility, scrambling fighter jets, determining mission priorities, keeping countries on-side and the list goes on. The game also has four difficulty levels to suit your tastes (Easy, Normal, Classic and Impossible - the latter of which truly is for the hardcore only).

But let's start with the actual missions, of which there are well over 50 in the game. Moving your soldiers (and you can have up to six in the squad - although in our experience more doesn't always mean better) around the isometrically viewed battlefield is pretty easy, but also requires a level of strategy. Soldiers have two movement turns, which means they can move twice, or do a longer dash using up both turns, or move and then fire on enemies (or perform a similar action). The game isn't just played on a single level either with most missions allowing you to move to higher terrain (such as rooftops, or raised ground) and that certainly gives an advantage to classes such as the Sniper. As you move around it's critical to finish behind cover (which is pretty much any object) however this cover can be destroyed by enemy fire, and if flammable such as cars will explode, potentially injuring your soldiers.

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You'll spend a lot of time looking at the chance of a hit, or critical hit on enemies.
Each of the missions has set objectives which may include wiping out all enemies, rescuing civilians, escorting a VIP back to evacuation point or recovering alien artifacts among others. Besides the primary objectives though the way you play each mission can have an impact on the game. You could kill all the aliens, but capturing them alive can provide much more research kudos, using heavy weapons such as rocket launchers and grenades is sure to take out the enemies, but may also destroy any technology that they were using. There are simply so many choices to be made when playing this game.

As you complete each mission, hopefully successfully, soldiers that survive will move up in ranks and will gain extra abilities (you can choose which abilities to learn). Not only does this make that soldier much more powerful and useful in battles, but also much more precious. If they die then that's it. They won't be back and you'll need to bring a grunt into the team and start building up their abilities from scratch. It's a good idea to rotate through soldiers to give experience to a range - if any soldier gets injured they could be out of action for some time and unavailable for missions.

Another neat feature of this game is the ability to customise all the soldiers that come into your squad including their names, appearance and then equipment. This equipment includes a primary weapon (assault rifle, shotgun, plasma rifles), secondary weapon (sidearm), armor type and item (such as grenade, health pack or Arc Thrower which is used to capture aliens alive for experimentation).

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While these are XBox screens, PS3 looks identical.
Tactics come into play in this game in the main base where you will need to guide the focus of R&D, the engineering department, the placement of satellites, creation of bases around the globe and placement of Interceptor fighter jets (or more advanced ones as the game progresses) and much more. It's also important to keep the member countries satisfied with your work - you may need to take out some aliens in their territory, provide them with satellite coverage, or perform admirably in missions to avoid them dropping out of the XCOM project, and lose their funding as a result.

We do have a couple of issues with the game - but given the scope of the entire project they can be forgiven for the most part. First of all, in a couple of missions the game locked up forcing a reboot and reload of the game - fortunately if Autosave is turned on it seems to do that every few minutes (in fact, that's another annoyance, too many auto saves!). Secondly, and more game breaking, is the fact that enemy aliens don't seem to do much until you get into their "area" and trigger their action - that's despite combat taking place often only meters away from them.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown isn't just a single player game with the developers throwing in a multiplayer mode which allows 2-players to pick teams, be they human or alien, with a set amount of credits and then battle it out. Given the game is turn-based there's obvioulsy no issues with lag.

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Taking on aliens around the petrol station.
If XCOM: Enemy Unknown has one, very slight, weakness it's with the visuals. Despite being a rather static game (due to the turn-based nature), the 1080p visuals often exhibit screen-tearing and occasional glitching. Fortunately, and again due to the slow game style, this isn't as annoying as in a fast-paced shooter, but it is present. Also a little disappointing are some of the character models which are quite plain looking while textures can take a while to draw in to full resolution. The first time we started up the game, it came as a shock to see characters look so generic but as the game progresses this is soon forgotten as the story, and great dialogue, start to shine.

So that's the bad, on so many other levels though this game is a visual treat with a wide range in locations, destructible environments, aliens, soldiers, cut-scenes, weapons fire and explosions filling the screen. When on the battlefield the screen can be rotated with a press of the D-Pad, while holding L2 allows you to zoom out to get a wider view of the action. Animation is decent enough for a game like this, as is the lip-synching during mission briefs and the like. We also love that, on occasion, when moving the soldier around the battlefield the camera switches to an "over the shoulder" viewpoint - you're never sure if it's for effect, or if an enemy is about to attack you from an Overwatch state. Likewise for any pivotal moment, such as the killing of an alien, or one of you men, the game switches briefly to an action cam shot.

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Close quarter combat in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Sonically this game is quite superb the highlight of which has to be the speech. Not only is the script well written but the actors do a fine job of delivering their lines - be they on the battlefield, or in the main base. Effects are also solid enough although at times we did notice the soldiers on the battlefield commenting on battle situations, such as the enemy retreating or flanking you, aren't quite accurate. During our time with the game we did encounter some brief audio glitches and dropouts - primarily during loading screens.

The music from composers Roland Rizzo (who was a member of the development team on the original game) and Michael McCann, is superb and suits the tone of the game perfectly with both militaristic themes, but a dramatic, foreboding undertone at times too. The composers have even used cues created for the original game by John Broomhall, but given then the modern touch.

In the lead up to release I had high hopes for XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but the finished product far exceeds every desire I had for the game. While it looks and sounds fantastic, it's the depth of the management and strategy in the game that is the big winner. If you're a fan of strategy and/or management styled games then this is a no brainer. An essential purchase of a game that is certainly in the running for Game of the Year. Stunning.

Review By: Dave Warner

GRAPHICSThe battlefields are clean, and destructable, menus and interface slick and cut-scenes decent. Some screen tearing though.
SOUNDVoice acting is surprisingly good, music and effects also impress.
GAMEPLAYProbably the best turn-based strategy games ever seen on consoles. Engrossing at all times.
VALUEThis game could be played over, and over. It's brilliant, engrossing and essential.
OVERALLXCOM: Enemy Unknown is a stunning reimagining of one of the best strategy games of all time. If strategy and management is your thing then this latest title from Firaxis is an essential purchase. Simply brilliant.

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