Friday, July 25, 2014

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Offers High Tension and Difficulty

Often times in a review I'll refer back to another game for various reasons. In this case, I'm referring to the wonderful Demon and Dark Souls. Why? Because when looking to compare the PS3 game release of XCOM and its inherent difficulty, those are two of the most difficult games I've played. XCOM can be a brutally difficult game when it wants to be. What's so difficult? Basically, you need to keep aliens at bay, while making as many countries happy, as you possibly can. If you don't, they will leave the Council (that's who you need to be happy for the game to continue, because "they will be watching.") Too many countries leave the Council, it's game over. So, with limited funds, you're expected to do a lot!

1. Launch satellites over countries to deter alien invasion (expensive!)
2. Repair satellites that are shot down by alien invaders, while that particular country is whining about it (double expensive, since that country will probably leave the Council anyway.)
3. Excavate land, build workshops, labs, research cells, alien containments, build an aerial fleet to protect your satellites (all EXPENSIVE!)

Now, money is just part of the problem. Let me introduce you to perma-death. Yes... unlike kind re-spawn points in other games, you lose a soldier in this game, they're done for good. This hurts, too; because, you name and create these guys (or gals) from scratch. So, when you've battle-tested them (and leveled them up to a war machine), then they get blasted by an alien bad guy... well, frustrating is a kind way to put it. Now, you could weasel your way out of such a situation by reloading the battle, but that take away one of the true selling points of XCOM. That constant pressure that you're one step away from a fatal mistake.

However, with one of XCOM's greatest strengths comes it's main weakness (in my opinion.) The cheap death. I'm not a big fan of how the aliens are basically invisible until you enter a particular area of the battle grid. For example, you could send your highest level commander to cover behind a tree (which seems safe); but when he gets to the tree, low and behold, an alien pops up waiting for you with a bazooka. I applaud XCOM as a phenomenal strategy game. However, no amount of strategy will save you from one of these cheap shots. Another "cheap shot" you can expect to endure in the game is the pseudo cover system. When you put one of your soldiers behind something that offers a cover bonus, you should be pretty darn safe. Well, don't count on it. Even when you think you strategically placed your soldier out of harms way... there gonna get hit anyway. Don't argue it; it just is.

Another struggle I had with the game is the lack of firepower until late in the game. As stated, this is not an easy game, and the aliens are way ahead of you (i.e. weapon technology, etc.) from the get go. Nothing against a challenge, but when you're fighting aliens with telekinetic powers, and you're still stuck with a standard issue assault rifle... normally, you're going to lose the battle. However, I'm not ashamed to admit looking up a few cheats. Come to find out that if you name your soldiers a few "well-known" names (i.e. Ken Levine from Bioshock fame), you'll receive one heck of an upgrade, complete with top weapons and mind control abilities. The game is still plenty tough, but at least it seems more fair.

In the end, I really did enjoy the PS3 game XCOM-Enemy Unknown. Yes, there were plenty of issues that annoyed me, but I always was engaged in pulling off the impossible, in battle. When the impossible is accomplished, just as in Demon and Dark Souls... man, it feels sweet.

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