I finished up my first game of XCOM Enemy Unknown over the weekend, and I felt like it ended too soon. Looking back though, I probably put 30 hours into the first play-through, and it’s easy to start up a new game since so much can change from game to game. I think it wasn’t short, I just had too much fun playing it!
The core gameplay of XCOM Enemy Unknown is a tactical, turn-based combat experience. Your four to six troopers (more made available through upgrades which are key to get as soon as possible) move and shoot in grids on relatively small boards versus the alien invaders. There are all sorts of great aids when navigating the map, such as shading to show where your character can move, cover available, and line of sight. It’s kind of fun just rushing your soldiers from cover to cover, fanning out to face any threat.
It’s when you discover aliens on the darkened maps that the action really begins. Again, the combat is turn-based, but the aliens, when discovered, take a few actions to get into position so you can’t always exploit your unexpected arrival in their area of operations. Then all hell breaks loose.
Combat is a tense affair. Often an exercise in geometry, you try to position your soldiers where you have cover against the aliens but where you are also able to defeat their cover. Explosives can be utilized to not only do direct damage but to collapse cover to give better shots to your own personnel. As your soldiers level up, you get more abilities that can be used to affected the game state, such as smoke grenades to give cover in open areas, the ability to move twice and fire a weapon, and more. The game smartly provides options, rather than just greater power, to vary how combat can turn out.
Besides the main gameplay, there are many actions you can take back at your base to equip and supply your fighters. First of all, you must research and build any and all weapons, items, and protective gear for your soldiers. But before you can do that, you need certain components. And before you can do even that, you need certain buildings in your base to do the research in! You find yourself digging deep beneath the earth and filling those holes with workshops, laboratories, satellite uplinks, and all sorts of other facilities that affect the efficiency of your research operations. It’s up to you to choose what to build, and you often can’t do it all, depending on the materials and resources you find.
You must also field an air force, building interceptors to bring down UFOs before they land and start doing strange things to humans on the ground. You can equip the aircraft with different weapons, similarly to your soldiers.
From the combat to R&D and just plain fooling around in the base, there are so many fun things to do in XCOM. I found myself loving every second of it.