XCOM Enemy Unknown Complete

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.

FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL: Faster Than Light is an indie game so nice that they named it twice! Actually, that isn’t true. This game doesn’t hate you, but it also doesn’t love you; its indifferent, cold, and unfeeling, like the dark places between the stars where the game takes place.

You take the role of a starship captain, fleeing before a horde of enemies who want nothing more than to scatter your atoms across the emptyness of space. You carry a secret of their weakness back to your home fleet, and you must arrive before they do. Along the way, there are friends and enemies to meet (mostly enemies) who also try to kill you. Scary stuff.

Mechanically, the game is a top-down, point and click action game, in the roguelike supertype, even if this isn’t a real dungeon game, and it is not turn-based, although you can (and should) pause the real-time combat. But FTL does borrow the permadeath gimmick: when your crew, or your ship dies, that’s game over. There are no backing up to previous saves, and that’s one of the best and worse things about the game. You have to live with each choice you make, and each might be your last. Even routine actions can cause catastrophe.

I’ve played through a couple runs in FTL, with modest success. I still haven’t been able to conquer the final encounter (nor even gotten there), but I’ve made it to the end game, which is further than I thought I’d get! Along the way there is lots to explore in a dynamic universe, although the encounters can get a little stale. The real variability in the game is your choices, which lines of play you follow, the equipment and crew you keep or sell, and how they interact. There seem to be many different ways of conquering combat encounters, and there are no right ways to do so. This keeps the game fresh.

For a $10 title, FTL has a lot to offer. It’s not a graphical marvel, but that’s not the point. This game makes you think and makes you value the small victories. Because if you’re like me, there won’t be any big ones in FTL. The game inevitably ends in destruction, one way or another.