XCOM: Enemy Unknown - The Enemy Within Review (PC)

Someone once said, “It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey”. In many ways he was right, but then he was ripped apart by a Chryssilid so it doesn’t really matter anymore. When playing through XCOM: Enemy Within, the expansion for last year’s surprise hit tactical strategy game, it’s worth bearing that in mind. Sadly, and I want to get this out of the way now, the game ends exactly the same as it does in the original release. In fact, the last hour of the game is still the weakest, as things start winding down and you prepare for that naff final mission. But it really is the “journey” that matters most, and Enemy Within makes it, once again, a fantastic journey to partake in.

Let us re-cap: Enemy Within is a content expansion in a similar vein to what the Civilization games get. The key narrative points of Enemy Unknown, like the Alien Base Assault, the Temple Ship, and everything in-between remain the same, but Enemy Within does add new toys and weapons, as well as some new side narrative stuff to sink your teeth into as you fight to save the world. First and foremost is the ‘Meld’, a new substance that can be harvested from certain mission types, mainly abductions and UFO crash sites. This straight away changes the whole dynamic of these missions – it’s not just about killing the aliens anymore, you have to find and harvest these containers if you want the meld, and they have a life-span, so if you don’t get to them quickly you’ll lose them and the meld. It’s also worth mentioning that they can be blown up if you’re not careful. But why would you go to so much trouble to get this mysterious new substance?

A lot of enemies get cool kill-cams like this. You need to equip your MEC with the Kinetic Strike module though

Like a lot XCOM’s design, there is a binary choice as to what you can do with the Meld. Gene Mod soldiers offer enhanced abilities, and abilities that allow you to do certain things much earlier than you could previously, and without the gear needed to do it. You can also use the Meld to turn your troopers into MEC troopers, cybernetically enhanced soldiers who get to wield the awesomely powerful MEC suit. These suits rock miniguns, and can be upgraded with new weapons or abilities as you go through the armour levels. These two new options are available right at the beginning as well, as Meld appears right from the first mission (apart from the introductory tutorial mission). Once you do the initial research, it’s just a matter of building a cybernetics and/or a genetic lab, and away you go! It certainly makes dealing with the first appearances of Mutons, Cyberdisc’s etc... a lot easier to handle.

It’s not just toys though– there’s plenty of side missions to beef out the early and mid-game as well. The base defence mission we had theorised about before is in; you’ll be pleased to know. It kind of just... happens, with no warning. Which is both a good and a bad thing I guess. Good because it’ll take you totally by surprise, but bad in a way because once it’s gone, it’s like it never happened, and they conveniently explain away the possibility of it ever happening again. Still, it’s a great mission, and one of a handful of new story-focused content you’ll encounter. EXALT, which you should already know a lot about, is also finely worked into the system. Typically you’ll be doing 1-2 Covert ops missions a month, as either an Exalt cell will attack your operations, or you’ll do a scan to find one, or both. There’s also all of the content from Operation: Slingshot, which was released as DLC, and Operation Progeny, which is a new set of council missions. Along with a bunch of other more unique one-shot missions, the council ‘quests’ are actually quite interesting now, and they don’t really become stale until towards the very end.

The Halo universe is not the only one with a SPARTAN program...

There are other little goodies tucked away here and there as well – everyone gets to wield two items now, and there are more items to build to offer your squads more tactical options. You can unlock customizable ‘medals’ that you can name, assign a perk, and then award your troops, there are the new enemies in the Seeker and Mectoid (nothing else beyond that, sadly), and then there’s a bunch of new maps and locations as well. Even as someone who’s played through the original game from start to finish, because Enemy Within prioritises new content over the old, it does a really good job of appearing like a fresh experience, which is to be applauded.

This Guy. He never ceases to be a badass

Even on the technical front, most of the niggles and oddities seem to have been fixed – for example, if one of those odd “shooting through a wall” moments happen, the wall at least has the decency to blow up (although that looks a little ridiculous to begin with when you’re using an early pistol, but oh well). However, new niggles and bugs have risen up to replace the old ones, but they are few and far between, so nothing really to worry about. We’ve noticed a lot more strange enemy spawning/teleporting behaviour, which can catch you out sometimes, and on a more serious note you may encounter some stuttering, or sluggishness, so there’s probably some additional optimization that still needs doing.

I could go on about the virtues of Enemy Within, about how good it was to play through the whole campaign again, but ultimately it’ll come down to two factors: The fact that the ending hasn’t changed a bit, and the fact that, ultimately, you’re still playing the same game. The former is perhaps the most disappointing, and as for the latter, it’s easier for something like Civilization to get away with, as XCOM is more narrative focused. If you feel you can’t get over these facts, then there’s nothing I can really say that’ll convince you otherwise. Enemy Within makes for an incredible, and fresh, journey as you fight to save the world one more time, and it’s definitely worth picking up eventually. We would totally understand though, if you wanted to wait for a steam sale or something.

Top Game Moment: There are quite a few memorable things about Enemy Within, but the MEC Troopers consistently give you situations that you can’t help but grin at. Drop a fully upgraded MEC Trooper in the middle of a bunch of EXALT agents, for example, and watch the bodies fly.

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By Voqar (SI Core Veteran) on Nov 11, 2013
Enemy Within is a content expansion in a similar vein to what the Civilization games get is kind of misleading. You can't compare XCOM:EU to Civ. Civ has different victory conditions, different races to play, and while the main gist of the game is always the same, it's different every time you play. XCOM:EU is on rails and it doesn't matter what you do, the game feels the exact same every time you play.

Adding more crap and a tiny bit of variety in between the static/scripted bits and ending don't really add to the game the way way any xpac adds to civ, IMO, because every xpac civ beefs up an already heavily randomized game that has endless replayability. XCOM:EU never had much of any replayability due to how heavily scripted it is with so much static content.

I've bought this and look forward to seeing what there is, but the fact that the campaign always was so static and remains so static, and the maps were always so static and remain so static has and continues to be a drag.

Overall, while I like XCOM:EU it's overrated. It's a good game but no matter what slick elements it has the lack of randomization and endless replayability make it inferior to the originals. The progression and linear nature of the on rails parts of XCOM:EU are too blatantly obvious.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Nov 11, 2013
You know what annoys me about this?

That the US gets access 3 whole days earlier.

Time to boot up the old VPN again you backwards sods.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Nov 11, 2013
@Voqar - Maybe, but I think it help contextualises better what you get in this expansion. The Civ expansions simply add new toys and mechanics to support them - Enemy Within pretty much does the same, although I do know what you mean.

It's a real shame they couldn't do anything about the ending. I don't really mind that is has a fixed narrative core to send you through - I think that was a pretty smart thing to do design wise at it allowed them to do so much great stuff, but it's clear they ran out of time to do the ending properly, and it's a real shame the same thing seems to have happened with Enemy Within.

You're right though, it does limit the replayability factor significantly, but I stand by what I said - there's enough here to coax you through at least one more playthrough.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Nov 12, 2013
Well, you're not the first to draw the same conclusion of references JustC - saw that others point this out as well. If I were a bit more inclined to paranoia - oh hell I'm paranoid enough ;) I say you gmae-reviewers are all VAT-grown! ;)

Seriusly though - I'm one of those that can't get over the facts that while things sound good, and works OK - it is not enough. I think this game got crazy high score for being a game that builds on something simple and really close to genius at that time - but nothing of what you would expect from a modern game is in this one. Camera works like a game from the late 90's?
Cut-scenes that destroys good strategy and execution?
Rinse repeat like heck and of course the simplifications done to "streamline" the game for a braoder appeal to the masses.

It just doesn't do it for me. I want to like it, I want to play it again - but hell if I want to pay more for a tad of the same again...
By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 17, 2013
30 EUR gone. Expecting a brilliant game
By Kres (SI Elite) on Dec 28, 2013
Btw, loved it
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on Jan 08, 2014
Well, I got in on sale this X-mas so I have to get through one more time ;)