Preview

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview (PS3)

There are two possibilities: Either this game is going to be good, or it’s going to be bad. Both are equally as terrifying. Well, not really, but it's no easy feat to take on a classic franchise and bring forward for a more modern audience. EA's similar attempt with the Syndicate franchise was a bit of a shamble (although arguably that's down to the overcrowded FPS genre as much as anything else), and 2K will have to tread carefully with Enemy Unknown. Thankfully, they've got a few things going for them – they've get it more true to the original game than other 'reboots', they've got strategy God's Firaxis at the helm, and having had a hands-on session with the game, it's actually pretty good.

The best hybrid games maintain a good balance between the action and the strategy, especially with titles that involve management elements like XCOM. We were allowed to play the first couple of hours of XCOM’s campaign, including the tutorial, and from what we’ve seen so far has impressed. There seems to be just enough 'micro' in Enemy Unknown to keep you interested and to give you stuff to do without getting you too bogged down in details or statistics. The development of your base and armed forces also holds just enough customization to make the choices meaningful and to help you specialise when it comes to fighting the ever increasing alien incursions.

Try not to throw a grenade near your own guys – friendly fire is definitely on

Even customizing and developing your individual troopers is oddly compelling – from a simple recruit to the various Assault, Support, Sniper etc… specialisations, as well as customizing their character backgrounds and ‘nicknames’ a little bit, you do end up creating a narrative in your head and form an odd attachment to them. We ended up restarting a level a couple of times just because we didn’t want to lose anyone, and the further you take them the harder it will be to suffer losses. Of course, as your technology develops, you’ll end up outfitting your troopers in gear even we didn’t see coming. We’re not going to spoil it now as you’ll be able to see this stuff at E3, but in terms of ‘end-game’ tech and content for your troops, let’s just say you won’t be able to wait until you can develop your own guys that far.

It’s the little things that will make this game shine, and the attention to the atmosphere of the game even extends to the strategic portion of the game when you are on missions. In same vein as the original games – and in similar veins to games since such as Valkyria Chronicles et al – you've got your squad and each man has a certain movement range and number of actions they can do per turn. There’s some concessions made for more modern interpretations on what makes a game ‘difficult’ – you’ll never not be able to make it into cover for instance, but even on Normal difficulty it’s easy to get outwitted and ambushed. If you’re in a bad position as well, it can be hard to get out off without losing some men – so beware!

Firaxis have done a good job about making the action seem very cinematic. Transition between man-to-man, and between sides is very seamless, there’s even little cut-scenes for things like triggering an alien encounter, and even when a trooper ‘dashes’ for cover, or when a trooper is ambushed etc… and it doesn’t detract from the strategy either. You really have to think about what you’re doing, otherwise as we mentioned above you could find yourself in trouble.

Ok, maybe we'll spoil it a little bit...

There’s a lot more to this game then we’ve been told though. Given that it was only the beginning, we only had access to the basic stuff, but we did manage to interact briefly with the air interception part of the game – a basic affair that still ties into the management aspect and can lead to new ground missions. Not to mention the research and development improvements, the engineering works, balancing relations between ‘member nations’ who help fund the XCOM projects, expanding your base… there’s going to be plenty to do here on both side of the coin.

The only real negative point that we took away from our hands-on with this game is that we couldn’t play it longer. There are still some features that haven’t been implemented yet, but to be honest the only way this game could be a total failure was if the QA was lacking, but considering the only release information we have to go on right now is ‘late 2012’, we’re sure it’ll be fine… right? Right? The features are there, the atmosphere was there, and whether you’re an XCOM veteran or rookie, there’s a good, fun game here to get to grips with. Really, who even needs the FPS remake anymore (especially considering what happened with Syndicate). XCOM: Enemy Unknown is due sometime in the fall of 2012 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.

Top Game Moment: Well, seeing some of that late game content... we can’t wait to see what else the game has in store.

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