Preview

XCOM: Enemy Unknown - The Enemy Within Preview (PS3)

There’s a reason why XCOM: Enemy Unknown was our Game of the Year last year. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best ‘remake’ to have come along in a while, and at its core it was a rather excellent tactical strategy game. It even worked surprisingly well on the home consoles too. Things have been strangely quiet though since the game’s 2012 release, with ‘Slingshot’ representing the only DLC that was put out for the game. A strange way to support a game that was received so well, but as we’ve learned over the past couple of months, Firaxis were working towards something meatier - a full blown expansion in the form of XCOM: Enemy Within.

AMMENDMENT:
Due to a misscommunication between myself and Firaxis, part of this article turns out to have been incorrect. There is no specific 'Director's Cut' ending, the last mission remains exactly as it was in Enemy Unknown. Apologies for any confusion we have caused. Point #1 has been edited and the false information removed.

It’s important that you understand what Enemy Within is. Firaxis have cited Civilization as an inspiration for the model they’re using, so Civ fans should know what to expect. In essence, this is a content expansion – new maps, new toys, new classes, a new enemy... There’s no new ‘campaign’ to fight or anything, you don’t see what happens next. Essentially, you fight the same war you’ve always fought, with the key pillars that drew you through the central narrative happening in the same order they always did. It sounds weird I know – the Civ model works for civ as there’s no central narrative, the players create their own stories through gameplay. Despite XCOM’s high replay value, it may seem a bit much to ask players to drop £19.99 just for some new gadgets.

 

I’m here to supply you with a few reasons as to why you should anyway.

#1 Same Destination, Different Journey

Sure, the core story doesn’t really change, although with the addition of the new content I’ll outline below, the way you experience and play out that story will change. The new enemy also adds a new side-story as well that you need to deal with, but I’ll get to that later. 

Just to be clear, the main points in the game are the same. Capturing an alien, assaulting the base, the Temple ship... it'll all play out as you remember, with the addition of the Exalt base assault and something else we suspect is also in there. The key narrative threats remain untouched though.

That’s not to mention the fact that they are also changing the quote that displays during the opening video, which clearly makes Enemy Within a whole new experience.

#2 EXALT & Covert Ops

You’ve already heard about the Mectoid (to counter your own MEC Troopers) and the Seekers as the new enemies. What you won’t have heard, because they’re just talking about it now, is that there’s another new enemy you have to deal with – EXALT. This is another XCOM-like shadow organisation, made up of humans who want the aliens to win. For whatever reason.

EXALT work differently than the aliens – you don’t shoot them down in their helicopters or stop them abducting citizens. Instead, they operate using ‘cells’ which will try and disrupt your operations. On a basic level, they can gradually increase the panic in a country so that it pulls out of XCOM, but we’re also told they can disrupt your research, or steal your funding, adding more variables in your day-to-day management.

EXALT, as a mechanic, is something that can last for a serious chunk of the game. You need to find and locate these cells; get rid of them, which will also reveal to you a clue as to where their main base is located. After three clues you can start guessing, but if you guess wrong that country immediately leaves XCOM, I guess because they were so insulted that they’d rather be abducted by aliens than hang out with a group of reprobates. Once you’ve found the base, you can assault it, which I assume will be a rather spectacular set-piece of a mission, as it’s only ever going to happen once per game.

Dealing with the cells themselves is more standardised, like UFO crashes or abduction sites, but they’re dealt with using the new ‘Covert Ops’ interface. Essentially, you need to scan countries for cells (which costs money, naturally), and then send in one of your soldiers to infiltrate it and find out what they can – they will be armed only with a pistol and whatever equipment they can equip. This takes them off the roster for a couple of days. Once they’re done, you have to perform an extraction mission.

There are currently only two types of Covert Ops related missions, one where you need to rescue the operative (much like that first council mission during the tutorial, although you have full control of your guy from the beginning), and another where you need to protect a piece of equipment from many, many waves of enemies. The first one is pretty manageable if you know how those types of mission work, the second is a real B***h of a mission.

 

The EXALT forces are essentially mirrors of your own – they use the Heavy, Sniper, Assault and Support classes the same as you do, with the same abilities as well (maybe not all of them, but you’ll recognise a few). The only weapons we’ve confirmed them using so far is standard weapons, although who’s to say they won’t get their hands on better tech as you do.

#3 Base Defence Mission

This isn’t a confirmed thing, but if you look at your Steam Achievements List for Enemy Unknown, you’ll see a bunch of new achievements that relate to the new content in Enemy Within. One of these reads:

“All Hands On Deck – Get at least 4 kills with XCOM base security personnel”

When I asked Creative Director Ananda Gupta Something about this, he simply smiled at me and said that it sounded like a really interesting achievement, but that he didn’t know what it could possibly relate to. I’m fully prepared to admit that this ‘Base Defence’ scenario may not turn out how everyone might think it’s going to turn out, but it’s clear that something along those lines is coming.

#4 Everything else we know so far

Let’s not forget what we already know about – on the squad side of things, you’ll have new options to explore in genetically OR cybernetically enhanced soldiers, with the latter evolving into a new type of class called the MEC Trooper. MEC Troopers have a lot of firepower, like the Heavy, but also have the gravitas to take on things like Berserkers and Mutons head on. The G-mod soldiers aren’t their own class, but you can modify soldiers to help them do what they do better. Like giving a sniper the ability to jump up really high, so that they don’t need to wait until the Skeleton Suit in order to find elevation. There’s a new resource called ‘Meld’ that’s also associated with these new choices.

Mectoids and Seekers have already been mentioned, but they’ll make tactical battles just that much harder, with the differing tactics. More item options – new grenade types etc... will also be available, to also provide additional tactical options.

 


There are going to be more new map types as well – farm settings, urban UFO crashes, and they’ve updated the visuals a little bit as well so that everything looks better. We saw one example that took place on a dam, with rushing water below it.

There will also be another series of connected missions, a la Slingshot, called ‘Operation Progeny’. This was originally going to be a second piece of DLC for the game, but due to scheduling conflicts it had to be pushed back, and so they decided to re-tool it a little and stick it into the expansion as optional content.

#5 Everything else we DON’T know so far

Believe or not, this isn’t it. Ananda was very upfront about how there was still more to come that he couldn’t talk about. Technically speaking the Base Defence thing hasn’t been talked about officially yet, even though the info has basically been leaked. Whether or not that’s the last surprise, or whether there’s even more to come, only time will tell.

 

Enemy Within is a content expansion, but if you think that means it’s not going to be worth the investment, then clearly you’ve TL:DR’d and skipped to this paragraph. New content will be inserted at nearly every point of your game, from your first battle against the alien, to the last fight in the Temple Ship (if that’s even still there). You may be fighting the same war, but the way that war plays out and the challenges you face whilst fighting it will be completely new (we hope).

On a final note, it’s worth pointing out that while PC/Steam users will be able to download the Enemy Within update as an expansion, console owners will have to buy XCOM: Enemy Within as a separate retail release. They’re releasing a special ‘Commander Edition’ SKU that will have the original game, with the new Enemy Within content, in addition to the Slingshot and Elite Soldier Pack DLC. You might as well trade in your copy of Enemy Unknown if you’re getting it on console.

XCOM: Enemy Within is due out on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC on November 12th, 2013 in North America and November 15th 2013 in Europe. Can’t wait.

Quote of the Day: “He really went above and beyond the call of duty there. We had to say to [The Lead Animator] ‘No John, the soldiers need to run as well. We can’t have you spending every waking moment of your time getting the tilt ratio on the wings of the Skyranger correct.’” – Ananda Gupta, Creative Lead, on the amount of effort that was put into making the Skyranger animations.

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