2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown was undeniably one of the best console strategy videogames of last year, if not on the previous generation of consoles. In the wake of a tidal shift as gamers look towards news hardware 2K Games are keen to ensure that their confidence in XCOM’s rebirth isn’t pushed aside, but while this summer’s The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was met with a disappointingly muted response, this autumn’s XCOM: Enemy Within is likely to perform much better despite it essentially being a re-release.
For those who have been paying attention suggesting that XCOM: Enemy Within is merely a re-issuing of XCOM: Enemy Unknown may seem harsh – there is plenty of new content tucked in and around the familiar core – however you are essentially replaying the same single-player campaign. XCOM: Enemy Within is that original release redrawn to create a home for the new content. Some would call it the ‘directors cut’ while others would suggest that it’s nothing more than a cash grab. The truth probably lies somewhere between.
Marketing practices aside, XCOM: Enemy Within is just as deeply engrossing in 2013 as XCOM: Enemy Unknown was in 2012. From the very beginning of the videogame the player is loaded with a vast array of options that reach far beyond than of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, most of which will be fairly meaningless to inexperienced players. And therein lies the rub: XCOM: Enemy Within has been faced with the very difficult task of being welcoming to newcomers while remaining an attractive proposition to the established audience. For the most part it does well in achieving this goal.
While the campaign remains largely the same as it was in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it does offer players the opportunity to skip the tutorial and thus begun with a different mission. From here on out players tackle the action in the same fashion as the original release: building their base and taking the tactical action to the enemy in turn-based combat. The base operations offer the player to research new technology and build new items or facilities from the off, but the more interesting addition brought about by this re-release is the ability to modify soldiers.
Modifying your soldiers using alien genetic material is conducted in your base in the same fashion as committing to research or building a new room: you are given a series of options with a number of statistics about each and have to decide where your limited resources are best spent. Modifying your soldiers can improve statistics or infer new abilities, however players can also augment their troops, and this is a whole new ball game.
Augmenting troops dramatically changes their size and stature; whomever you choose to invest in augmentation will not come back the same. They are no longer you support officer or assault fighter, they have become MEC Trooper, and as such you must build them a MEC suit and command them in a very different manner. They are your heaviest of heavy’s capable of doing great damage when used correctly but also a potential ball-and-chain for those not capable of leading their front line with the greatest tactical defence they have.
Both the augmentations and modified soldiers add a great new level of tactical manipulation of resources before the battle and, of course, new depths of strategy in the field. XCOM: Enemy Within does add new missions into the campaign which are clearly designed to make use of these features and do so well, but the real test will always be against likeminded players. XCOM: Enemy Within performs well online, and the new tactical options are perfectly balanced so neither player can secure an easy win simply be executing a worn tactic. This is an elaborate game or rock, paper, scissors – just as XCOM has always been – and Electronic Theatre simply couldn’t get enough of it.
The visual quality hasn’t been touched since last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but just as was the case then the same is true now: it’s comfortable enough in its design to relay all the valuable information regarding the success or failure of your strategies, and the opportunities therein. XCOM: Enemy Within is a deeply tactical videogame and the emphasis lies squarely on making the right decision at the right time. It’s not pretty and it’s not easy, but it is hugely compelling. Some may struggle to get past the fact that XCOM: Enemy Within is simply a retread of old ground with a few new twists, but as far as Electronic Theatre is concerned more XCOM can only be a good thing.