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X-Com: Enemy Unknown – A Modern Take on an Old School Game

Arts & Entertainment

by James Jones, student and game master, defeating all contenders!

Platforms: Windows PC (, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3

Price: $49.99

X-Com: Enemy Unknown is a remake of the cult classic 1994 X-COM: UFO Defense, developed by Firaxis Games. Set in the modern day, the game puts the player in the role of commander of the multi-national military organization X-COM and pits Earth’s finest against an unrelenting and devastating alien invasion.

X-COM is the multi-national response to a sudden alien invasion. Unfortunately, the invaders’ technology vastly outclasses Earth’s and it’s up to you not only to fight them off, but also to study them in the hopes of evening the playing field. Add to this rising panic when you can’t save everyone, deadly combat that can kill your most experienced soldiers at any time and limited resources, and you’ll need every advantage you can get. The soldier upgrades, advanced technology, and psionic powers might not be enough to save the world.

Enemy Unknown inherits much of its gameplay and story from its predecessor and the game is split between two distinct modes of play. The core of play is the turn-based tactical combat where the player directs a squad of four to six soldiers in battle against an invading alien force. Initially outgunned, the player directs the X-COM headquarters’ research and training efforts. Beyond merely fighting off the alien invaders, the tasks of capturing their technology and prisoners, and managing panic in the populous add layers of depth and challenge.

The turn-based tactical combat adds several features not found in the original game. Cover is the most relevant to gameplay, as keeping your soldiers safely behind it is vitally important to having any soldiers left at the end of a battle. Use of each soldier’s equipment and special abilities uses a toolbar user interface and are gained through research and promotions for surviving missions. The updated graphics come with action shots showing orders executed in dramatic fashion and banter between soldiers in the field.

Back at base, the game uses an “ant farm” diorama layout. The player places new workspaces and can receive bonuses for clever arrangement of the game’s research, workshop and training facilities. Much of this aspect of the game is directly carried over from the original and the player will research aliens and technology retrieved on missions. However, like the action shots in combat, the updated graphics allow the player to watch their base in detail, including individual personnel going about their business. Though Enemy Unknown lowers the number of bases the player can have to the single headquarters, it also offers substantial bonuses depending on where in the world that single base is.

The original X-COM game is one of the most beloved cult classic in gaming, widely considered to be the pinnacle of turn based tactical games despite a string of poorly received sequels. Its tense and blisteringly difficult tactical gameplay blended with strategic concerns such as research and world-wide air defense has earned it a place as one of the top games of all time. Staying faithful to this format has earned Enemy Unknown a great deal of interest not shown to XCOM, another recently announced game that re-imagines the series as a tactical shooter.

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