E3 2012: XCOM: Enemy Unknown Top Secret Preview
Briefing you on a ‘need to know’ basis
©2012 Arthur Kotsopoulos
Not to be confused with XCOM the First Person Shooter developed by 2K Marin, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the Real Time Turn-Based RPG strategy game developed by Firaxis, the company behind the Sid Meier franchise.
You may have read countless other previews regarding Enemy Unknown and have learned that the previewer has experienced the original titles in the franchise.
I’m about to break from the norm as I’ve never played the original XCOM games, so if you continue to read after this what you’ll get is the insight from an open and fresh gamer’s mind.
Set up in a meeting room a few levels up from the lobby of the hotel the preview was being held at, I couldn’t help but feel that the cold and rainy weather viewable from the balcony of the room was the perfect setting for getting my hands dirty defeating the alien scum that has decided to invade Earth.
Sitting in the executive chairs in front of large TV’s with XCOM: Enemy Unknown running in the background, we were briefed on what we’d get to see and what we would get to play.
We begin our briefing with an exclusive hands off demo that only high clearance level operatives were allowed to see.
For your eyes only
Setting the grim picture of an alien invasion with an opening cutscene displaying civilians running away from their impending doom, Beta Squad is tasked with the risky mission of defending the city against the extra terrestrials.
After trying their best against new enemies that are introduced in Enemy Unknown and old enemies familiar to veteran gamers of the franchise, Beta Squad is wiped out.
Our remaining soldier is subjected to the mind control ability of the alien enemy and blown up in gruesome fashion. This triggers XCOM command to request permission to let loose Reaper Squad.
Consisting of 5 squad members, each with a unique outfit and abilities, these are the best of the best and one of the only hopes for the continued existence of the human race.
From the get-go, we’re shown that their abilities provide tactical gameplay advantages: one soldier had the ability to jetpack to unreachable places for a height advantage, where another had “Ghost Armour” granting the ability to be invisible, sneak up on enemies and take them out swiftly.
After Reaper Squad had taken out the bad guys we were met with a cutscene that showed the squad in formation ready to tackle the gigantic robotic like alien that smashed its way through the adjacent building. Cue cut to black and this is where our hands on with the game started.
Alien invasion training 101
As for how it will run on home consoles we won’t know for a while until hopefully after E3.
Getting into the thick of things, 2K gave us hands on with the first thirty to forty minutes of the game which consisted of a tutorial and the first 2 levels of Enemy Unknown.
It’s here we learn how to navigate the playing field and XCOM command, while also wrapping our minds around the HUD and controls.
What instantly caught my eye was that when choosing where to place our units, to which you only have 2 turns for each character, every piece of the environment has a defensive cover rating.
This is represented by a badge that, depending on the cover at hand, could be full, half full or empty. With no enemies in sight, XCOM notified us that each character, if we were to choose to place them in cover that was outside our radius, would use up both turns at once.
This meant they would dash to reach cover, leaving them susceptible to enemy fire and could result in a quick death and a disadvantage. Each units radius is represented by a blue line with anything outside represented by a yellow one.
Continuing with the the tutorial, up ahead lay a building which needed breaching that could be entered in a number of ways; opening or kicking down the door or breaking through any accessible window.
Inside our squad was met with by a friendly who was possessed by an alien under mind control. It was here we made our final stand.
Some units have the option of carrying grenades or equipping rocket launchers if they’ve gained enough experience to level up that have a damage radius which would kill/hurt anything or anyone within in.
After dealing with the pesky aliens only one of our members survived and XCOM ordered us onto the next helicopter back to XCOM Command, resembling an ant farm consisting all the basic base necessities:
- Barracks: Here you can individually customize each unit from hair, name and appearance, to weapon load-outs, body armour as well as abilities.
- Science Lab: Headed by the ever so delightful Dr Vahlen, here you’re able to research new upgrades via equipment that’s automatically recovered each mission (Note: each research item takes days to complete)
- Engineering: Here you can research weapon upgrades via recovered items during each mission.
- Situation Room: Oversee the main campaign and current active missions.
The Situation Room allows you, as stated above, to oversee current missions that are available to you as well as each country’s “Panic Levels”. In the first two missions it was evident that the Panic Levels of each ally will play a big part throughout the course of the campaign.
Helping out the US over China in the first mission we were rewarded with 4 new scientists to help better our researching capabilities.
In light of this however, China’s Panic Levels raised from 1 to 3/5 and things didn’t look so good.
Reaching 5/5 could mean that China pulls their resources and in the end we may not have the required assets to rein victorious over the alien threat.
This really puts a spin on things and it’s good to see that your actions will have a larger effect on the overall outcome.
When choosing which mission you want to tackle you’ll be required to invest a level of dedication and craftsmanship for the following reasons:
- Any unit can perish under the hands of the alien enemy,
- Eliminating all the aliens in a mission can result in better rewards crucial to faster research in the Science Lab/Engineering etc…
- The environment is destructible, so any unit behind a car can be damaged via splash damage from the explosion if the car is blown up
- Aliens hiding in a house can be eliminated if any of your units has a rocker launcher and level the house, making life a lot easier
The game’s art style and graphics compliment the refined gameplay nicely which features the usual suspects such as “Fog of War and “Line of Sight” and “Overwatch” which puts units in a shoot on sight mode for any enemy that wanders in their line of sight.
Voice acting never reaches the level of cheese found in most games today even though this is a game about aliens invading Earth.
Character animations feel fluid, from mounting from cover to running, and they’re complimented with the cinematic/dynamic camera.
This option can be turned off if you wish, however I felt that it adds to the overall experience. Any character that dashes or shoots an enemy sees the camera switch to a dynamic angle getting you into the action.
The Xbox 360 controller never hinders the speed or efficiency of controlling your squad and each action is mapped to the right buttons.
With a little practice you could order a unit to climb a water pipe and a building for height advantage, while you order another to take cover behind a crate and lob a grenade into the group of enemies up ahead- all in the click of a few buttons.
With its release in October and in a market that has a lack of RTS games, XCOM: Enemy Unknown looks to break free of the norm.
It features enough content to keep you occupied for hours on end, and with the option of customizing your squad how you see fit, I honestly don’t see myself leaving my room until I’ve eliminated the alien threat once and for all. [Ed.: But then they'll come back as alien zombies! What could be worse?]