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Gamescom 2012 Hands-on: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

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Firaxis, better known for their work in the Civilization series, has undertaken the challenge to bring back the PC classic XCOM into the new generation of gaming. We were able to play the first few missions of the game, plus the tutorial, which gave us just below an hour of game time.

The tutorial is quick and to the point, as XCOM: Enemy Unknow is a simple game to pick up and play. You control a squad of four of the world’s best alien-hunting specialists, each with their unique look, personality, and skill set. These soldiers will level up depending on their performance in the missions, which grants them additional powers and abilities.

In short, aliens have landed on earth, and are killing and possessing human beings and causing trouble all around the globe. Only the XCOM soldiers have the training and tools to kill these aliens and send the rest back where they came from, saving the day once more.

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The tutorial begins with your squad examining a crash site, only to be ambushed by a group of aliens. Out of four of the soldiers that walked in, only one made it out alive. Death in XCOM: Enemy Unknown is permanent. If that one soldier you have been leveling up for hours falls in battle, he’s not coming back, which is why it may sometimes be wise to not send your best men and women to every mission.

XCOM is a turn-based strategy game, meaning your squad will move around the map, get behind cover and attack, then patiently wait for the aliens to do the same, and repeat. At first, your soldiers only have two action points, which break down into movement and shooting. You can either move your soldier a certain amount of units and attack, move him twice as many units and stop, or just attack and stay in the same place.

Placing your soldiers in strategic positions is key to victory, as you have to try to keep your men in cover at all times. If your brave little soldier is standing in the middle of the street, chances are he won’t last very long. It’s also important that if one of your men has a flank exposed, one of his teammates is covering him. The more a unit is under cover, the higher the chances the enemy will miss his shot, or at least deal significantly less damage. The same obviously works the other way: if an alien is using cover well, you’ll have trouble killing him.

Obviously, your units aren’t limited to a generic assault rifle. As I previously mentioned, each character has different skills and weapons. One of your units could be wielding a shotgun and a rocket launcher, whereas another may be wielding an assault rife, a pistol, and grenades. You can chose what weapon each unit is carrying and even customize them inside your G.I. Joe-style HQ.

Having played the demo on the Xbox and having a short go on the PC, we can safely say that the game works on consoles almost as well as on PC. Whilst the movement of the pointer can feel a little bulky and cumbersome at times, the fact that the game is turn-based gives you time to move the pointer more accurately. There is no noticeable difference between the Xbox and PS3 version, but the PC version is easily the superior one.

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We had a lot of fun with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The combat is deep and addictive, the mission objectives vary, and the experience is kept interesting. It’s easily one the best strategy games available for console.

If you are a fan of turn-based strategy games along the lines of Advance Wars or Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars or just a Firaxis fan, XCOM: Enemy Unkown does not disappoint. Look out for this game when it hits shelves on October 9.