Bloody aliens – always invading for the flimsiest of reasons. Except in XCOM, Firaxis’ reboot of the classic tactical strategy game, there’s clearly something more sinister surrounding the extra-terrestrial threat, the smart plot just one of many shining delights of the game.
Playing as commander of the Earth’s defence efforts, gameplay is broadly split into two sections. Turn-based strategic combat sees you direct soldiers to kill or capture invaders, recover artefacts and rescue civilians. Then, using the items your forces have gathered, building and upgrading the XCOM base and training your military demands keen resource management.
The balance between the two styles feels spot on – you’ll never be mulling about the base screens for too long before you’re alerted to a mission, and the time you do spend researching new technology and improvements pays off ten-fold in the field.
The only exception to this is during the earlier, tutorial-driven missions, a period of the game that goes on far too long. Being dragged from one alien incursion to the next with little time to explore other facets becomes frustrating, especially as the game does a great job of making you feel comfortable with its systems long before it lets go of your hand. Occasional targeting errors in combat present another frustration, normally when a soldier is positioned directly in front of an enemy yet the percentage of hitting remains low.
Once given full command though, missions play out pleasingly quickly. An initial four-person squad can be expanded to a maximum of six, and inputting commands for each member is swift and intuitive. Maps are perfectly sized – large enough to experiment with different approaches or tactics, but not so vast you’ll lose track of objectives. Despite its nippy nature, XCOM never quite becomes a full-on shoot out, but then it’s not meant to. Instead, XCOM is a strategy game the Call of Duty crowd can enjoy for its immediacy, without losing the depth long-term fans of the series crave.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen