Gamescom 2012: XCOM: Enemy Unknown Hands-On Multiplayer Preview – When Aliens Attack!
Written Wednesday, August 29, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Remember XCOM: UFO Defense? No? It was a revered PC strategy game back in the day, and Firaxis is looking to bring it back, kicking and screaming into the 21st century with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. As civilisation faces its last stand, you're tasked with saving mankind from the tyranny of invading aliens as part of the eponymous XCOM posse, a well-funded operation concerned with researching and developing extra-terrestrial technology to better understand and deal with those pesky interplanetary bastards. Enemy Unknown is looking to return the RTS franchise to the top of its game, and you know what? It looks poised to do all that, and then some.
Priding itself on its “rich and deep” tactical system, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is about as console-friendly as PC-centric real-time strategy games get, with its sweeping camera system and over-the shoulder shooting putting you right into the thick of the action. We're eased into the mechanics of the game, which are broken down for you in a story-led tutorial section set on the streets of Berlin, where a crashed alien pod has been discovered. Sent in with your team, you're tasked with assessing the situation and dealing with it accordingly.
The tutorial takes you through it all step by step, and the outcome of the mission is unavoidable and inevitable. Suffice it to say, things don't end particularly well, but at least you've learnt the ropes, so it's not all bad. Transported to your ant farm-esque HQ, you're debriefed by mission control and shown the fruits of your labour. You have the research and development department where you can unlock the secrets of alien technology and add interceptor jets, body armour and more to your arsenal, or perform alien autopsies and deploy satellites to monitor alien activity. There are “limitless possibilities”, says Firaxis.
You can also promote any surviving members of your squad and upgrade their abilities, but be warned: when one of your operatives dies, they die for good, never to return. Ever. “There's a greater feeling of success when the odds are stacked against you,” our man from Firaxis enthuses. You're also concerned with managing panic levels around the globe as the alien threat spreads, and you can access the 'Geoscape' world map from mission control, which is the nerve centre of your XCOM hideout. Anyway, that's the single-player stuff. What about multiplayer? Obviously the concept and goals are essentially the same, and the turn-based system is also present and correct. But there's a twist. You're on a stringent 2-minute time limit for each turn, so quick thinking is utterly vital to success.
Multiplayer matches begin with you and your opponent choosing their loadout with a set limit of 10,000 points to spend on your units and any upgrades or abilities you want to take into battle with you. Achieving the perfect alchemy of units and other accoutrements will no doubt be a source of debate among friends and rivals, and finding the sweet spot for your 10,000 points should prove a challenge in itself. Selecting your loadout, you can have any combination of aliens and human XCOM operatives too, so should you so desire, you can have freaky thin men, mind-controlling Mutons and flying, weaponised cyber discs rubbing shoulders with armoured, gun-toting troopers.
Beginning with the Trainyard map, we start by moving our units into position, while the fog of war prevents your opponent from seeing where you're moving to, and conversely, you're left second-guessing where your enemies are going to emerge from. Figuring that the best tactics are to spread out, we set up around the train carriages and crates, only to find that our opponents are coming in from the side. With each two-minute move, we strive to get into a position where we can fire upon our rival with our operatives' rifles, while our big berserker alien goes head to head with his twin brother on the opposite team. The battle goes back and forth, but our rival's tactics and moves tear our team to shreds, especially as their Muton possesses and assumes control of one of our key operatives.
Hoping to learn from our mistakes, and realising that chess-like thought and being the better tactician ultimately wins out, we start over on the Cemetery map, putting more consideration into our loadout. This time around, we employ a floating battle robot thingy, an assault trooper, a sniper, a sectoid commander and a chrysallid, which upon killing a human, lays an egg inside the corpse that later bursts out of the zombified remains as another chrysallid. Surely this time we can't lose. Setting up behind tombstones, you're able to entrench yourself behind full cover or semi cover, and the latter normally places you closer to your target. Our rival's moves are hidden behind the distant fog of war for the first three turns, before everyone assembles on the battlefield to square up to one another.
Immediately, one of our most valuable units is once again in the thrall of one of those irritating mind-controlling Mutons, and already things aren't quite going our way. Bringing up the action menu with the right trigger, our sniper is able to pick off a couple of the weaker troops with some repeat shots, but where we've placed our chrysallid renders him almost completely ineffectual. Most units have two moves apiece per turn, and you can only move so far each time, so having the foresight to move them into the right place can be tricky. Slowly and agonisingly taken to pieces, our sniper is the last woman standing and a thin man finishes the match by zapping her into oblivion. Thinking and planning ahead really is paramount, and clearly, we need a lot more practice.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown not only looks great, but it seems to have all of the tactical depth and detail that you'd expect from any full-fat real-time strategy game. Multiplayer is looking to offer a proper dose of chin-stroking turn-based gameplay too, with limitless scope to refine and perfect that all-important loadout, while trading tips with your friends and enemies. Or perhaps you'll want to go all Area 51 on their asses, and keep your winning alien formula to yourself in the secret hangar that is your brainpan. Either way, XCOM: Enemy Unknown promises all of the intricacies and features you'd normally find in a PC RTS, but on your console. The truth isn't out there... It's right here, and we want to find out more.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be probing you where the sun don't shine on October 9th in North America and October 12th in Europe.