XCOM: Enemy Within Review for PC

XCOM: Enemy Within Review for PC

XCOM: Awesome Within!

Last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown remake of the 1994 turn-based RPG was a critical success. It combined top-notch strategy, both on the battlefield and through base management, with insatiable replayability. The criticisms were minor, but the developers at Firaxis took them to heart, and thus embarked on a mission to raise the stature of the series. So instead of improving the formula with a sequel, they decided on an expansion pack, but not in the expected fashion. XCOM: Enemy Within is not a separate plot with disjointed storylines in an alternate setting. Instead, it is an upgrade of the original, adding new classes, new enemies, new resources, new missions, new customizations, and a new threat to the XCOM organization.

This new menace, however, does not reside within the ranks of the alien invaders, but with an alien sympathizing group called EXALT, which has an ulterior motive to harness the advanced technology that the extraterrestrials wield and use it for its own scrupulous purposes. It opposes XCOM, and thus if left unchecked, will impede the progress of your well-calculated base management. In order to subvert its sinister plot, you must first scan for possible EXALT cells. After a location is confirmed, you must send one of your soldiers on a covert mission and recover vital intel. After a few days pass, your operative will need to be extracted, with EXALT hot on the heels of your agent.

Unlike the tactics of the aliens, EXALT troops are classed much like your team, and require a you to think more like you would playing against a human opponent. Support members will use Medikits and smoke grenades; Heavies will launch rockets (strategically at clusters if possible); Assault troops will rush headfirst with a shotgun in hand, and Snipers will pick off those foolish enough to not end their turn behind cover. The AI does a decent job adjusting to your advancements, and cocky players who’ve set the difficulty to Classic or Impossible will quickly have the smirks wiped off their faces, whether they’ve chosen the gripping one-save Ironman mode or not.

But remember, you still have an alien threat to worry about, and XCOM: Enemy Within has given them some beefy, new content as well. The standard series of missions from last year’s game are still present. You’ll scan for alien threats, from abductions to terror missions to shooting down UFOs and raiding the vessels with a ground team. However, there are now some scripted missions added, and they are by far the most gripping. One such mission occurs on the docks of a fishing village in Canada, with nary a human in sight. After a few silent turns, you’ll soon realize that the stringed up sharks have become breeding vessels for Chrysallids, the terrifying quadrupedal aliens that spit their eggs into the mouths of their victims, causing them to rise as “zombies” until the hatchling bursts from the human husk. After discovering that a whale is being used as a hive for the Chrysallids, you must call in an air strike, racing to the recovery point before the countdown expires, dodging Chrysallids as you run. It’s intense.

XCOM: Enemy Within Screenshot

Another excellent example of a new mission is one that forces you to defend your own HQ from a large alien force that has discovered the location of your base (likely where the game’s moniker comes from). Pinned down from all sides, the odds are against you, and unlike other missions, there’s no managing your team and their loadouts beforehand. Failure to repel the aliens results in an instant game over, and you can bet your heart will be racing on Ironman mode.

In addition to new missions, the aliens have also improved their roster, adding two new alien types. The first is called a Seeker, a tentacle-laden flying cyborg with the ability to cloak itself and strangle your troops. They are relatively easy to dispatch, but their ability to become invisible will have you treading tenuously across the battlefield. The second is the Mechtoid, which is essentially a Sectoid strapped into a suit of mechanized armor. They are loaded with hit points, can be augmented psionically through other Sectoids, and blast away pretty much anything with their twin plasma cannons. These behemoths are obviously meant to go toe-to-toe with your newly acquired mechanized troops.

XCOM: Enemy Within Screenshot

By acquiring a new resource called Meld, which can be found during missions in containers timed to self-destruct, you can retrofit any soldier into a MEC suit, granting them powers unlike anything a standard soldier can wield. The other use of Meld is to enhance features of the human body to superhuman levels, such as the ability to jump three stories onto a rooftop, or being able to regenerate health. The two applications require the building of a Cybernetics lab for MEC production or a Genetics lab for human augmentation. Meld is acquired very early in the campaign, adding a greater amount of choice for your team makeup, but requiring you to pay even closer attention to your resources and income.

Multiplayer has also received a much-needed upgrade from what was widely criticized as one of the weaker elements of XCOM: Enemy Unknown . It’s still the same task of choosing a team of up to six using a point system to keep matches even. Of course, custom, unranked sessions can have options like turn time limit and point allocation adjusted. A 1-on-1 skirmish is yet again the only mode, but at least this time, there are thirteen maps in total to choose from, instead of the paltry five from before. Also, you now have the ability to custom build troop loadouts offline, allowing you to load your team and get right into the action. It’s nothing too complex, but it’s always a new challenge playing against another human rather than an AI, with a leaderboard that tracks wins, losses, and disconnects.

XCOM: Enemy Within Screenshot

The quality of the visuals is something that hasn’t changed much from the original remake. There are some smoother environmental textures and better application of lighting and shaders, but the character models still look fairly rough and lack detail. However, there are a whole bunch of new color combinations, armor deco, hairstyles, and helmets to give your troops a more personalized look. Firaxis also hasn’t corrected the many instances of characters being lost in walls and shooting directly through obstacles.

The musical score keeps in line with the intensity of the global threat, with heightened moments as enemies are spotted and engaged. In between missions, the tracks are subdued back at HQ, but still provide a sense of the burden you bear as the commander of XCOM. Firaxis has also taken strides to allow many of your recruits to speak the native language of their homeland. Most European vocals, from German, French, Spanish, and even Polish can be found. It’s a nice touch, but I feel like at least every country on the XCOM Council should have been given a voice. Chinese and Japanese are noticeably absent, and every English accent is American, so the British and Australian contingent feels vocally out of place.

Upon first glance, you may think that the intent of XCOM: Enemy Within being more of an upgrade than an expansion makes it unworthy of a purchase. This is absolutely not the case. Nearly every feature of the game has something new, and when combined together with the original game, makes an already addictive experience that much more compelling. If you’ve already dumped countless hours into dozens of campaigns with XCOM: Enemy Unknown , this game is fresh enough to add countless more. If you’ve been on the fence about the XCOM reboot, there’s no better time to find your new obsession.

The new maps give some much-needed variety to the visuals. The effects and lighting are plausible, but the character models and physics are still a step behind where they should be. 4.8 Control
The turn-based action and grid battlefield is tailor made for the PC. Managing the menus back at HQ is also quick and simple. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
All the right tones fit the dire ambience of an alien invasion. It would have been nice if Firaxis went all the way with the added language vocals. 5.0 Play Value
The original game had enough replayability to warrant a 5.0, and now there’s even more to do. Be prepared to lose many hours saving the world, over and over. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • New Soldier Abilities: Research a new alien technology to advance the capabilities of your operatives: Gene Mods–Construct the Genetics Lab to physically enhance your operatives’ abilities, including augmentations to the chest, brain, eyes, skin, and legs. MECs–Build the Cybernetics Lab to enable the construction of the new Mechanized Exoskeletal Cybersuit, or MEC. The new MEC Trooper class has specialized abilities, and each suit can be upgraded with new weapons, including the flamethrower and grenade launcher.
  • New Weapons and Equipment: Give your operatives an extra tactical edge with new projects from your engineering team and the Foundry.
  • New Enemy Threats: Adopt new tactics to counter the threats from two new alien classes, including the Mechtoid.
  • New Strategic Resource: A valuable new alien resource, known as MELD, has been released onto the landscape, providing access to new research and upgrades.
  • New Tactical Challenges and Maps: New tactical challenges are introduced across an additional 47 maps.
  • New Multiplayer Maps, Units, and Abilities: Create your custom squad from a wider array of options, and dominate your opponent in intense, one-on-one, turn-based matches.

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