XCOM: Enemy Within Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC
XCOM: Enemy Within Box Art
System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Dev: Firaxis Games
Pub: 2K Games
Release: November 12, 2013
Players: 1 (2 PvP multiplayer)
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence
XCOM: Awesome Within!
by Sean Engemann

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.

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