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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

By on October 20th, 2012 1:58 am
"Nothing like starting your day in the X-COM Geoscope room"

"Nothing like starting your day in the X-COM Geoscope room"

X-COM is probably one of the best sci-fi gaming series ever made for the PC, and no doubt one of Microprose’ most successful also. The series has many titles but sci-fi and strategy enthusiasts tend to elect the first three chapters as the best, namely UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-COM: UFO Defense), X-COM: Terror from the Deep and X-COM: Apocalypse. These are science fiction real-time strategy games combined with turn-based tactics on an alien invasion setting.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown from Firaxis Games and 2K Games is the new X-COM installment, and it’s a re-imagining version, or reboot, with a particular focus on the series’ first chapter. So, it’s not a straight remake. The game mechanics stayed basically the same, but there are a few significant differences as well, as not unexpected.

Now, as there are at least two types of gamers reading this review: people who played the original game (OG from this point forward) and people who didn’t, I thought it would be interesting to include some notes on the review on what’s new, different or removed from the OG as I go through.

I’m a long time veteran and fan of the series. These games were my life at the time. So, expect a review filled with references to the original games. However, I’ll do my best to keep the review completely meaningful even if you strip out all those references. XCOM:EU is a re-imagining version of previous X-COM games but it’s still quite a different game in itself, and deserves to be reviewed also by its own.

So, first an introduction and some game description, especially for newcomers. Veterans can skip the next section and jump into “The Start”.

Defend Humanity From an Alien Invasion

Your mission in XCOM:EU is the same as in the original games: you must lead a secret organization called X-COM (or XCOM) and deal with an alien invasion of unknown origin and purpose, over a series of hostile encounters. The encounters are the tactical part. The other half of the game, the strategic part, is where you try to understand what’s going on and need to figure out how to deal with the invading aliens, and find out what their purposes and secrets are in the hope to understand them better and take better action against them.

So, at the same time you react in the battle field with your special elite force, you must research whatever you recover from the alien encounters in order to progress through the game. This will lead you to unlock new technologies based on the alien invaders’ own weaponry and physiology. You also maintain a small fleet of jet fighters standing by in case you need to try shooting down some alien ships.

And, you must do all this with a limited funding that you get from a series of countries through a somewhat mysterious and secretive council. However, you must assist these countries if they suffer alien abductions or terror assaults, otherwise they will cut their financing to the X-COM project. Lose more than eight countries’ support and it’s game over.

"India, Germany or Canada? Hum... let me check the situation room"

"India, Germany or Canada? Hum... let me check the situation room"

X-COM in a sentence would be: React to a hostile alien activity; learn all you can about the aliens as fast as possible; defend humanity from abductions and terror incursions; turn the odds in your favor by countering the aliens absurdly technology superiority and their element of surprise; hope to know more about their plans and find out where they are coming from, and with what purpose; neutralize them if possible; save humanity.

Now, if you’re a sci-fi enthusiast tell me if wouldn’t want to be the commander of this organization? :)

The Start

If you skip the tutorial at first play, which I strongly suggest you do not, you will jump right into your first tactical mission with a squad of 4 rookie soldiers. Rookie in the sense that they don’t yet show any particular trait worth exploiting. But first, you need to choose in which continent you want to set your base on. And that’s the first big decision you need to make right there, since each continent will give you a different kind of bonus, an important bonus. Strategy starts the very first second you start the game.

But getting back to your first mission. In the OG you didn’t have the 4 soldiers squad limitation. You could send up to 14 soldiers into battle. This XCOM:EU new restriction is something I know many veterans dislike but I do not have a problem with it at all. Let me explain why.

First let me agree by saying that 4 is too few soldiers. That’s why one of the very first things you need to do is work your way through the game to lift this limit to 5 and then to 6 troops as quickly as you can. But then that’s it, you cannot bring more than 6 units into combat, period. Think that maybe you would need better logistic support to send more than 4 soldiers into battle, and that more than 6 is not intended because XCOM’s organization is more like a special ops organization than a standard army unit. Secrecy, discretion and efficiency are paramount, so less in this sense is more.

But, why don’t I have a problem with a 6 squad limit?

Because, I remember very well that in the OG you would love to bring plenty of troops in the beginning, when the aliens are far superior in tech. But, after a while (not that much time after), you would start bringing the same troops into battle over and over again, and fewer and fewer in numbers. Why? Because some soldier’s experience would increase after each battle which would lead them having better stats like aim, reaction and life, for example. So, you would end up with a smaller elite group and all the rest would be dispensable rookies with very little purpose other than serving as replenishing units when someone on the elite squad dies. At least this was my experience playing the OG.

Moreover, let’s be honest. How many troops did you bring with you in mid/late games in the OG? About half a dozen? Perhaps a bit more. 6 +1 tank, 6 +2 tanks tops? Another factor to consider is battle fatigue. After a while it could become a bit boring to cycle through a lot of soldiers. So, in my opinion the design decision of not having more than 6 soldiers is not really a big issue, if an issue at all. Perhaps you could go with one or two more but frankly I don’t think this limits the fun you take out from the game.

"Present you my X-COM Dream Team"

"Present you my X-COM Dream Team"

More On Troops and Inventory

Your troops get promoted over time after finishing missions. And, it’s not only their stats that improve but they can also specialize in four different areas: Assault, Heavy, Sniper and Support. This is new. In the OG your troops were way more generic. They would get their stats improved over time, and you could exploit this to equip your best troops with your top gear, usually your best weapons. While the least interesting soldiers would become grenadiers, field medics, stunners, scouts or whatever other role you would design for them.

In XCOM:EU your troops are either rookies (all almost identical with no specialization) or they specialize in one of those four categories. And, they will specialize deeper and deeper because each category has its own skill tree  in which most of the times you must make important choices every time your troop “levels up”, in pure RPG style. Some people may argue that it would be better to have a word on what specialization a particular soldier gets, but quite frankly I think it makes more sense to let the computer assign a role and live with it for a change.

I think the specialization is attributed randomly, I don’t think it’s related with what you do in battle at all, but I think that particular soldier may have shown aptitude for a particular specialization. I don’t think this is a problem really. You end up having a very diverse group. And when you reach a stage where you think you have too many Snipers, for example, you can just afford to dismiss some of them and hire new rookies and hope they specialize in something else. I think this is more realistic than “forcing” specializations.

There’s inventory management in XCOM:EU, no doubt. You can equip your troops with different armor, weapons, decide to bring grenades, stunners or other equipment. BUT, and this is another possible veteran complaint, you cannot choose freely what each unit brings to the battlefield. You can only equip your troops with one grenade for example, although that restriction can be uplifted with a special unlocked skill of a particular specialization. Also, each soldier can only bring one medikit with them, although again there’s a special unlock available to allow you to bring more and another unlocked skill that allows medikits to have a greater effect.

You can’t equip your snipers with normal rifles or assault troops with sniper rifles and so forth. So, they designed the inventory and squad management in a way that forces you to specialize  your troops and avoid having you leveling up everything with grenades for example. And, in the end grenades are not that effective in any case. There could be other reasons that led them to implement this inventory restriction, like cover being a central aspect of the game, and grenades can destroy cover, or because maps are not that big. But more on that later.

However, there’s one particular thing about the inventory topic that I strongly dislike. You cannot pickup stuff from the ground, from fellow soldiers that died or weapons that drop from stunned aliens. All alien weapons (very conveniently) break into pieces when they die but they do not break when you stun them. And, it would make all the sense to let your soldier use the only medikit available in the squad, that by chance belonged to a deceased fellow soldier. No, you can’t do that. You cannot pickup equipment, put stuff on the ground or throw equipment.

You never release your weapon also, even if panicked. And this was one thing that was very good in the OG. You could interact more with the environment and the game felt more real. This inventory environment heavy restriction is a serious minus for XCOM:EU in my view. But perhaps something can be done about this in the future with more special perks, I don’t think it would be too hard to let troops pickup stuff from the ground if they have space left in their inventory.

So, it’s fair to say that the OG inventory micromanagement, and by that respect some of the tactical portion of the game, was simplified. But, on the other hand, there’s the new specialization feature now, and it’s a lot of fun to specialize your troops and ponder what particular sub-skills you should choose for your soldiers. You can also employ different tactics with those skills. Perhaps the most obvious one is to suppress your enemies with your heavies, while others flank them and take them out. But it’s also possible to set ambushes, do reconnaissance with your most mobile troops or with the use of battle scanners, or set up your sniper in higher ground and take out enemies without them even knowing you were there.

In the end I think the inventory and tactical depth changes were a compromise. The specialization design decision led to the inventory having more restrictions but it did bring a lot of fun and strategy to the tactical side since it’s really cool to witness your soldier’s progression and your decisions to specialize him/her further as they get promoted do feel meaningful and satisfying.

So, overall I like what they did with the inventory and squad progression, but I would love to see the game get an update so that you can pickup stuff from the ground. If any XCOM:EU designer is reading this, guys, this is really important. Let soldiers pickup medikits and grenades from deceased fellows, or even allow them to throw them to other soldiers. This would surely enhance the tactical part of the game.

No More Time Units

Another thing that is different in this new XCOM, and probably the most significant of the changes, is the way your squad moves and uses their abilities. Movement and actions are not based on time units anymore. Time units were a number of points each soldier had in the OG to do anything you want with them in your turn. For instance, shooting with a particular weapon could take you, let’s say, 10 points. Moving: 2 points. Crouching: 4 points, etc. When all your troops run out of TUs it was time to hit end turn.

In XCOM:EU you don’t have points to spend but a set of predefined actions to do instead, which range from “move & move”, “move & shoot”, “move”, “shoot”, “use item”, “stay alert” and “take shelter”. Switching weapons doesn’t cost anything though. There are however special skills which allow you to “move & move & shoot”, “shoot & other action”, “shoot & shoot & shoot … & move” among other combinations. So, there’s plenty of movement and action variety alright.

"No more Time Units."

"No more Time Units."

Now, some veterans think that abandoning the TUs concept is X-COM heresy and that this basically kills the game for them. I’m not of such opinion. I think TUs did allow you more freedom. For example, you could move, and then move again, and again until your heart’s content and you run out of TUs. Now basically you only move once or twice. At first glance this seem to simplify the game but in my opinion it does not. It frees you from doing little calculations and lets you focus on the big picture instead.

And the patterns you now have at your disposal were exactly what you did most anyway. Your constant question in your mind in the OG was “how far can I go with points left to shoot? Before, it was a calculus and distance challenge, now the UI gives you a nice overlay with the “safe” range where you’ll be able to move and still be allowed to shoot your weapon if you want to. By the way, the UI is quite clean and easy to use, so there’s no major point to report there, and no need to talk about it throughout the reminder of the review, which is always a huge compliment to the UI in my opinion.

You may say that you possibly waste “turn time” by moving just a single extra tile outside the shooting safe distance, and that you would have points to spare if you had TUs. But, that was your decision. See it like this. When you decide to send your soldier some place where he can’t fire his weapon on his turn, then you’re actually assuming that you didn’t need to shoot in the first place and just wanted to go exactly to that spot because it gives you nice cover and you’re through with that unit.

I don’t miss TUs. The new pre-defined moves system is fine by me. I’m convinced that the new movement and action system does not restrict your freedom when moving and shooting. It actually helps you figure out where the sweet spot is, where to send your soldiers and still have time to move, shoot and take cover. So, I don’t think deciding not to go with TUs simplified the gameplay. I think it eased the experience for the same outcome.

The Base

The XCOM base, also known as the “Ant Farm” in XCOM:EU, due to its underground construction, is where you make all the game’s high-level decisions, and therefore where all the strategy part of the game unfolds. It’s in your base, more precisely in the Geoscope, that you monitor the alien’s incursions through your satellite system. It’s also where you do all your research, build your equipment, manage your soldiers and hold your ships ready for interception.

"The Ant Farm" aka X-COM Base.

"The Ant Farm" aka X-COM Base.

In the OG you could build more than one base. Each, if you liked, with its own complement of soldiers, ships and radars to track more alien incursions. In XCOM:EU you have only one base. What happens is that in this new XCOM the radar concept was abandoned in favor of a satellite system. So, you don’t need a base in each continent to track more UFO’s. You launch satellites over other countries to achieve the same purpose.

To be honest I didn’t fancy having to manage multiple bases in the OG. I didn’t really care much about them. I always felt that other bases were just placeholder support stations required to extend the operations range and gain the favor of more countries to join the cause. In my view XCOM:EU achieves the exact same thing with just one base with the new satellite system. I prefer it this way. Now you’re forced to focus completely on your own base, the one you really do care about. That’s where everything happens, so, I think going with just one base, although hurting the nostalgia effect a bit, was the right way to go. I do miss base assaults by the aliens though …

Research in XCOM:EU is very similar to the OG. You research the aliens, their weapons and all sorts of materials collected from your missions. Urban missions may bring some alien corpses and weapon fragments but alien ship assaults will grant you all sort of goodies that the research team is more than eager to study in order to unlock new possibilities.

You can construct more research labs in your base if you want. More labs equals more scientists, more scientists unlock new gear and more answers faster. You can also get more scientists from special missions rewards or from having the support of specific countries.

Research is a central aspect on the game’s storyline progression. Developments there will lead you forward in the game’s campaign, sometimes with some nice cut-scenes. And, you must decide at all times what you should be doing next. Should I research a new armor or a better weapon? Could I unlock useful information by analyzing a special type of alien corpse right now or should I proceed immediately to research a campaign objective? Money is scarce, especially in harder difficulty games, so, you will be questioning yourself very often on what you should be doing next.

"Hey, where are all the other 20 scientists, they can't be all in vacation..."

"Hey, where are all the other 20 scientists, they can't be all in vacation..."

Speaking of campaign, there’s the single-player mode, which is the game’s main mode, but there’s also multiplayer where you can play with a friend in a death match kind of gameplay where one player gets to play the aliens and the other the XCOM soldiers in six-unit squads.

But getting back to research. I’m pleased with how XCOM:EU deals with this mechanic. The “tech-tree” is not that big but perhaps more or less the same size as in the OG. However, I have the feeling that I didn’t exhaust it yet after finishing the game in classic difficulty. For example, there were still some alien species to capture for interrogation, perhaps those would trigger other interesting outcomes.

The breakthrough cut-scenes are good in general and help making you feel more immersed in the game. Perhaps it would be interesting to be able to tweak how fast the research takes, but, overall, I’m quite pleased with how research works in XCOM:EU.

Now, your theoretical breakthroughs need to be put into practice, right? And that’s where your base engineers come in. Engineering is a special place in your base where you can build all sorts of new gear and special equipment. Building stuff is pretty straightforward. Have the cash and the necessary resources and you can build plenty of new weapons, armor, ship upgrades and other special equipment.

The number of engineers you have at your disposal are, like the number of scientists, another resource you need to manage. You need engineers to build satellites, a critical resource in the game that you use to monitor countries in order to obtain their financial support and lower their panic level. If they reach critical panic they will leave the council and you lose another source of cash. Moreover, all the latest and advanced equipment requires more and more engineers. You can acquire more by building more workshops in your base, or, like with scientists, by finishing special missions or by installing satellites in specific countries that grant new engineers each month.

"We lost a few countries but looks like everything is under control at the moment"

"We lost a few countries but looks like everything is under control at the moment"

Still in the engineering topic, there’s a special building called the Foundry that you can unlock later in the game that will grant you modifications to pre-existing gear to make it more effective. This is another interesting layer on-top of regular building tasks because it gives you more choices and complicates your decisions even more. Now, you don’t only need to choose what to research next and what to build, but also think if perhaps a better (or even faster) road would be to improve what you already have.

I feel that the engineering part of the game is very strong. There’s plenty of stuff to build, way more than you will ever afford (again depending on the difficulty level).

But, perhaps the best way to deal with an alien invasion is to shoot down their ships before they reach the ground, and start doing their alien things. So, you have a fleet at your disposal, that you can decide to increase in time, with the best fighters Earth can assemble. These are highly modified fast attack  fighters codenamed RAVEN. They come equipped with powerful long range Avalanche missiles, as in the OG. Of course, these will not be sufficient to deal with bigger and more dangerous alien ships…

These fighters are at your disposal to attack the alien ships in the hope to bring them down and learn more about their secretes BEFORE they launch panic and abduction incursions. Letting them go away after being detected can seriously hurt your aspirations and if you’re unlucky they can discover one of your satellites and shoot it down. Losing satellites is a huge blow on your progression, so you will want to keep a minimum set of fighters ready for what may happen at all times.

Is this really an X-COM game?

And now, with most of the exposition part of the review done, it’s time to answer how successful this title really is for both newcomers and X-COM veterans. But, before I give you my take on that, it’s important to understand what made X-COM so fantastic in the first place, a true cult among gamers. Then I’ll let you know if XCOM:EU is a worthy successor or not. I value your time so I’ll be brief and stick to the point.

The original X-COM’s success was, in my view, largely a consequence of: the game’s setting and atmosphere, nonlinear progression and meaningful decisions.

The original X-COM’s setting puts you in control of a special operations organization fighting back an alien invasion. You have all the odds against you. The aliens are extremely ahead technologically. They are ruthless and you’re the only hope humanity has to deal with them. The mechanics that the game puts at your disposal: a highly advanced research department, a fleet of interceptors and a squad of special operation units at your command makes you feel important and you end up caring for all of them in a very deep way. It can’t become much better than this.

The original game’s atmosphere was just plain brilliant. You were always under a killing suspense on what you are going to find out next. There are horror and surprise factors to consider as well. Your tension builds up and you couldn’t help not to glue yourself to the screen. Ultimately all of that, including the game’s music, make you feel that you’re part of what’s going on, you feel completely immersed and immediately believe and start to live this great experience.

Another key aspect in X-COM games is that your decisions do matter. The lives of your men and women depend on your decisions both tactically and strategically. You are responsible for your troops safety and you end up caring a lot about them.  The loss of one squad member could mean sayonara to succeeding on a particular mission or even the entire game. You really had to look out for your troops and protect them from danger at all costs. This tension, this life-or-death confrontation is slowly disappearing in today’s games, where dying in games doesn’t mean anything anymore. What’s the fun with that? In the original X-COMs you could always save your game, yes, but if you made some bad moves, that could cost you the entire battle or even the entire game.

And Now The Verdict

From one X-COM veteran to another, or to a newcomer. Is XCOM:EU a true X-COM game?

YES, XCOM:EU is a worthy X-COM successor! With that I mean, I’m convinced that it will please both newcomers and X-COM veterans that were crying inside for more experiences in the X-COM world.

The setting is intact. You truly believe that you’re back in the X-COM world. From the Skyranger (the ship that takes your troops into battle), to how research works, to more or less the same type of weapons involved and some familiar faces among the aliens, you do believe you’re back in X-COM.

The game’s atmosphere, the suspense, the horror and surprise factors are all there. Now magnified by the XCOM:EU’s great graphics and absolutely gorgeous animation scenes. There’s an option to disable the action animations but they’re so good that you don’t want to deprive yourself from watching them every time. The music is quite good also. Some scores are even brilliant and quite exquisite at places.

"Very nice animations that you simply can't get enough of"

"Very nice animations that you simply can't get enough of"

Your decisions do matter and the lives of your soldiers and the future of humanity is literally in your hands. However, you will want to play the game on the higher difficulty levels, and preferably on Ironman mode (where you can’t save and reload for different outcome), in order to feel that tension to the fullest. If you’re a veteran my advice is that you start a game on Normal difficulty just to get the basics but quickly switch to Classic where I think all the fun resides. I finished a Classic difficulty game but I’m eager to start a Classic-Ironman game soon.

But, be warned, this game can be quite difficult to play, at least in the first few sessions and particularly on the game’s first few missions. Newcomers are advised to reduce one step on the difficulty. Start on Easy and quickly switch to Normal but probably you should stick there for your first game.

There’s also an Impossible difficulty level but I don’t think you will want to mess with that so quickly. Impossible-Ironman is surely a nightmare and probably one challenge I imagine only a few bunch of people will overcome. So, there’s considerable replayability alright.

It’s All Good?

No. Unfortunately there are some shortcomings. Some of them are not that serious but I think others are quite major, and ultimately the reason I think the game is (not yet) a true masterpiece.

There are a few glitches I spotted that I think will be easy to iron out, like scientists hanging on the base walls. The event list still displaying research ETA for something that was already researched (although that disappears in your next couple of actions, so it’s not that serious). There are also some camera glitches (some a bit serious) that although very annoying in a particular set of missions is not really that big an issue because it doesn’t happen so often. Sometimes you also get the impression that some aliens pass through walls and that you can also fire through walls but those are probably graphical engine “little” problems that may not be solvable and that we must forgive and forget. That doesn’t happen too often though.

Sometimes the UI shows different values for “to-hit” percentages on the main firing tab and support firing UI assistant (the red alien heads that represent how many aliens are on your line of sight at a given moment). Aliens doing powers signals where they are even if they are not in line of sight. You can’t move to the tile where there’s an enemy. This denounces where an alien is without it being on any soldiers’ line of sight. I’m sure these problems will be possible to iron out easily with patches. Although they DO count for my review score assessment of course.

Then there is a more serious bug. I didn’t want to spoil it for you, so skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want any kind of spoilers. You can build special armored units later in the game called SHIV. And, there are many improvements you can make to them. They are quite useful also. But, people are reporting lots of different problems using them. Some say they can deploy them but they can’t fire. Others say, like I experienced, that you cannot even deploy this mini-tanks even if they appear as “active” in the soldiers roster. Basically the SHIV functionality is currently broken or half broken, and so, you lose faith in this feature and don’t bother producing them. Which is a shame because they are quite useful and important in the game. Quite strange that the quality assurance team didn’t spot this one.

But now the game’s worse aspects. The parts I think they really got it wrong and it’s a pity because they don’t allow the game to achieve its true potential.

Game progression feels a bit too scripted. I mean, you do need a script because you’re effectively telling a story, and you eventually need to go from one key event to the next to unlock the end game. That’s fine. This is not, and never was, a complete sand-box game. However, from my six or so games I played so far, the events always turn out to be more or less the same, in the same order, or at least in the beginning. First a few abduction missions, then a special mission from the council (there are a few of those by the way, a nice new addition to the series), then perhaps your first UFO ship interception, then your first terror mission, then more abductions, then a landed UFO, and so on. I mean, that’s what usually you would expect from X-COM but not with such a strict order of events. I got the feeling that I was reliving the same experience over and over again. In the OG I think that your progression, although also including a linear segment, the storyline segment, was much more random, in what could happen. At least this was my impression playing the game.

Now, one of my worst fears about XCOM:EU did materialize. I don’t think the maps are big enough. Moreover, I don’t feel that discovery is a major element in the game anymore. I got the impression that maps looked too small and it was quick to find aliens by looking at the gameplay demos. But those were just demos, right? Well, it was not only in the demos. If you exclude a couple of special scenarios, the remaining maps are a bit too small for my taste. Perhaps the designer’s idea was to offer more instant action to players and feared that if maps were considered too big and the alien locations too hard to find that would be a bummer for many gamers. Perhaps. But fans of the original, like me, hardcore fans, will most probably get disappointed with this one.

And still on the maps issue, I don’t think there is enough variety either, and this is perhaps the most serious of problems because it affects both newcomers and veterans in the same way. Although I read somewhere that there are about 80 different maps available, and quite beautiful ones one has to say, they can become a bit tiring after a while and it will not be uncommon to repeat some of them throughout your play session. You see, the maps are not randomly generated piece by piece in XCOM:EU, they are fixed, or at least very few things change from session to session.

Alien positions do change, but as the maps are not that big you will start to guess very rapidly where the aliens must be. Because there aren’t that many places they can be, especially in urban maps. This is not good. And, the art style is very repetitive also. The same cars, cabs, dinners and buildings architecture in missions in Brazil, the USA or China. I can suspend my disbelief, but not that much sorry. Forests are also very look alike and there are no special terrains like desert, snow or jungle. I feel quite disappointed with this map variety lacking.

"Wait a minute, haven't we been here before?"

"Wait a minute, haven't we been here before?"

But there are very nice touches put in maps. Birds flying around, squirrels passing by and excellent renderings. And, other nice touches like hearing music when you’re inside a bar. This is all great stuff but please give us more and bigger maps in the near future. Randomly generated if possible.

Bottom Line

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an extremely addictive, gorgeous and fun game to play. It should live up to the expectations of the large majority of the X-COM hardcore fans. And, I’m sure people who never played the series will also have a blast and a huge nice surprise by playing this game, now with much better graphics than the original game, cool animations and cutscenes.

It’s a real joy to see your troops evolve over time, and you do start to get emotionally attached to them. Losing one of your elite soldiers is a big deal and really forces you to look out for them carefully, especially if you want to go more serious in the game with the “no-save” Ironman mode.

To the X-COM series newcomers I say this: prepare yourself for a great ride. If you enjoy science fiction, and particularly enjoy dealing with aliens, then you will simply love this game. But, even if you do not particularly like sci-fi or aliens, if you like strategy war games and also like RPG elements in them, like character and skills progression, then you will also love this.

If you’re a X-COM series veteran please do yourself a favor, don’t hold yourself back from playing this wonderful game just because you think it doesn’t contain some of your original X-COM’s favorite features. This is not UFO: Enemy Unknown, this is XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a great reboot to the series and an excellent addition to the sci-fi PC strategy genre. I thank Firaxis and 2K for developing this wonderful game. I sincerely hope they are planning to release expansions and even sequels.

This was definitely one of my best, if not the best, gaming experiences in recent years, and one that I highly recommend to anyone.

Note: This review was done with the PC version.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

(PC, XBox 360, PS3)

Buy at GamersGate, Green Man Gaming, Gamestop, Amazon or Steam.

Space Sector score:
The Good:
– Highly addictive gameplay
– Squad progression is rich in features and great fun to watch and experience
– Great graphics, outstanding animations and enjoyable cutscenes
– Solid design makes all your decisions count
– Tense atmosphere and sense of fear
– Excellent music at places
– Lots of “YES!”relief moments that give you goose bumps
The Bad:
– A few bugs and glitches
– Maps are too small and lack variety
– Game progression feels a bit too scripted at places
– Lacking inventory interactivity (e.g. not possible to pickup items)
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  1. Towerbooks3192 says:

    Great Review Adam!

    I must say that yes it is an addictive game and it its own right a great game however when it is being compared to the original, I can’t help but get disappointed about some aspects of the game. I could say that some features could be a double-edged blade that both makes the game great and somewhat disappointing. An example of this is the story progression where it is good because you have set goals compared to the original,which throws you into the fray, however it feels scripted and I didn’t feel like the enemies are really “unknown”. Whereas the way the original throws you into the fray really makes you feel that yes there is an invasion and we don’t have a clue about the enemies or what they are doing.

    In terms of base building, it is a bit realistic to think that yes you only have one base and very very meager resources and you have to think about what you are going to do with it, however its a bit disappointing that they took away the option of building multiple bases and the base defense of the original.

    As for the soldier class, it is great because you know what your soldier is really good at doing without worrying much about many numbers but it also took away the flexibility of each soldier.

    Anyway I guess I will stop from there and I must say that I was a bit disappointed with my time with Xcom. I think its because I prefer the original (heck I just played it recently) over this one and I love that sense of freedom in base building and the micromanagement of the old game. I would say that I would agree with the score of 9.5 or even 10 as a console game but I have to say its a 5 for a PC game.

    • Adam Solo says:

      The funny thing with this PC vs Console debate is that I’ve only played PC games in my gaming curriculum and barely touched consoles. I don’t see a console game, even less play them, in years. And even so, I do enjoy this game a lot. And, I’m an X-COM veteran. UFO: Enemy Uknown and X-COM: Terror from the Deep are two of my favorite games ever. Games I played through hours and hours and finished many times.

      So, as you see I don’t play console games and I still consider this title to be one of the best sci-fi PC strategy experiences to be released in years. I wonder why some people don’t enjoy it as a modern age X-COM. Is it the nostalgia effect? As you see I did try to explain in the review the decisions Firaxis made in this title, and why they are not that bad. Not all is good though and I tried my best to explain why.

      • Towerbooks3192 says:

        About the console or pc version debate, as far as I know, people said that there aren’t any major difference of the game in terms of gameplay. With the console’s limitations, I have to say that it is an amazing thing that firaxis managed to bring an Xcom experience on the console. However, I feel that they could have done better with the PC version but its just me.

        I mean I was only 2 years old when the game was released so I can’t say its for nostalgic effect. I just played the original a year or two ago and I must say that I prefer it over the the new one.

        Console and PC debate aside, I must say its a great game despite my disappointments and my preferences, and yes everyone should buy and experience it and crossing my fingers and adding it into my wishlist that they would port it on the vita so I will have a proper xcom game in my pocket.

        • Adam Solo says:

          No, I failed to explain myself better. By Console vs PC debate I meant generally because you said that you would rate this game 9.5 or 10 if it was a console game (which in fact it also is) but only rate it 5 as it is a PC game. I found that statement intriguing. Aren’t you the same person playing the game in XBox 360 and on PC and having the same experiences? :) Perhaps with even better graphics on the PC? But I will leave it there, as I always respect other people’s opinions.

          But, I think I understand what you mean. PC gamers are more demanding in terms of gameplay, micromanagement an stuff. But, from time to time I think it’s refreshing to also play a strategy game with less micromanagement, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Less micromanagement doesn’t necessarily mean less strategic depth in my view. It is the number of meaningful decisions that matter, the impact they have in the gameplay, not how much time you spend or the freedom you have managing things.

        • Towerbooks3192 says:

          I am aware it is a pc game and it has a console version and from time to time I check the boards of xcom on console and pc and see what the people say about it. From what I have read, there isn’t any difference in terms of gameplay from the console and PC version .I only played the PC version of this game and I never touched any of my consoles after buying a proper PC :)

          As to what I said about the console and PC debate and how I would rate it IMHO, I meant that I praise Firaxis for bringing a great Xcom experience overall regardless of being a console or PC game as it is worthy of its own merit without being compared to the original. However I am disappointed for I feel that as a PC game it could have been better than the consoles by adding more depth or something because of the PC’s capabilities over the console.

          Well I thank you for respecting my opinions Adam and I guess let’s leave it to that and let’s celebrate that at least 2k/firaxis did not focus on making xcom and FPS.

          Anyway I would add something that maybe some Alienware users are not aware of, AlienFX would change colours depending on who’s turn it is. The keyboard and desktop would glow blue if it is your turn and red if it is the alien’s turn. :)

        • CletusVanDamme says:

          I feel that you’re somewhat misguided about the console issue – both the OG and Terror from the Deep were released on Playstation (I owned them, as well as the PC versions) and performed great. While current console technology is clearly lagging behind at this point I don’t think assigning a different score to each platform in terms of the game is in any way valid. The only platform differences for turn based games are graphical and interface, and while you can argue that the controls in the new game work better with a controller (and I’d agree with that) I don’t think that’s a basis for marking it down to a 5. That would be like saying X-Wing vs TIE Fighter was crap because it worked better with a joystick than it did with the keyboard (it definitely wasn’t crap). Neither would I mark the game on the PC down to a 5 based on the graphics.

          I agree with most of your points as relating to the game itself, I just think dragging console/PC into it is completely irrelevant.

  2. salvo says:

    thanks adam, good review as always, the final rating is IMHO a bit to high as I regard the mentioned repetitiveness due to the scripted event-driven story as a serious design flaw. It just kills the replaybility in the long term. Another annoying design flaw is the random class generation which may result in being spammed with a class (in my first campaign I have been spammed with snipers, in another with heavies). It’s a good game but in no way a great one.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I didn’t get class spam in my games. I did felt the need to have more support soldiers once because I lost my Major. But, other than that I always felt I had enough troop variety. And, if you happen to get stuck with too many snipers for example you can always dismiss some of them and hire new ones. And when you have the “New Guy” ability it’s even easier because rookies get automatically promoted. And soldiers are inexpensive to hire in any case.

      And about the replayability and scripted story, there’s multiplayer now. So that helps mitigate a bit the feeling of scripting and some less replayability than in the OG. Although I want to hear that the game has lower replayability from someone who beat impossible/ironman :) My next game will be classic/ironman.

  3. Chop says:

    You mention in the review that the sats replacing bases works, but you dont mention one of the main reasons for having other bases, the location of the UFO. For example, as an ‘OG’ id have my main base near North USA, I get an alert and its near France, id then launch from my Europe base, in the original game if you then launched from North USA to defend France then it would never make it in time, so the other bases meant you could keep the other goverments happy and defend the area in the shortest time. How does this work in the new game? The base doesnt cover the world surely? so how does it launch to intercept something half way round the world?

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      You still launch the skyranger off the main base but you could and you have to station interceptors to continents in order to intercept UFOs. I think you could only detect UFOs that could be intercepted if you have sats on that continent/part of the world.

    • Adam Solo says:

      The answer is simple but there’s a catch, and I did miss that in the review. You can have interceptors on other continents than the one where you have your base. So, the catch is, there ARE other bases, or at least contracted airfields throughout the entire world, although that part is abstracted to you over the Interceptor costs.

      So, the sats do the former radar’s job and keep governments happy, because you’re actually monitoring their space. You have interceptors all over the world, so you can detect UFO’s where you have sats and then launch your closer range fighters to intercept the UFOs. The game also eases your task. So if the UFO is over the UK the fighters presented to you for you to choose from are in Europe.

  4. Loyal_Viggo says:

    Interesting and accurate review, as always, and I think you’ve summed up the pros and cons nicely.

    However… there are additional problems:

    Combat hangs/freezes during missions occur for me too regularly, either during combat or end turn, and some very annoying freezes during interceptions when you send more than 2 interceptors after a UFO (my rig has 16gb ddr3 ram with 2gb ddr5 graphics card so I know it’s not that).

    Also… when choosing what interceptor to send you can’t select more than one, you need to select the base again and launch another, which still indicates your first is available when it’s not. And if a UFO originates in Africa, for example, and moves to Europe, you can still only send interceptors from the original area, Africa.

    The arbitrary role-selection for each soldier is annoying, and can spam more than one type.

    The all-American voices are annoying, and cheapens the experience when your soldiers are not from the USA.

    There is no suspense due to the all-too-small and repetitive maps, and that for me detracts from the whole experience as no matter where you are all scenery is the same.

    Other than that, it’s a good game, but not great. Limited replayability due to the linear mission progression mentioned, yet still a bit too emasculated compared to the original and best to really call it a true strategy game.

    Overall it’s a interesting distraction to fill time until Xenonauts arrives.


    • SQW says:

      I’m playing it on a 1.8Ghz dual core, 4gb ram and Geforce 9600 ‘rig’. Oh and I’m also using WinXP. 70hrs of play on medium setting and I’ve experienced zero crash, freeze or frame drop.

      I think you better double check your machine’s setting, driver etc because the game’s fine.

      • Loyal_Viggo says:

        Actually, having browsed the game forums a very large number of people are experiencing these issues, even after the latest patch.

        What’s more, these are all repeatable events for specific in-game actions.

        For example, I happened to save one game just before a scripted event, a UFO interception. Moving to intercept with 4 craft the games hangs without fail every single time I load the game, always on the 3rd craft, so it can’t be random as it’s repeatable.

        I also found one save game in a mission to always have the same repeatable error. During the end turn it would always hang when I moved my soldiers to a certain area of the map and be stuck in hidden movement. Having tried to get past it 4-5 times I simply did not move so far, thus eliminating the error.

        The same story is all over the forums, specific actions can be repeated to produce these faults. That means its a software coding problem, and is not a few isolated incidents.

        Similarly, some ‘experts’ there give the IT helpline solution to upgrade drivers, and as patronising as being told to update my drivers is, I appreciate your specialist ‘advice’.

        Repeatable errors being experienced by a large number of players is not the player at fault, it’s coding specific.

      • Loyal_Viggo says:

        Also, I forgot to add… look at the latest patch notes…

        You see that line that references ‘fixing soft hangs/crashes’….

        Now why would that be there, if all people had to do was update their drivers…?

        Oh that’s right!

        They don’t because that right there published by Firaxis is their acknowledgement that there was a problem with the game code and they have tried to fix it.

        Cheers anyway mate.

  5. Ashbery76 says:

    Good review and I agree with the score for both PC and Console versions,lol as its the best strategy game I have played in years.The old game is a good memory and talked about a lot with nostalgic rose tinted glasses and the new X-com is the game the vast majority of people with play 2012 onwards.

  6. Loyal_Viggo says:

    Sorry for double post, but I missed the biggest gripe so far – the UFO interception screen…

    2D UFO moving up and down and a 2D interceptor doing the same… Really? Is that the best they could think of?

    Terrible, they really dropped the ball on that.

    • Scimarad says:

      It wasn’t exactly great in the original game; One blob moving towards another blob, one of which either blows up or flies away at high speed!

      You do get options to use on this screen when you research them but I would have liked a return of the ‘use missiles’ or ‘close and use cannons’ like in the original.

  7. csebal says:

    Nice review, mostly agree with what you wrote, maybe not so much on the map size, but that is somewhat subjective.

    I did compare my memories of OG maps with these and while some maps are really kinda small compared to OG, there definitely are quite a few that are rather big. Its just that you rarely need to sweep the entire map, as the enemy moves around in groups and you usually engage each other well before reaching even halfway through the map. Try scrolling around a few maps to see where the edges are.. they often are a lot bigger than what you would think at first glance.

    As for variety.. yea.. I believe it is due to some perceptual bias. There might be 80 different maps, but i’m certain that there only are some 5-10 urban settings and since most of the abductions and terror sites happen in urban environments, you are bound to see the same maps throughout the game. Crashed UFOs also just a few maps (1-2) / UFO type so if you shoot down multiple small UFOs, you will see the same forest map quite often. By the way, some of the large/very large UFO landing/crash maps are huge.. In fact I think they are bigger than the OG maps would have been and the way the game works, they are even slower to play through as you have to advance cautiously.

    This is in fact one of the primary reasons why they might have aimed for generally smaller maps this time around.. as the nature of the game makes moving through the maps generally slower.

    As for the SHIV :) As funny as it might sound, I never built the foundry during my classic play-through :P There was just so many things going on, I was so hard pressed to get the next essential building or piece of equipment, that I never got the power/space/money to spend on such luxuries as an upgrade center :P

    Imagine my surprise when I later realized how much easier life would’ve been with some of those upgrades. :P Ever tried stunning your way through the game without the arc-thrower upgrade? It is possible :P

    Anyway.. while I find the new XCOM to be a great game, I can’t really bring myself to playing it lately.. as quite frankly, I would want to play it classic/ironman, but due to the nature of the game, that is way too dependent on luck and the game is very punishing of any losses you suffer.

    While the random factor was also present in the OG, you were able to just throw dozens of useless
    rookies around each mission to flush out enemies for your veterans.. something you cannot do with the 4-6 man limit. Not to mention how you were able to abort a mission and still score a positive score. Like how many times I landed on a mission, stunned the first floater engineer I stumbled upon and retreated home, resulting in a positive score even though I did not stop the aliens in what they did. the new game is way too binary in this regard.. you either win and that has to be a total victory, or you just failed.

    This is most annoying in VIP escort missions, when you make it to the VIP, escort him back to the ship and just as you would be reaching for the door to climb back into the skyranger after the VIP, you get booted off the plane and told that before you are allowed to go home, you still have to kill the dozens or so aliens that you barely managed to outrun to get to .. well.. safety?

    All these mechanics together make it impossible in my eyes to have proper ironman style games.

    The issue basically is that even if you do everything perfectly as far as strategy and tactics go, you can always get a freak shot insta-crit-kill your guys behind full cover, or get the cover shot away by one alien and killed by another. Now this would be all fine, if it would be possible to recover from those losses, but since you cannot claim any partial mission results, retreating is not really an option.. you either run away with the remaining soldiers and get a total loss even if you killed anything but the last alien, or stay and risk losing your entire squad as in some cases, losing one soldier can quickly result in a snowballing circle of panicking soldiers getting picked off by the enemy, or killing their teammates.

    Even if we assume best case scenarios, late game, even with a squad of maxed out soldiers, you will have a hard time pulling off perfect games. A squad of rookies just does not stand a chance in that regard. To top that all off, failing missions, which is inevitable due to the above mentioned randomness, results in such harsh funding nation morale penalties, that even getting past mid game would be a minor miracle.

    I still find that the game is worth buying.. even without ironman mode, you can still get a solid 30-40 hours out of it throughout a few playthroughs. In the meantime we can always hope that they will fix some of the issues. Like for example the biggest fix for ironman would be allowing us to just retreat from a battle without resulting in a total loss. Then after that, adding the option to “take” stuff from fallen aliens, or take corpses with you, so that you can retreat and still claim some of the loot.. and quite frankly, at that point we would already have a playable ironman experience, not to mention how it would solve one of Adam’s complaints about the lack of interaction with the environment as well.

  8. harry says:

    So this is definetily better than xenonauts??

    But It was so fun to build bases on different continents.. Now it is a full american game or? just one b ase with american soldiers thats it or? Do the aliens attack the base too like in the original?

    I am still sceptical.. someone told me it is a dumbed donw X-com.. more like gears of wars..With little base building..

    • Adam Solo says:

      There are as many or more buildings to build in this new XCOM but you can only build one base. So, in absolute numbers you probably end up building less stuff but the building options are as many or more.

      Having less micromanagement and some things getting streamlined (simplified, easier to understand) are not the same as “dumbing down” a game. There are plenty of tactics to use and more than plenty meaningful decisions to make. “Dumbing down” in this type of game would be making the game lose strategic depth (less meaningful decisions to make) which I don’t think is the case here, but the contrary perhaps.

      I think some people confuse “dumbing down” with micromanagement and streamlining.

      Ask that person WHY he thinks in his opinion the game has been “dumbed down”, and then think if that takes out or adds more decisions you can make in the game, or if that just allows you to do things in a different way.

    • SQW says:

      One man’s ‘dumbing down’ is often another’s ‘streamling’.

      If you are on the fence, go watch some XCOM let’s plays on youtube; you’ll have a far better idea of whether the game suits you than reading reviews. No offence Adam. =P

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      All comes down to what your cup of tea is.

      The “streamlining”/”dumbing down”/ the direction the devs are taking could be good or bad for you depending on your cup of tea.

      Lets say for example:

      I love the Civ series as a whole and loved Civ IV however I would prefer Civ V (vanilla) over Civ IV complete despite its “depth” because of one major factor (the improved combat in this case). But when it comes to Xcom I think I sort of feel that I would love the original more over this one (not for nostalgia but something draws me into it) as a personal reference.

      Bottom line is that this game is great and you should get it since overall its a great Xcom game on its own right however if you really really love micromanagement and stuff and the feel of more in control and sort of more freedom then get the original or play Xenonauts but bear in mind that you are missing a great game from a AAA developer that is worth a shot.

      Also just a tip so you could save money: Get it from gamersgate since you could activate it on steam and I think its $49 while at steam it costs $69

      • SQW says:

        Green Man Gaming’s cheaper. I got mine for $34 on pre-order. It’s a bit more expensive now but you still get 20% off the standard $49 if you use the coupon code on their website.

        Have fun and be prepared to lose a few weekends.

  9. HP says:

    In the 7th screenshot (the map with various radar-like icons and plane icons).. what is that icon hovering over the Philippines? don’t tell me the X-COM HQ is over there XD …

    I haven’t played this yet but I have to ask. Do you encounter random regular military soldiers during missions? I think it would have been nice if there was. Something like Battle Los Angeles where army units get scattered and they could support help you a little (even if they act automatically on their own with their own A.I)

    And about the setting where they use satellites instead of radars, I still need to rationalize their use. Imho satellites are very high profile targets and would be easily used for target shooting by Rookie Aliens.

    And I agree somewhat about some of the comments where having another base could make you respond faster than have to travel halfway around the world.

  10. Evil Azrael says:

    I am playsing since yesterday evening.
    A lot of shortcoming were already discussed, my biggest critic point is the console feeling. The UI is optimised for consoles and it feels streamlined for consoles, too. And the story is too scripted for me. It’s like strategy on rails, like a rail shooter, there is not much deviation from the storyline.

    What i really like is the music, it sounded very familiar, like the OST of Deus Ex:HR and Tron Legacy. And this is not by accident. Michael McCann made big parts of the XCOM sound track and of course he made the DX:HR soundtrack.

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      Thank God im not the only one who likes the music!! Heck its the only thing that plays over and over again in my head at work and I sort of expect a muton or a sectoid to pop out of the corner at my workplace. LOL

  11. Kurrick says:

    Great Review! And have to agree with you on about everything.
    Im hoping for more maps in later updates, as well as bigger maps. I think that would add greatly to the suspense. A broader voice range would be great as well, by that I mean accents from other countries.

    As for the Shiv I have had no problems with it. I did implement it late in that game as a back up for my heavies. I had a rough couple of missions and lost my most experienced heavies( it was a sad week at the base) I used the shiv as a main until I could get a couple of heavies trained back up.
    I never had any troubles with it other than the repair time and later got an upgrade to repairs.

    Only bugs I ran into that where really annoying was the see through wall bug and the fire through walls. I hope that one gets squashed very quickly as it totally killed the suspense in one of my later games… Ill just say Ethereal….
    I actually like the way the base/s are handled now. With the reliance on satellites that our military has today and the satellite air bases around the world it feels like a perfect update form the old military to today’s military. It would be nice as mentioned in another post if the the base of origin for launching your interceptors would change as the UFO crosses sections of the globe. I haven’t personally had that problem but its something that could be addressed in the future if it turns out to be a major issue

    Anyways thanks for the review and comments of others Id give the game a 9/10 as it stands :)

    • Scimarad says:

      I do find it really peculiar that it gives you quite a lot of voices to choose between but they are ALL American:)

  12. stian says:

    Love the game..but do not like the ” forced ” focus to use 80 % of resources to spam satelites all the time… big problem.

  13. Zeraan says:

    Got a question. When you shoot down UFOs, and send your troops to clear out the crash site, do you see their UFO on the map? Can you enter the UFO? Or are the maps too small and UFOs are not included?

    • kirth says:

      Yes, you assault the UFOs and you need to kill the aliens in it

    • Scimarad says:

      I think too much is being made of the ‘small maps’ thing; The maps are smaller but they aren’t that small. Trust me, there are still plenty of places for the aliens to ambush you!

      Also, I’ve got to say I prefer these ones to the ones in the original. Although those were randomly generated, they got distinctly samey due to the limited tilesets.

  14. nemojoe says:

    I just want to thank you for a review very well done, Adam Solo. It will be interesting to see how you will eventually rate Xenonauts, not to mention if you decide to look at Fallen Enchantress.

  15. zigzag says:

    Thorough review! I’ve been save scumming my way through the game for the past week and having a blast. I agree with the above comments about the UI. It’s a shame that we computer folks have to share our games with others these days. I also felt that there were some aspects of the strategic layer that weren’t particularly elegant (e.g., there are three different ways to purchase upgrades), but on the whole, it’s a fantastic reimagination.

  16. mrseanpaul81 says:

    My main issue with the game are the satellites. I think a satellite able to cover USA OR Russia but you need separate satellite for France and Germany when these countries can both fit inside USA or Russia. I would have preferred the satellite cover regions or areas… or needing more than one satellite to cover bigger countries (could also provide more cash, as an option).

    I did beat the game on easy and waiting for fixes or DLC to attempt any other difficulty level.

    • SQW says:

      It’s a game about shooting space aliens so a little suspension of disbelief isn’t too out of place I’d warrant. =P

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      If you have the tutorial on for the first playthrough, play on atleast classic with tutorials off since you are free and you could start on any of the starting continents and classic sort of unlocks the full capabilities of the AI.

  17. Serge says:

    I basically agree with review, but Adam’s rating is too generous IMHO. I’d rate it around 7.8-8.2
    Another thing I’ve found to be a bad design decision is inconsistent UI. Some of the actions are buttons, some drop-down lists and some are tabs. As result I’ve failed my first game because I didn’t found armor and ship equipment tabs – I was looking for menu or lists, not tabs.
    Soldiers data is a pain to manage- you don’t see weapon/armor data in soldier list without clicking on soldier, you don’t see rank, only icon which represent it, you can’t get specs on equipped weapon. You can’t form team and save it before mission, or at least assigned soldiers not visible in the list between missions.
    Also It seems to me there is not much choice in path to victory. It seems one always have to build as many satellite as fast as possible, all the rest is not actually important

    • JohnR says:

      I agree Serge in that I think Adam was maybe a bit over-generous with his 9.4 rating. 9 and above I save for the truly special games that stand the test of time like the Civilization series, the original Homeworld, the original Deus Ex, and the Elder Scrolls series. No doubt Adam was more than a little influenced by nostalgia for the old XCOM games. ;o)

      • Adam Solo says:

        No John, I completely disagree with you on this one, and I also think YOU may be the one being influenced by nostalgia by only attributing >9 ratings to games that “stand the test of time” like Civ, Homeworld, Elder Scrolls, etc ;)

        You can find the details on how I review games on this link. I base my score on a series of subfactors. I can tell you that the lowest subscore I gave for this game was replayability.

        Again, the things that bugged me were the lack of map variety/size and the somewhat scripted feeling. The glitches/bugs also count, but as I said I’m convinced many of those (if not all) will be ironed out, and if they are not (which I feel is unlikely) they are not that critical anyway (although the SHIV one is a bit more serious… call it faith in Firaxis … I admit).

        But it’s not only about the math and the objectiveness. Of course there is always a degree of subjectivity, but I can tell you that I value a lot the experience I get from the games I play. Fun is a VERY important factor, which to me is basically pleasure (aesthetics, emotions, satisfaction) + surprises.

        If nostalgia could have affected a bit the score? It could, I don’t know. I’m not perfect, nor a robot. But, I’m pretty confident on my score because ultimately that’s how I felt like playing the game (apart from the more objective subscore criteria). And, when you do things the way you feel are right then you can never be wrong, to yourself at least. And, be sure that I treasure people’s time and money a lot, so rest assured that I don’t give >9 scores lightly.

  18. Matt says:

    I made my first playthrough on Normal. I liked UFO: Aftershock and UFO: Afterlight more. New XCOM is too casual and simplified for me. Hope it gets better on Classic…

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      Play on Classic and disable tutorial. Sectoids are ruthless and yes I always get atleast 1 soldier killed in every encounter I had and I sort of screwed up since in the first month I launched a sat on an asian country to lower panic and at the later part only 7 days before council report I was about to lose the USA since panic rose to 5.

      Heck the AI is really different on Classic compared to normal

    • Adam Solo says:

      I agree with Towerbooks3192. Going from Normal to Classic is a different game. It’s common to lose a couple of soldiers on Classic on every mission, at least in the beginning. And, if you’re playing Ironman, which is a completely different experience on top of that, you’ll a have a challenge, believe me.

      My first experience was on Normal, but as I said in the review it’s not challenging enough, I was winning every encounter with no losses. I quickly changed to Classic w/o Ironman and found a challenge. I ended that game. Now, I’m playing on Classic / Ironman and having a blast, literally :), because I’m losing my promoted soldiers here and there and can’t do anything about it, and let me tell you, when you can’t go back, things start to feel VERY real :)

      • Towerbooks3192 says:

        hey Adam just a question. Does Classic/Ironman add any difficulty over classic or is it only the fact that your save updates every move you make thus making every decision count?

        Heck I have to say I judged the game too quickly. Things got boring once my snipers could sweep the map and I am so bored I tried to do SHIV runs. Bottom line is Ethereals were already a pain on normal and I don’t want to imagine facing them on classic

        • Adam Solo says:

          It’s the latter. Ironman doesn’t allow you to go back and load for different outcome, which makes everything more real. You could argue that playing w/o Ironman ON and don’t load for different outcome is the same as playing with Ironman but I tell you that it’s not. There’s something extra you gain by knowing you CAN’T go back, that you don’t have that possibility at all, while if you play w/o Ironman and with a “I won’t load” attitude you always know that you CAN go back.

          Normal is to learn the game, and ultimately boring after a while. You MUST play in Classic to unlock the true potential of this game. Classic w/ Ironman is another experience and I believe Impossible another, etc. Although, by reading the forums, I think the bigger jump is between Normal and Classic.

          Classic gives more panic to countries at the start, your soldiers have -1 hitpoint, all aliens receive bonus hitpoints, accuracy, critical chance and / or damage, you don’t receive an officer school in the beginning and there more aliens in the maps (see here for what changes in the difficulty levels).

          There are people who say that Aliens also move towards you more often in Classic than in Normal. Yes, they do surprise you. Maybe not that often as you would like, but they do.

    • JohnR says:

      I agree with you all the way Matt. Although I did the XCOM demo and thought it was mostly fun, I do think the UFO: Afterlight hybrid RTS system with its frequent pauses to issue orders is better. To me the XCOM combat felt a bit too scripted with play channeled along a certain path. The battles in Afterlight, by comparison, are usually wide open and often wildly unpredictable. To be fair though, the two simple demo missions in XCOM may not be enough to make an adequate assessment. Also, I liked the Eastern European feel of Afterlight better than the cliched Hollywood presentation of Enemy Unknown.

  19. Scimarad says:

    I think they’ve done a fantastic job on this game I really hope fans of the original (of which I am one) are not put off by the changes.

    I can see your issue with the story element; I enjoy the fact that it adds a lot of atmosphere and drama to the game but I imagine it would make it feel more like playing an RPG or something on repeat plays.

  20. AstralWanderer says:

    Does this use Steamworks DRM (requiring a Steam account) like Civ 5 did? (I boycotted Civ 5 solely on DRM grounds).

    • Evil Azrael says:

      Sadly the answer is yes.

      • AstralWanderer says:

        Thanks for the confirmation – I’ll be sticking with Xenonauts then.

        • Towerbooks3192 says:

          If it helps, you only need to log in once for steam and you could play it offline. Please give the game a chance or if you are apprehensive because of the PC DRM please give it a shot on the 360/PS3 since most people says that it is basically the same on all platforms

        • Evil Azrael says:

          Towerbooks3912, please don’t try to convince people of this steam s**t. Normally anybody opposing steam has his reasons for doing so. As Steam is not new i assume people understood the steam system.
          If the developer/publisher thought he will need this kind of software dongle than he has to face the consequence of probably lower sales. Ask Ubisoft about their experience with their DRM. I am not far from advocating cracked copies just for this DRM crap.

        • Towerbooks3192 says:

          It is not my intention to convince everyone to go with Steam DRM and I was only telling this guy that its unfortunate that he is going to miss this great game because he doesn’t like steam DRM or he has a problem with it.

          Base on my experience Steam is alright though I would prefer no DRM at all compared to ubisoft since I was able to play a game on steam in a mountain resort without internet connection or phone coverage without the need to connect to steam. In my book that would be good since I wasn’t penalized in any way for playing my game offline.

          Trust me dude I am against Draconian DRMs like Ubi’s and I totally avoided playing SC2 and Diablo 3 because of battlenet 2.0 (thank God Diablo 3 was a gift). Yes I hate Ubi and I hate those DRM crap and don’t assume that I am trying to convince people about steam. All I am saying is that the game is great and shouldn’t be missed and steam is not too bad unless you have a particular reason of not wanting to do anything with it

        • Adam Solo says:

          Towerbooks3192 makes valid points, and I don’t think he was convincing anyone that Steam is great or anything like that. He was helping a mate understand what he may be missing just because of the Steam DRM.

          If Astral has a way to play it on XBox or PS3 (on his rig or at a friend’s) he should do so because he may be missing the experience of his life. Astral does say that he’s going to stick with Xenonauts and he makes this an XCOM vs Xenonauts thing, which means that he’s serious about X-COM. I’ll say, there are some sacrifices worth being done. Then he can resume not buying any Steam game for 2 more years :)

        • Evil Azrael says:

          Okay, but if you follow this chain of thought then you will weaken the PC platform in favor of more console optimized games. And you trade in a normal PC with dongled software for a complete dongled system.
          At least you can buy these games used, don’t try this with steam & co.

        • slyostinato says:

          @Towerbooks3192 – Actually, Steam IS that bad! In the USA, Steam has an “F” rating with the BBB at over 500 complaints – and those are recent complaints. I learned that for a complete count of complaints, it’s well over 1000 complaints against them. Some customers are even banning together to get a class action lawsuit filed against them and others have files complaints against them with the gov’t agency, FTC.

          Yeah, Steam has a very bad public image and it isn’t getting any better. And for that reason people are seeing an uptick in hacked and cracked Steam DRM games with user-modified .dll files to circumvent Steam.

          Steam definitely has problems. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

        • Towerbooks3192 says:

          @ Evil Azrael : Well its unfortunate to resort to playing console over PC and based on the way AAA devs are making game either optimized for console or a money sink like Diablo 3, its hard to find a PC game really optimized for the PC. This is the reason why I look at the indie market and try to support indie devs as much as I can. Its just unfortunate that AAA devs could have made great games with their resources but they have to succumb to the pressure of sacrificing fun, passion, and creativity because of the company’s responsibility to the stockholders (which is to get the most amount of money with the least amount of input and quality).

          @ Slyostinato: Didn’t know steam was that bad in the US. I am in Australia and the only reason I hate steam is they delay release on this region (I got borderlands 2, Civ V G&K, and Xcom late.).

        • AstralWanderer says:

          (Apologies for the delayed reply, 2 previous attempts didn’t appear, and long response)

          Towerbooks3192, while I think I appreciate your enthusiasm for the game, its use of Steam makes it a complete no-go for the following reasons:

          1) Longevity: Valve have complete control over your Steam collection and can disable it at any time, for any reason – see for one example, tens of thousands of others can be found online. If I put money down for a game, I expect (and demand) to be able to play it 10-20 years later – if you consider X-COM to be so great, you really should too.

          2) Security: Aside from Valve’s database being hacked (see – the lack of any further information since from Valve is something I consider ominous as it means either (a) they still don’t know the extent of the intrusion a year later or (b) the breach was so serious, they dare not publicise it) the protocol used by Steam has a number of vulnerabilities – see for more. The Steam Client Service, being a Windows service, has full access privileges to your system and, if compromised, could be used to do almost anything, including disabling security/anti-virus software. Steam isn’t the only guilty party here, Desura’s client also runs as a service, but at least Desura’s is optional.

          Valve acknowledge this in their Steam Agreement section 7C (capitalisation theirs):


          3) Privacy: Steam is an “activate on play” system which means, by default, Valve knows what, when and for how long you play. There’s nothing stopping them from selling on that information to other interested parties.

          4) Connectivity: Activation systems fail if there are any problems with the user’s Internet connection, the activation server or any part of the network in-between. I’m not prepared to tolerate even the possibility of being denied access to content I paid for (and my gaming system is completely offline so I can game without distraction, ruling out activation of any sort). Steam’s offline mode is not a solution since it only lasts a short while (as little as 3 days by some accounts).

          5) Terms and Conditions – Steam’s TOS (linked to above) include a number of requirements that I consider unreasonable and objectionable, including 3A (no proxy servers), 6 (any contribution you provide becomes Valve’s property) 7C (security – noted above) and 9+10B (Valve may change its terms – if you disagree your only option is to close your account, losing access to all Steam purchases) and 12 (class action waiver).

          In particular, Valve can choose to impose a regular fee (an annual or even monthly charge) on users just to keep their accounts open. With 35 million users, a $10/month fee would raise (assuming a conservative 80% acceptance rate) nearly $3.4 billion/year with little extra effort. Since the amount raised is only likely to increase over time (and the Steam TOS is even headlined “Subscriber Agreement”) I consider that highly likely to occur.

          Now I’ve purchased many of Firaxis’ games (including Civ3, 4, Chronicles and Alpha Centauri) so I think I have a good idea what they can do. At the same time though, I’ve been following the antics of their publisher, 2K Games, since the Bioshock/Securom saga and it is clear to me that 2K couldn’t give a damn about customer satisfaction and are happy to treat everyone as potential crooks. As a point of principle, I’m not prepared to support any publisher who follows that strategy and consider it morally preferable to boycott them and instead support those who treat their customers with respect. However good X-COM may be, there are plenty of other good games out there.

          Online activation DRM is bad for the reasons given above and Steam, being activate-on-play, is the second most restrictive variant of it – only the “always on” systems used by Blizzard/Activision and (formerly) Ubisoft can be said to be worse.

        • Evil Azrael says:

          Nice argumentation against steam. i think this covers the most severe steam problems. Perhaps we should move this discussion to a dedicated forum thread.

  21. Gabike says:

    great review, great review! to me – this game smells like DLC/expansion all over… that they didn’t do it as well as they could have just to have some left in the tank. and charge for that again. very disappointing feeling. hopefully modding can iron out some of the current limitations in the meantime.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yes, they surely must have a DLC/expansion in mind, at least DLCs for sure. I imagine that DLCs may bring more maps, a continued storyline, new storyline and the “second wave” options activated and well balanced.

      For anyone that doesn’t know yet, “second wave” is a new game mode the devs scrapped at the last minute (or so the story goes) that gets unlocked after you beat the game and that gives you more options to play, with replayability in mind.

      Second wave options:

      WORKS Damage Roulette: Weapons have a much wider range of damage
      WORKS New Economy: The funding offered by individual council members is randomized
      WORKS Not Created Equally: Rookies will have random starting stats
      Hidden Potential: As a soldier is promoted, their stats will increase randomly
      BUGGED Red Fog: Any wounds taken in combat will degrade a soldier’s stats for that mission
      Absolutely Critical: A flanking shot will guarantee a critical hit
      WORKS The Greater Good: The secret of psionics can only be learned by interrogating a psionic alien
      Marathon: The game takes considerably longer to complete
      Results Driven: A country will offer less funding as it’s panic level increases
      WORKS High Stakes: The rewards granted for stopping alien abductions are randomized
      WORKS Diminishing Returns: The cost of satellites increases with every one that is built
      WORKS The Blitz: The aliens will target a larger number of cities every time they launch an abduction attack

      You can download a mod that activates these options (caution: most probably unfinished and unbalanced stuff) here.

    • SQW says:

      It’s Firaxis we are talking about – have you seen the number of DLCs they made for Civ 5? lol

      Anyway, as long as the impending DLCs are of decent quality and fairly priced, I’ll bite. Xcom may not be perfect but it’s a damn good attempt at recreating the experience of the original.

      @Gabike. Use a hex editor and open up the *.exe file. Changing a few numbers there can really tweak the gameplay like allowing you to intercept abduction/terror UFOs and increasing the number of UFOs per month etc.

      • Gabike says:

        i mean, i do understand the business side of things, that it s important to push out some version to capture revenues..and by no means is this another sword of the stars 2… but even if these, or more ‘options’ are available, i m still left with this bitter taste. i pay money to game designers to design a game, not for them to allow me design my own, if you see what i mean. it would ve been so much better if the experience was full, and not with these..artificial limitations. the same is exactly true for Civ5 as well, just as you say. the first version was a joke, and even after the expansion i m not entirely convinced it offers the same value as the previous ones did.

        if only my eyes could still take the punishment of the old games.. ;)

        • Adam Solo says:

          Civ5 vanilla was not brilliant but with G&K the full Civ experience was restored, to the point that I don’t got back to Civ4 BTS anymore (one of my favorite games of all time) to scratch my Civ itch.

          Not everything is perfect with Civ5 G&K yet though, but I’m sure that you’ll rejoice, like I did, after seeing this patch list due Fall this year.

          This is the thing with Firaxis. You may not get the perfect thing when it gets out, but you know that you have a very good chance to get prime patch support … and a few DLCs and expansions on the pipeline as well.

          Firaxis squeezes the business side of things very well. Till now I’m a happy customer though. It may take time but they get there. They’re not crazy, the Civ franchise is what feeds them.

          I sincerely hope they treat XCOM as their next feed-franchise. Civ alone won’t allow them to grow. Sid surely isn’t stupid, I’m sure some XCOM:EU DLCs and expansions are being worked out as we speak. I would be very dissapointed if that wouldn’t be the case.

  22. hereticus says:

    *** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

    my 2 cents…

    First part of the game made you feel like world is crumbling around you. Constant state of panic, the feeling that the key decisions you make might be the end of it all is constant. And than…game nudges you in right direction taking away fun from discovering what is that you need to do to handle the alien threat. That leads to…

    Second part of the game (spoiler).

    You find out the base you go clean it up and then what happens?? Well game gives you a huge break. No more shuffling between countries and states of panic. Who to pick or what missions or assignments to go to. After the base assault game becomes very much uneventful. You do get the ufo crash sites and landings and, occasional random council mission here and there. However, in a month I could get 3 to 5 missions and that was it. The panic meters stay low across the board no matter what…

    That kind of ruin the experience for me. the strategic part of the game is flawed in my humble opinion and it needs some serious balance readjusting to keep the game challenging and interesting. However, the tactical part of the game is what kept me glued to the screen. Missions are fun to play and I never could get enough of them. Despite some bugs and AI not being actually present in physical form until triggered.

    I finished the game on classic difficulty and started it again in Impossible to see if I can manage the cheating uber AI..

    • Adam Solo says:

      *** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

      I understand what you mean because I felt like that a bit myself. After cleaning the alien base (which I think is the real ultimate challenge in the game, in equal footing with Terror missions perhaps), the game pretty much dies out a bit. Then, it’s just a question to understand what needs to be done to finish the game and do it. Maybe I was lucky and already had all the requirements to unlock the final missions but it did felt a bit … anti-climatic. Like, big challenge and emotional spike at the alien base and then … nothing. Or close.

      I think what you and me need is a playthrough on Classic or Impossible difficulty with Ironman mode ON. I confess that I loaded a few times on my Classical game, when I lost my colonels, one of the reasons being I needed to finish the review on time :) I’m not sure if I would be successful without “cheating” (loading a few times). Yes, the game can also be fun when you lose, if you have the stomach that is.

      I’m playing on Classic Ironman now, and I can tell you that the experience, although being a replay, feels more intense. Not just because you can’t load but because suddenly things feel more real, because things now are final, they are really life & death. And, I imagine that when/if we beat the game on Impossible/Ironman we can still invent other constraints, like not using a particular soldier class, not unlocking some particular skills, going with pistols only, or not using the officer school, etc.

      So, if you combine the different difficulty levels, use the Ironman mode mixed with some “second wave” options (see here) I think we have lots of replayability ahead of us, at least until the DLCs come in.

  23. zigzag says:

    Personally, I like the change of pace. I like being able to drag out the game so that I can relax and enjoy using the highly experienced team that I’ve been building over the course of the game without needing to rush towards the end. (One of the aspects of the game I disliked was the race against time feeling in the early game.)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Ok, that’s another possibility to squeeze more play pleasure, after so much investment on the team, right?. In fact I only discovered one of the council special mission at the very last moments of my complete play session, and I didn’t do that one. And, occasionally you also bump into a new map here and there perhaps. I will probably try to drag the game a little bit in my current classic/ironman session.

      • hereticus says:

        I got bored after a while. I leveled up 5 soldiers to max PSI and decide not to use them any way… I only used one for the final mission and finished it without much of a problem. Mainly because the final boss got Sniped using squad sight. He did not put up much of a fight hehe.

        I decided against doing ironman due to a bug I’ve encountered on some of the maps that forced me to go back to previous save. The bug would freeze the game during Alien movement when one of the aliens does not spawn in to the game or gets stuck in the floor/ground.
        Beside that I learned to live with the losses and dont mourn the fallen for to long. After all there is plenty of where they came from..

        Other than that Impossible is very very challenging due to the fact that all the Alien stats are boosted and they can pick any one off across the map regardless how good of a cover you have. At this level the tactical game shows its flaws and its very very frustrating. But after replaying the very first mission 4 times I was able to finish with one soldier. The following in the field assignment I was able to Ace with no casualties on my side only some bruises and scratches. So it is possible to win and it feels mighty good to do so.
        Adam if you start playing impossible you will soon realize how much adjustment your tactics will need. Things you can get away in Classic mode will be deadly mistakes on Impossible difficulty. So I wish you good luck in your future endeavour and GIVE THEM HELL!!

  24. slyostinato says:

    I demo’ed the game and…well, I won’t be buying it. Enough said.

    • Towerbooks3192 says:

      Why is that? If you got the tutorial on (which the demo is about the tutorial I think? based on that video walkthrough I saw) the game feels linear as things are blocked out for tutorial purposes. Once you play without the tutorial then you have the freedom to decide and it would feel a little less linear. However things really change from Normal to Classic as the AI is unshackled and you could really feel the pressure especially in ironman mode.

      Please give the game a chance! :) Pretty please???

      Well anyway, I would love to hear why you wont be buying it.

  25. Jesse says:

    I thought it was a good game, but it definitely left me with a “Where’s the beef?” sensation. The design decision to have groups that get their little cutscene and free move just strikes me as a bad one. Rather than fighting an alien force, it feels like you’re just pulling groups, MMO style. Just feels off. It also makes setting up OW and using a single troop to move forward and aggro the enemy group before falling back a defacto tactic, especially on the higher difficulties, which really kills any tactical dynamics the game could potentially offer. Coupling this with the ‘scripted feeling’ of the geoscape layer, and a rather small map pool, and the game really didn’t feel like it had anything more to offer me after the first playthrough. Done it all, seen it all, and anything further is just seeing how you fare against the RNG.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I also thought the “free cutscene move” when you spot aliens to be somewhat strange at first. Then I got used to it and accepted as a “I see you, you see me” thing, and then they seek cover and everything starts from there.

      It was their (the designers) way to allow the aliens to seek cover depending from where you come (from which direction). Otherwise you would just find them there standing (like in the OG) and shoot point blank, almost always flanking them, which combined with the cover system they designed probably would be too easy.

      I think the optimal way to implement this would be to have some of the aliens on overwatch by default, and then when you “disturb” them, they don’t do the “free dance move” and just shoot you in the face. I suspect the devs struggled with this and thought that what we see now makes more sense. I give them the benefit of the doubt since I have a lot of fun with the system as it is, and sometimes the aliens do decide to came and get you, and then, there’s no “free move cutscene” but you dead in the ground.

      Which difficulty did you win the game by the way? And, with or without Ironman mode on?

  26. Jesse says:

    The free cut scene move is just too exploitable I find. Moving up and setting up OW every turn is slow and tedious, but optimal. When your objective is to not die, it would be kinda silly to do something suboptimal intentionally. The way encountering enemies works, though, it makes this the best approach.

    I also don’t like how you know what you’ve encountered. Always 3 thin men or 3 mutons or whatnot, with location revealed. I’d rather spot a single enemy, and not know what sort of support it may have just outside the fog of war. You can sometimes get a similar effect through patrols, though in the end, it’s just 3 MORE mutons, ect., very little enemy unknown. I agree, some aliens on OW by default would be great. Have the aliens expect a frontal breach and set up accordingly, and they change to expect a different direction of breach on sound cues, or something like that. The AI itself I think would be competent and fun to play against, if the way the initial contact happened changed. I’d love to say “Just activate all enemies at the start of the map.”, but I don’t think that would work too well either, just because you’re massively outnumbered and the +hit modifiers for difficulty would likely make the battle end post-haste.

    Played classic with mostly self imposed ironman, though some particularly bad strategy layer rolls got reloaded. That was another thing that kinda killed the magic for me; just how random the strategy layer was. With the story, it kinda makes sense, but still, I like to feel that my strategy is having a strategic effect, not just doing stuff and hoping the RNG plays in my favor. Anyway, definitely a fun game, but left me a bit unsatisfied.

    • SQW says:

      May I recommend the Impossible difficulty? You’ll still get 3-of-something spawns but because there are more enemy’s within a given area, the AI are more likely to patrol/respond to fire fights.

      Last night, my squad stumbled into 2 groups of mutons and over the next 3 turns of long distance sniping, 2 more groups emerged from fog of war to (sorta) flank me – I did not move beyond my initial encounter range so it wasn’t me who triggered the latter mutons. There’re ‘call for help’ animations for every aliens and they are definitely not cosmetic.

      Examples like the above happen very often in Impossible but are indeed rare in Classic. Add to the difficulty of managing panic level on the strategic layer, the highest difficulty level does change your entire experience rather than just making you grind more.

  27. Laplace says:

    “The game mechanics stayed basically the same”

    The wrongest words hath not yet been spoken. seriously, how blind can you be to not see this game as a poorly designed boardgame it so obviously is…Jake Solomon marketing skills in action, people. Zombifying game reviewers everywhere.

    “The game’s atmosphere, the suspense, the horror and surprise factors are all there”

    Now i know you’ve been paid off.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Hi there Laplace, welcome to the blog.

      Yes, you are right. We were all paid off by 2K in the gaming industry or we’re all suffering from mass delusion. However, it’s great that we have people like you that remind us that what we are actually having with this game is not a lot of fun, but the effect of vicious marketing and mind control by the XCOM designers that deceived us into thinking this is an excellent game when in fact it isn’t, right?

      I’m an X-COM veteran and I like this game a lot. It has its share of flaws but in my view they are not as important as the good parts of the game. You don’t like it? That’s just fine.

      • harry says:

        I mean the game is quite nice in the beginning..

        But then it fells off very fast.. Now I played till end.. And Science is really tooo fast..
        I learned all the advanced alien technology in 3 month.. comon..
        For every research subject I only needed 1 day..
        And I miss random maps..
        Or just some maps with better textures.. Thats not the graphics of 2012..

        Definetily not a 9.4 in my mind.. And I hate this consol controls.. And camera.. I want to click on the enemy I want to shoot.. its so easy..

        8.4 in my mind..

        • Adam Solo says:

          What platform are you playing on? You mention console controls. Are you playing on XBox, PS3? Graphics are quite good on the PC…

          And, the difficulty level you choose is very important. Normal is quite easy. If you didn’t, try the Classic difficulty for extra fun and challenge. Then, let me know.

          Beware everyone. Don’t play on Normal. It’s piece of cake and you will not get enough fun.

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