It was just 12 short months ago that I was singing the praises of 2K’s revival of the classic turn-based strategy game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Thus it feels strange to be picking it up again just one year later for a second outing, with XCOM: Enemy Within, a new boxed title that sits awkwardly between sequel and expansion.
XCOM: Enemy Within’s odd commercial positioning does nothing to mute the quality of the game. Though this new instalment could have been more comfortably sold as a digital expansion, its additions more than justify the £30 price tag.
The new twist on the original game is that now XCOM troops do not only have to face the alien threat, but also Exalt, a new human faction. While not aligned with the aliens, this new group does share similar goals, leaving you fighting a war on two fronts as you lead XCOM against both enemies of humanity.
Exalt operates out of cells that are positioned throughout the world. As they strive towards their goal, they grow in following, undermining stability in their country of operation. To stop them XCOM must infiltrate these smaller groups to gather information in order to locate and wipe out their leadership.
Let’s be clear, Enemy Within is the same game as Enemy Unknown with some new units and powers added.
The new content is not all available from the start, and needs to be unlocked through researching a new element known as ‘meld’. This additional alien technology allows for a synthesis of biological and mechanical advancements, enabling the creation of huge machines and genetically enhanced troops.
These new abilities greatly alter the game’s balance, with mechs and modified soldiers proving significantly more powerful than standard units. To balance this, the aliens have also gained new powers, while battles against Exalt see you more than out numbered by similarly equipped opponents.
More options makes for more diversity, and as troops become increasingly advanced in ever varied fields, so too does your attachment to them. Loosing a troop becomes ever more troublesome which makes engaging in the new, tougher, missions a constantly increasing gable.
XCOM: Enemy Within’s cut scenes and voice acting maintain the high level of polish fans will be familiar with, allowing them to seamlessly blend with the original.
The first time you upgrade troops with the meld abilities there is a real sense that the game is about to change, while the integration of the new, covert, recognisance missions perfectly fit the tone.
Perhaps the largest issue here however, is that the game does not fully outline where its new and old content begin and end. Starting with the tutorial enabled, I was guided through exactly the same instructional mission as the first game, while new elements were simply integrated into the game’s progression, as any other new ability would be. Not that this is a problem, but experienced players will have precisely zero use for this tutorial.
But while there are many changes evident in gameplay, the same cannot be said for the game engine with the Unreal Engine still creating an unfortunate bottleneck for the game’s textures, with regular pop-in evident throughout.
New abilities extend to the multiplayer also, adding ever more complexity to the high-tech game of chess that XCOM has always encouraged. The tactical play, balance of weapons, and time constraints that online play offer produces a tense, stress-filled experience that it is hard to find anywhere else on console.
XCOM: Enemy Within sits in an odd position. It is as good a game as it ever was, better possibly with the inclusion of the new Exalt faction, but as a near full priced stand alone product it is a difficult sell to those who like the original but are not actively seeking more.
For those who never tried the first game, but were tempted, now is defiantly the time to jump on board, along with those hardcore fans that are desperate for more. If you had your fill last year though, think long and hard before jumping into what is really only a remix of the original experience.