XCOM: Enemy Within
- Street Date:
- November 12th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- January 16th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- 2K Games
- Firaxis Games
- ESRB Rating:
- M (Mature)
PC version reviewed, which unlike the stand-alone console versions requires the original base game.
Firaxis is revisiting 'XCOM: Enemy Unknown' with a drastically large expansion entitled 'Enemy Within.' 2012's riveting turn-based strategy title surprised everybody with its simultaneous devotion to past glory and progression of gameplay mechanics. And the expansion promises a new human enemy in the form of a shadow organization. It's not a wonder of whether the famed strategy developer can deliver again. Rather, it's a question of just how generous can the offering really be?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
How could 'XCOM: Enemy Unknown' get better, you ask? By having more. More customization, more enemies, more scenarios. And not in the piecemeal way made so popular by microtransactions. Firaxis did the courteous thing, the reasonable thing, the only thing that really makes a game feel new. The 'Enemy Within' expansion is dense with the new, and for players addicted to saving the world from one alien invasion after another, all this newness is a blessed, wonderful thing.
Firaxis, likely anticipating its experienced players as primary buyers for the expansion, throws a lot of the good stuff at you early on in an 'Enemy Within' playthrough. First you're introduced to Meld, a new resource that does a couple of things. From an upgrade standpoint, spending meld can grant your soldiers gene upgrades, like the ability to pounce onto high ground without the use of a ladder or specific armor. Meld is also used to build MEC suits, hulking metallic beasts which must be piloted buy a soldier-turned-MEC trooper. That's a new class. Using Meld requires the construction of two new facilities back at base: the Cybernetics Lab and the Genetics Lab.
As you can see, with meld alone virtually every aspect of the game is modified, even upgraded. New ways to spend money that lead to a new class or a uniquely modified soldier, which in turn lead to newly emerged strategies on the battlefield. By design, it's a lot to take in. Veterans won't be rolling through this stuff in an hour, back to strategies from the original game, much like a story-based expansion would have you do. It's tactics and strategy which change, as it should be with a game like XCOM.
For instance, I quickly found that the MEC is the best version of a lead soldier in any kind of squad, especially if you're hunting for meld, which expires after a certain number of turns. Without the ability to take cover he might feel a little vulnerable, but with a huge amount of health and enemy-wiping abilities like a flamethrower or rail gun, the MEC is a beacon of protection and fortitude. At one point, I got a little too aggressive with him and lost my soldier, leaving me little choice but to spend the meld to re-up. Fighting for meld sometimes amps up your own personal pacing in a mission. Sometimes you handle it well, sometimes you don't.
Gene mods don't feel quite as impactful, but I see that more as my relative ineptitude with soldier customization than anything else. I've always been more about the big guns.
As for new enemies, the big thing here is Exalt, a human agency with nefarious designs on alien technology and even potential partnership. Again, like meld, the Exalt angle pops up in various ways. Most notably are the covert operations, which have you send a soldier armed with just a pistol and secondary items undercover in an Exalt skill, and eventually leading an onslaught into their base. Exalt soldiers exhibit some interesting tactics, since each enemy isn't necessarily tied to equipment and weapons, and generally seem a bit smarter than the little green men. Much like satellite coverage, if you don't keep pressure on the Exalt cells around the world, it's going to bite you in the ass. They can sabotage your efforts in a number of ways./p>
Exalt feels like a campaign inside of a campaign, with tendrils that reach out and affect your primary progression now and again. It's both a great, spy-like diversion and an excuse to shake things up when fighting aliens feels a bit samey, though Firaxis did a little work in this area as well.
A hefty chunk of new maps feel immediately fresh, setting a saucer landing in a metropolis instead of a forest, or sending you on a unique mission in some New England-style docks. On the other hand, the new alien foes leave a bit to be desired for. A Sectoid inside a mech, a Mechtoid, doesn't feel or affect the battle much differently than the Sectopod, and the Seekers, which stealthily grapple onto squaddies, can't take more than single shot from a mid-tier weapon. Neither are particularly challenging, and neither instill any sense of dread so common in the original game's enemies. To be fair, nothing will ever match the tapping of a Chryssalid's horrible legs in the distance.
As a matter of fact, none of the additions, save a frantic and surprising callback mission to the original games, really play with the dread and constantly foreboding failure so motivating in the original content. Maybe there's a different theme to the expansion, something having to do with our inner demons (genetic modification) or the devils among us (Exalt), but really it's a big excuse to play more and do more with a game so clearly loved by many. The additions ever-so-slightly curb the game in favor of the player, as gene mods and MEC troopers end up outweighing Exalt and the minor alien foes.
Still, at the most basic expectation, there's more weapons, new grenade types, new class abilities and, as mentioned before, an entirely new class. This is XCOM plus in the best way possible, twists and turns changing the shape of your campaign against your best intentions, even for the most experienced. For that alone, 'Enemy Within' is quite the bountiful success.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
It seems orange is the new blue. Outside of a palette transition from cold to warm, 'XCOM' has very much remained 'XCOM' in 'Enemy Within.' The new enemy types verge on campy, as does the atmosphere in each of the new maps. Always remember that you're commanding a covert army of super soldiers, now even more super with gene mods and MECs, against an foreign alien race. Firaxis nailed the visual component before, deftly balancing the surreal with the absurd. Without a reason to change much, it falls on the human Exalt soldiers to really toss things around. Far more menacing than the thin men ever were, with their suave suits and gangly composition, the Exalt soldiers takes XCOM further into human characterization than ever before. At the very least, I appreciate that Firaxis is never going to rewrite their 'XCOM' visual style as either realistic or cartoonish. It's good the way it is.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Generally the same deal with the video. MECS boulder their way through a stage with realistic clunk. The music is the background to your heartbeat ever speeding up. It works. No changes needed here.
As in the original review of 'XCOM: Enemy Within,' there's still the issue of the disparaging enemy boosting from one difficulty level to another. Instead of condensing your strategy and perfecting your tactics, moving into a new difficulty is going to require an unlearning of tactics the game previously rewarded. It's frustrating, but if you're buying 'Enemy Within,' you're likely used to it by now. As for the content of the expansion, it's all about replay value, and it's a good replay at that. Well worth the time.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
This is the best kind of bonus content around. Full and fulfilling.
The bottom line is you'll never play 'XCOM: Enemy Unknown' for the first time ever again. It's okay that 'Enemy Within' doesn't give you that feeling. It doesn't recreate the dread we all felt in those first couple playthroughs. That's where ironman mode comes in. 'Enemy Within' is all about piling on the goods, throwing in some new ideas with Exalt and buffing up the sense of personalization and customization with your squaddies. There's a lot more to do, and with a game as good as 'XCOM,' that's never a bad thing.
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