Sure, danger and death potentially lurks around every corner, and it happens regularly that my soldiers are seriously wounded (only one of them actually survived the heavily-scripted tutorial mission). But when the same soldier has been along on almost every mission, and has evolved into an ultra-usable sprinter who can run longer and often fire a few shots off after doing so, it sure hurts when she falls.
And it's my own fault, which is the the most frustrating thing of all. I have moved too fast. After methodically sweeping the area around the downed UFO, and pumped relentless amounts of lead in every alien who has stuck its nose out, I found a hole in the hull of the vessel. And I stormed greedily forward, hoping to quickly paralyze and capture the mystical crystal creature that seems to work as captain of the ship.
And I'm being punished for that now. My sergeant is bleeding out, and if I do not reach her with a Medkit in three turns, it's over for her. And of course I forgot to take medkits with me.
However, there is a small bright spot - the crystal alien had to move completely out of cover to take his shot, which means that my Heavy is close enough to come within stun distance with his first move points. I can still take the alien alive.
But as he moves in close, the bloody alien suddenly turns invisible. My stun gun has nothing to shoot at. Damn it! Instead, I order him to raise his machine gun up and shoot at the first thing that moves. I move the other soldiers a little closer to give him cover, and pass the turn.
The alien moves one step away from my Heavy and becomes visible again. That very moment, a burst of fire from the Heavy takes its head off. The threat is stopped. Mission accomplished. All my troops survive. Although my research leader is cursing for not catching the alien alive.
It is an intense affair, Xcom: Enemy Unknown. There are many things to keep track of. A base to be managed and expanded, engineers and scientists who need jobs, and a balancing act when it comes to choosing what reports of alien activity you want to pursue, and which countries are to be left behind to fend for themselves.
Soldiers have to be fitted, weapons to be developed. And aliens to be hunted, killed, kidnapped.
Between missions, everything is done in real time, with the ability to turn up the pace while waiting for the next event. By contrast, when troops are sent off on missions, it's all done by turn. We have a squad of four to six soldiers of different classes (Assault, Heavy, Sniper, etc.). They can usually move twice, or move once and shoot once. Then we pass the turn to the aliens.
Simple, elegant, and at the same time immensely stressful and intense. You rarely know what lurks in the darkness, and the only way to find out is by sending your soldiers forward. From cover to cover, with an eye on your flanks. If you get caught in the open, you are almost certainly doomed.
Xcom is difficult, made clear already in the tutorial mission, where as far as I can tell, you can not avoid losing three people. Nevertheless, you will be eased into the game rules and mechanics at a steady pace, and it is only after the third or fourth mission that you are really set free and can do as you like. It is just as well - there's a lot to learn.
The missions are varied. Areas to be cleared of enemies, bombs must be found and removed, escaped abductees to be escorted to safety. Often several missions are offered simultaneously, and you must carefully choose which you want to solve. It is as much a question of the potential rewards as how far a country is from total panic.
If you have played the old UFO: Enemy Unknown or its X-Com sequels, you will quickly feel at home. Yes, the new Xcom is less complex and more streamlined in many respects, but respect for the original is evident, and it seems in every way a worthy successor.
There is even room for a multiplayer mode which also seems very promising. A point-budget is set at the start of the game, and with these you can buy soldiers, aliens(!), and equipment that you want to take into battle. The opponent does the same, and then you go at each other deathmatch-style, with the exact same mechanics as in the campaign. It works well, although the aliens, equipped with only melee attacks seem rather difficult to use properly. Most players are probably best served by a pure soldier team.
The combination of turn-based mechanics and the fact that you never really know what is hidden in darkness, makes Xcom a rare experience, with a mixture of excitement and tactics you can not really find anywhere else. This preview build bodes well, and the game looks like a sure winner when it launches in October.