Xcom: Enemy Within

Xcom: Enemy Within

The latest expansion from Firaxis brings new enemies and fresh options to Xcom.

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Every time the name Xcom appears, it fills me with a wonderful sense of nostalgia. The original 1994 DOS game UFO: Enemy Unknown is the title that made me a gamer. The rich meta-game combined with tactical ground fighting that hadn't been seen before in any video game created an experience and atmosphere that I do not feel has been exceeded some twenty years later. This is no easy task that Firaxis has taken on.

When Firaxis relaunched the Xcom series last year they did so with great respect for the original, while making some necessary changes to bring the experience up to the level that today's gamers expect. But I still felt there was something missing, and I have therefore had high hopes that this expansion would be able to add something to the elements where I felt Xcom: Enemy Unknown did not meet my expectations.

The story is basically the same as before in Xcom: Enemy Within. Aliens arrive at earth, and instantly show us puny Earthlings who's in charge. Mankind, however, has predicted that this could happen, and thus dusts off the Xcom initiative. Xcom is, as many of you probably know by now, a secret international organisation that specialises in fighting the extraterrestrial threat. New this time is that not all people agree that aliens are a threat we should fight. The terrorist group Exalt is working hard to prevent Xcom from chasing the aliens away.

It is here Xcom: Enemy Within get its literal meaning. This terrorist organization gives us a richer meta-game, where the organisation fights against you by spreading panic with their propaganda. In addition, they perform various sabotage missions that can drain your resources or ruin your research. If kept unchecked Exalt can cause you some real trouble.

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When you discover such a threat you can send one of your agents to spy on the terrorist cell that tried to sabotage your efforts. After a given time you must then send in your troops to bring the agent back out. You will then enter either a sabotage mission where you sneak into their base and download information from their computer terminals, or king of the hill-type missions where you have to protect a transmitter you have deployed against waves of Exalt soldiers.

Xcom: Enemy Within

However, the real challenge in fighting Exalt is the tactics they use when you meet them in the field. These are human beings after all, and thus they think like you. Where aliens normally wander around in small groups and don't do anything in particular before they see you, the Exalt operatives will hunt you with many of the same tactics that you would adopt. A sniper will seek higher ground, waiting for the perfect shot, while ground troops will use med-kits, and try to blow up your defensive position with a well-placed rocket before they attack. Sneaking around, trying to pick groups of enemies one by one does not work here either, because these terrorists communicate with each other and will bring in reinforcements when they are outnumbered.

To meet this new threat the expansion comes with a lot of improvements for your soldiers, and here the title Xcom: Enemy Within gets a more philosophical meaning. We can now improve our soldiers at a genetic level, or replace all their limbs and make them into the new MEC Trooper class.

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These innovations are extremely useful. The genetic modifications allow us to customise soldiers in a number of ways. For example, a genetic change in the bone structure of a soldier will make them regenerate some health each round, while genetically enhanced eyes can improve the aim of snipers.

While the genetic modifications are small tweaks, the MEC Trooper is a total overhaul. Here we choose one of our soldiers and let their limbs get replaced - Robocop-style - with machines. The MEC Trooper can then operate so-called MECs, huge robotic suits with powerful weapons. The MEC Trooper then becomes a walking tank, a role that was sorely missed in the original game, which stands in the front line, soaking up projectiles and blasting away at the enemy's defensive positions.

We can now also enhance soldiers by giving them stat-increasing medals for heroic efforts. With all the adjustments now available, the investment in each soldier is even bigger. I personally catch myself feeling an even stronger bond with them. Never does permadeath feel more unfair than when someone you've spent hours on training, and now boosted with medals and genetic modifications, suddenly sinks to the ground after being critically hit by a well-placed plasma projectile.

Xcom: Enemy Within

With all these improvements one would think that the game had become a little more complicated and a lot easier. Well, think again, because the aliens also gets new toys. Their MECs, called Mectoids, comes with dual plasma cannons, and can shoot twice each round if they do not move. Combined with their 20 HP (on Normal), plus a shield of 6 when they brain-meld with a Sectoid, they require concentrated artillery-fire from the entire team before they hit the ground.

The new Seeker unit can turn invisible, and it specialises in hunting soldiers who are left by themselves. They do not constitute a major threat to a full group, but if they hook their tentacles around a soldier who is standing alone, it's just a matter of time before that solider is dead. Allowing your sniper to stand alone on a hill, to pick off aliens from afar, is now downright dangerous.

However, what really changed my tactical priorities when on the ground is the new resource, Meld. This resource is needed for both genetic modification and MECs, and like Elerium and Alien Alloys it can only be collected directly from the enemy. It has only a limited number of rounds before is self-destructs, and I'm then often tempted to break my defensive formation and send soldiers dashing forwards towards the resource-nodes.

The maps have also received some much-needed variety. Firaxis has sacrificed a bit of individual quality to create significantly more of them, but this seems to be the right choice. There are so many different maps now that each mission feels unique, and since UFOs now can land in urban areas salvaging them has gotten a lot better.

In addition, there are several new special missions that deviate from the standard formula. One particular thing I've missed is getting my base attacked by aliens, and the Site Recon mission is one of the most intense experiences I have had in the game so far. Overall the increase in new maps and missions really adds to both gameplay and replay value.

Xcom: Enemy WithinXcom: Enemy Within

However, there is still some small things I feel are missing. We are still limited to a maximum of six soldiers, and it is still not possible to bring more equipment than soldiers can carry by themselves. This works fine on the smaller missions, but in bigger areas like the alien-bases and aboard the larger UFOs, crew and resources often feel scarce.

My main objection against this extension is, however, the price. £19.99 for an expansion of this size might seem a bit stiff, but ultimately it's a fair price. That console gamers have to purchase the Commander Edition for £29.99, despite the fact that they might already own Xcom: Enemy Unknown, seems unfair. The argument that the expansion is too big to serve as downloadable content is no excuse for exclusively bundling the expansion with the original game. That said, for new players it is a great deal.

Xcom: Enemy Within does exactly what an expansion pack should do. It perfects an already great game, and tops it off with varied content where the original game sometimes felt a bit repetitive and empty. The price is high, especially for console users, but if you loved the original game this is certainly worth it. Firaxis' relaunch of the Xcom series is now very close to giving me the magical feeling I got from the original from 1994, and that is quite a feat .

Xcom: Enemy Within
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09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+ New enemies, more levels, more tactics thanks to new units, more variety over a campaign
- Too expensive for console owners looking to upgrade
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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