GAME NAME: XCOM: Enemy Within
PUBLISHER(S): 2K Games
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
GENRE(S): Strategy, Turn-based, Tactical
RELEASE DATE(S): November 15th, 2013
XCOM: Enemy Unknown blew me away when I first got it; the return of permadeath, the sting of failure sharp on my cheeks. It was an uphill battle the entire way, fighting through hordes of aliens with unrivalled firepower. They did more damage, they had better aim and there were a lot more of them than I had soldiers. The fact that you had to train up soldiers that you lost (which took so much time) and the wounded were out of action made for some very stressful evenings of me taking on the alien threat. A few brave soldiers were lost due to being thrown into the heat of battle, where they panicked. Others ended up being ambushed by the rather annoying (and never really explained) mechanic of aliens dropping into the battlefield out of the sky, ready to blow things up.
To avoid losses, I played a fairly turtling style: moving to cover, use overwatch on everyone, repeat. The game slowed down but I saved more than one assault trooper by having supports and heavies watching their backs. I built up my research tree to near maximum as well, making sure my troops had every single advantage available to them. And I did all of this without even building a maximum sized base. It was great, but it was missing something: some depth perhaps, a few more options or another resource to fight for. Enemy Within, the first true expansion to Enemy Unknown, brings all of these elements to the table.
This expansion pack adds a bunch of variety to the game, spicing things up with a brand new enemy faction. While EXALT isn’t an ally of the aliens, they sympathise with the idea of accelerated human evolution, hoping to become the next iteration of humanity. They operate like terrorists, setting up sleeper cells in council nations where they exacerbate the effects of panic in those nations. They also have a nasty habit of sabotaging your research and stealing precious funds that the council was about to place into your coffer. You can use money to try find them, but be careful of accusing countries of harbouring these guys because they may just leave the council. (Once again the French abandoned me, why do they hate me so? Is it something I said?) If you detect a cell, you can do a covert mission, which really cranks up the tension. Some operations require you to control a single soldier with nothing but a pistol and some of their other gear, moving through an enemy enclave while trying to avoid fighting every single darn enemy in the place. At least the pistol now has a use, right?
But who cares about terrorists when you have Mechanised Exoskeleton Cybersuits (MEC)? Sacrifice your soldier to make him Roboc… your new frontline force. These soldiers can have bigger weapons and better armour than their fleshy counterparts, but they require repairs instead of healing thanks to giving away their souls their humanity to save humanity. Yeah I know, thematically it is pretty hard to swallow. How are we saving humanity again? To do this, you require Meld, a brand-new resource that requires a bit of daring to acquire in the early part of the game. Containers of Meld will be destroyed after a set number of turns, meaning you need to reach them quickly. This means that players whom employ a turtling playstyle will not get meld early on, meaning they won’t get oddly mangled soldiers or genetically modified soldiers. Luckily for those turtle orientated strategists, late game gives new ways to get Meld, so don’t worry about that.) Of course, EXALT has better gene mods than you ever do, apparently Dr Vahlen draws the line after giving soldiers a second heart. Again, how much humanity are we sacrificing to save humanity? Oh but who cares right? We did all this to have mechs who can go pew pew and stomp smash! The flavour of XCOM gets diluted somewhat, leaving an odd taste behind.
The biggest issue with all of this content is the way enemies get introduced now. New aliens are introduced before you even manage to get to grips with the previous enemy, making life rather unpleasant. While I understand the increased tension created by always being on the back foot, it wrecks the pacing and the tension for the latter part of the game, seeing as you know what to expect. Until you meet the counter to your MEC soldiers. Of course the aliens see what you are doing and magic up a brand new unit that does everything your MEC soldier does, but better! Yeah, never saw that coming at all.
While I love all the additions, (except for the thematic dissonance where mutants and barbaric mechanisation comes in. Remember how shocked and horrified everyone was when seeing the Floaters for the first time?) XCOM: Enemy Within is one of those expansions that I feel is somewhat lost on people with my style of play. I find that I have walked along this road too many times and being expected to start a brand new game to experience this extra content was a chore. Enemy Within’s score and value is really dependent on you. If you haven’t played the game before or you are itching for a reason to play the game, get this expansion. If the idea of playing through the exact same story again, even with a few twists, does not appeal, then this expansion does not offer enough to change that mindset. It is an excuse to play the game again, but make sure you want to do that first.