XCOM: Enemy Within is the expansion to one of the best remakes of classic games. How much better can it get?
It was around this time last year that XCOM fans were dipping their toes into Firaxis’ ‘re-imagining’ of the classic Microprose game Ufo: Enemy Unknown, that pitted the best humanity had to offer (an international medley of mainly blonde, grey – jumpsuit – wearing Guile clones) against an alien force intent on invading our beloved blue planet. There’s no doubt that Firaxis walked the tightrope taking on such a well loved and classic franchise, but in the end XCOM was well received, although some die hard fans lamented the absence of a deeper strategy layer, micromanagement and the infamous base defence.
I found the game to be solid and enjoyable – I can see why Firaxis made the decision to streamline the overall format, although at times I did miss the more sandbox elements of the original. After a couple of essentially ‘fluff’ dlcs, which weren’t bad per se, Firaxis began opening the lid on the upcoming expansion, Enemy Within, due out next month, which promises to address some of the issues that fans had with the original and expand on a number of elements. Mechs, genetically enhanced soldiers, more enemies and maps, and possibly a base defence mission. It all sounds good so far, and frankly anything that gives me new ways to incinerate Thin Men with extreme prejudice is fine by me.
So, lets start with whats new for your soldiers. In addition to getting some more customisation options for your troops, which will inevitably make watching that Sectopod blasting your favourite pink armoured au couture Colonel into dust even more painful, soldiers now have more combat modifications open to them. Firstly, there is the option to genetically modify your soldiers – a bit like Khan from the new Star Trek, but hopefully without the psychosis. These gene mods can be applied to a number of bodily regions, enhancing a soldiers psionic defences with neural feedback which sends a rather nasty and well deserved surprise to that smug Sectoid commander, or enabling your soldiers to leap to high vantage points on the map.
If that doesn’t sound destructive enough for you, then fear not. Forget all this new age ‘gene mod’ nonsense and get old school by trading your soldiers limbs for reinforced metal ones. Yep, you can now amputate those useless fleshy appendages and replace them with cold steel (or alien alloys in all probability) enabling the use of miniguns (‘oh shit – he’s got a minigun’), grenade launchers and a rocket powered fist. These new MEC troops will not be able to use cover, but who cares when you have a rocket powered fist. They also have the ability to disintegrate cover on the map, leaving those gloating Thin Men with their pants down, ready to be exploded into mush by the rest of your team. Oh, and in a nice touch you can now give your soldiers an accent that matches their nationality, which is nice. Ahh the joy of the little things.
Of course, the aliens aren’t going to let Xcom have all the fun. They have a few new tricks up their sleeve too. The ‘Mechtoid’ is the alien equivalent of MEC troops, and looks at once both intimidating with it’s towering powered armour body, and slightly cuddly with the head of it’s bug eyed Sectoid pilot popping out like a whack – a – mole. I’ll probably be revoking that ‘cuddly’ comment after facing one in game. Additionally, there is a whole new threat in the form of Seekers, squid like robots reminiscent of the Matrix’s Sentinels. These nasty robo – fish have the ability to cloak, and when close to your soldiers will latch on and strangle them causing damage each turn until they are dislodged. What’s more, Seekers specialise in hit and run, often splitting up after initially being encountered and looking for isolated units. I’m looking at you, snipers.
The alien threat won’t be the only concern in the expansion, as a recently revealed trailer gave us an insight into the human threat Xcom are up against too. Exalt, a terrorist organisation, have their own lofty goals of world domination. They want the alien tech just like XCOM, and will undermine them at every opportunity. In game, this might manifest as them hacking your research to slow down progress, causing panic in council countries, and other nefarious deeds. If the trailer is anything to go by, then I have a new found respect for Officer Bradley – it looks like he might actually contribute something other than complaining about me selling un-researched tech and whining about some bomb going off when I’m surrounded by Thin Men with one rookie soiling himself in a corner. You’re alright, Bradley. Exalt will also open up more gameplay options as a result. You’ll be able to send lone soldiers on covert operations, perform new tactical missions, and scan the globe until you locate the terrorists main base.
The Right Tools for the Job
Finally, there are a list of new grenades, from stealth inducing ordinance to needle grenades that don’t destroy cover, and a number of new gene and cybernetic related research projects and labs to be built in your headquarters. Autopsies often unlock these projects, which makes them more of a research priority. Soldiers can now be equipped with tactical rigging, which will enable them to carry more grenades or medkits into battle too. There are also hints that base defence may be in too, although how this will be implemented is not yet known. Overall, there is a lot to look forward to, and there are sure to be things that Firaxis will keep quiet about until closer to release. I for one, am glad they listened to Xcom fans and ditched the story focused, fairly content light dlc’s like Slingshot in favour of what we’re getting, which is essentially a complete revamp and improvement on the original. My only slight concern is letting the clearly mentally unstable Dr Vahlen loose on my own troops – amputating limbs and making dubious insertions. No one is safe – human, alien, or our social lives when this is released.
Images: Firaxis Games and 2K Games