Saturday, February 16, 2013

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

The first and third X-COM games, UFO: Enemy Unknown and X-COM: Apocalypse, are my favorite strategy games.
When XCOM: Enemy Unknown came out I wasn't hyped about it, because I knew these are different developers and that they will "dumb down" the game in order to reach bigger audience (Couldn't be more right about that one)

This weekend I gave XCOM: Enemy Unknown a shot, and it lived up to my expectations. It sucked.
My first impression was good, there were cutscenes that helped to build up the story, and units had visual customization, cartoonish aesthetics to avoid the uncanny valley, and the combat was nice - only at the beginning.

I noticed that when you start a game you can choose to play in ironman mode, which means you can't go back to previous saves of the game.
Reloading a save in a battle could let the player retry to hit enemies, and avoid casualties.
From a game design perspective, if a player find finds himself constantly saving and reloading every time a soldier dies or misses a shot, he might as well use cheats to get 100% accuracy and infinite HP.
This means that I'm going to play with ironman mode on, and on classic difficulty.

At first it was all nice, I had my soldiers, I won some missions flawlessly, they ranked up, everything was nice so far. Eventually my veteran soldiers died, and they had to be replaced with rookies.
And this is where the game critically fails.
While the difficulty raised up to the point where every encounter have at least 10 aliens, and they include tough aliens, like the Muton, it became impossible to win missions.
Every single time I had to fight with 5 (got an upgrade to the squad size) soldiers that can't hit a target from 6 feet away, and have low HP which means they died from 1-2 hits.
Every time I faced at least 10 aliens which hit my soldiers 90% of the time from any range, have stronger weapons, and some of them had more HP.
I tried to use grenades because they always hit, but I'm limited to one per soldier and they for some reason weaker then a rifle. so it didn't help much.
I got to a point which the enemy have more firepower, more units, more health, and more accuracy then me, so it became practically impossible to win a mission, and I couldn't do anything about it.

Let me repeat myself, "I couldn't do anything about it". That's why this game sucks. And I can't do anything about it because of the dumbing down. The whole point of the dumbing down is to minimize the number of options you have for each decision in order to make it easy. This game was so dumbed down so you basically don't have a decision to make anymore.
In UFO: Enemy Unknown, if my soldier has low accuracy, I could take an aimed shot to make up for it. A feature that was removed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
In UFO: Enemy Unknown, I could give any soldier any weapon. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown weapons are class restricted.
In UFO: Enemy Unknown, I could arrange my soldier's inventory, So for example I could take as many grenades or rockets as a soldier can carry. A feature that was removed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
In UFO: Enemy Unknown, If I lost my best soldiers, I could make up for it by bringing up to 16 soldiers to every mission. A feature that was removed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and apparently you need to need to research how to make more than 4 soldiers sit down in a aircraft.
In UFO: Enemy Unknown, I could sell stuff I manufacture, and generate additional, important, income. A feature that was removed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Also, in X-COM: Apocalypse you have training facilities, which let you improve your "spare soldiers" while you don't use them for missions.

As you can see, a lot of features were dumbed down and removed in order to keep the game simple. Simple and broken.
But hey, at least you can make your soldiers look cool, right? After all the soldier customization is the most complex system in the game.