Having recently watched all three series of falling skies (which was awesome, but also very sad as I now have to wait until June 2013 for season 4) I’ve become somewhat of a self-proclaimed expert in saving the planet from Alien Scum, and what better way to put my new skills up to the test than playing XCOM: Enemy Within. As many of you will know Enemy Within is basically just an expansion on XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the hit game which was released back in 2012. If you’re in the US you’ll be able to buy the expansion pack solely by itself, if you’re from Europe like me then the bad news is the game has been packaged and sold as a new full game. A bit of a rip-off in the sense that if you’re like me, then you will already have Enemy Unknown and now you’ll have to fork out for the whole game again with the expansion. The good news is that developer Firaxis have done such a good job that Enemy Within really does make it feel like a whole new XCOM game rather than just an expansion.
So how does Enemy Within make it feel like a whole new game I hear you ask? Well it starts with the story, which in all honesty wasn’t very strong in the original game. The basic plot of the game has stayed the same; you’re the commander of XCOM, an elite force set up with the task to defend the Earth from alien invaders. Where Enemy Within improves on Enemy Unknown is that there is now a much more detailed storyline that you follow which are established across special missions set to you by the Council, a group of world leaders who fund XCOM and their missions. But that is not the only change; there is also the addition of a second enemy named Exalt, a rebel group of alien sympathisers that wish for the aliens to accomplish their goals in the hope to enlighten the human race. This all makes for much more exciting gameplay, especially with a further new addition which means you are no longer just attacking your enemy but defending XCOM’s headquarters from your enemies as well.
As in any war the best way to defeat your enemy is to know your enemy, and that’s why to complete your missions it’s just like Enemy Unknown. You must recover alien artefacts, capture live specimens and research alien technologies to help understand the enemy and develop new equipment which will be used to aid you in your bid to turn the tides of war in your favour. What’s new about the way you go about doing all this in Enemy Within is that there are now new facilities to build, new enemies to capture and learn from, and new classes of soldier to train which can be upgraded using the money you earn combined with Meld, a new alien material.
Meld is a material that you have to collect from canisters as a secondary objective to your main goals during your missions; you will be notified in the top right of your screen on each mission when Meld is available. Once you have located the canisters containing Meld you will need to collect it within a certain number of turns or the Meld expires and can’t be extracted. This adds a new tactical edge to each mission as you not only have to plan your approach to take on the enemy, but you also have to spread out and search for Meld canisters. This can work as an advantage in some cases, mainly when you have expanded your squad, as it creates an opportunity to flank your enemy. The negative side is that sometimes a member of your troop can be isolated and come under heavy enemy fire while the remainder of your troop are on the other side of the map.
Having collected Meld on your missions you’ll probably be wondering what you’re going to use it for. Well you’ll use be using it in two of the new facilities that you can build; the cybernetics lab and the genetics lab. Now both of these labs are much like the psyonics lab that many of you will be used to in that it allows for you to enhance your current soldiers offering them new abilities that can give you huge advantages in battle.
The cybernetics lab allows you to create what can only be described as your very own Robocop, a part man/part machine combination that allows you to equip new Mechanised Exoskeletal Cybersuits or MECs for short. You can then modify these MEC suits as they have their own upgrade paths available which allow you to customise it to suit your tactical approach to missions. Either create the ultimate assault machine with a flamethrower and grenade launcher or create a unit to help support other troops which can heal nearby units and a pneumatic arm to deliver powerful blows to your enemy or knock down walls, uncovering hidden enemies and allowing soldiers to get cover in new areas.
The genetics lab allows you to act like a farmer who uses special pixie dust on his crops to make them grown big and beautiful ready for a good harvest. Except instead of growing monster carrots you’ll be creating super soldiers by genetically modifying certain parts of a soldier’s anatomy. This can be done in a few different ways by enhancing limbs, organs and even your bone structure allowing for soldiers to have enhanced aim on the battlefield, to bleed out rather than dying in battle and to heal in battle and recover quicker back at headquarters. There is much more you can do, all of which will be unlocked by the more you research alien artefacts, creatures and weapons. You can focus spending your entire collection of Meld on one or the other of these two new facilities to suit your strategic approach, or split it down the middle for what I find to be the most effective way to create a taskforce capable of tearing the enemy apart.
Another improvement on the original game is that it has become more of a challenge because whereas before you could get a couple of snipers in your team, train them to shoot enemies within a team mates sight, equip them with scopes and then plant them on an elevated surface to just pick off the enemy from a safe distance, it’s no longer that easy. The introduction of one of two new alien enemies puts a quick stop to it; its name….the seeker. It’s a unit that can fire plasma from close range but which also has another trick up its sleeves, the ability to enter into a stealth mode and move around the map without being seen. Once it finds itself next to one of your soldiers it can strangle them leaving them unable to move, so leaving a sniper alone on the roof of a warehouse can be awful dangerous as the only way to get it off is for a team mate to shoot it, and if they’re across the other side of the map, well to put it simply you’ll be screwed.
The other new alien enemy is the Mechtoid, the alien equivalent of the human MEC Trooper. It’s a heavily armoured unit that can fire twice in the same turn with plasma cannons that do a lot of damage. My advice if you see one would be to focus your firepower on that right away or you will end up with a whole host of names on the memorial wall, it’ll be like the Russians sending men to their deaths in WWII by not appropriately equipping them; it may get you to target in the end but you’ll waste a lot of good lives doing so.
As mentioned there is also another human faction which you will need to fight against and this is done in covert missions. You’ll be informed of panic rising in certain countries due to Exalt actions; you’ll then be given the option to send one of your soldiers on a covert mission equipped only with a pistol and an item of your choice, so it helps to build a foundry soon on and improve your pistols. You will also have the option to try and raid Exalt HQ but if you do it in a country where it turns out the HQ isn’t located then you are screwed as they will leave the council, which will impact the amount of funding and benefits you can get. Once you complete a covert op though you will collect new data to narrow down the location of the Exalt HQ ready so you can raid their base and wipe out the threat. As for the enemy you fight, like you they have your normal human weapons to start with but as time goes on, you will discover they too have the ability to research alien technology and they will upgrade weapons and armour as the game progresses.
Along with the new enemies, new tech and improved storyline there are also a whole bunch of new maps to explore. You’ll still notice a few of the old maps as you go through the game but with a whole host of new environments you’ll not get the same repetition problem where you could find yourself playing the same map ten times in a campaign. What I particularly enjoy about some of the maps is that now if an alien ship lands or is taken down by one of your ravens/firestorms it is no longer always in the middle of some remote woodland and instead you can investigate crash sites in the middle of the city. In addition to the single player maps there are also eight new multiplayer maps to play on. Other new additions to multiplayer also include things like the new enemies but other than that it’s pretty much the same great multiplayer experience you had on Enemy Unknown.
So overall I have to say this is one of the best expansions I have ever played as it brings a whole load of new features to the table. The downside has to be though that in Europe you can’t just purchase the expansion by itself and instead you have to fork out for the whole game all over again which is a little frustrating. That said it is worth it as you do essentially get what feels like a whole new game with improved storylines, new enemies and further areas to research and develop which all bring exciting new elements to XCOM. If you have never played the original before I demand you to go and buy it now, if you have already got XCOM: Enemy Unknown hopefully I’ve convinced you enough to think it is worth investing in.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.