The original XCOM: Enemy Unknown falls apart once you know what you’re doing and feel enough confidence that you’re able to do it, which is ironic – you’re supposedly the last bastion holding out against an encroaching alien menace which threatens to take over the planet with technology no human has ever seen; the last thing that you’d expect to feel in that situation is bravado.
This stress balance falls apart a few hours in. It’s scary enough at the start, but if you play well you’ll soon get past this. Once you’ve built up a few rotations of squad members that have skills complementary to your play-style and researched technology which keeps them alive and further boosts their usefulness, and you’re all set. This problem is especially apparent any time you replay the game and find it effortless to devise effective ways to advance without any monetary wastage. Your tactics for each encounter are flawless and missions go off without a hitch.
The new expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, sets out to undermine your entire game plan.
At a recent preview event we were able to see an additional wrinkle that this add-on provides to the original game. It adds human forces hostile to XCOM and working to aid the aliens. These groups act as splinter cells, each functioning individually in countries across the world. Their skills and equipment don’t quite outmatch XCOM, but their numbers are far above that of the organisation.
In order to combat their presence in a country, you initially need to send in an infiltrator unit who will be removed from active service until they’re ready to call in a mission. This operative can be almost anyone in your active roster of soldiers. It’s beneficial to pick someone highly skilled because they’ll have more health and abilities, but you’ll have to do without them in other missions for the time being. They’re unable to bring a weapon larger than a pistol, nor any armour, just a piece of tech. This makes them highly vulnerable to attack when the mission begins, yet they’re also the most important person there.
After time passes and you’re alerted by your spy, one of two possible modes will begin. Your XCOM squad will have to prevent a terminal in an area from being hacked, or they have to hack terminals themselves to collect data and run back to transport without being killed.
The first mode is extremely difficult, with your characters unable to stand around and cover each other near the starting area because they need to reach a terminal and defend it. In our play session we turtled up for too long dipping into overwatch after each move and didn’t make it to the terminal in time. Fortunately this doesn’t necessarily mean Game Over, it just means that reinforcements are called to attack you as you fall back to defend a second point in the map.
No one survived this onslaught, so we tried the second mode.
Here you’re able to take things a little slower. You defend your spy as they run to separate terminals. Your squad is initially separated from the infiltrator, so you’ll have to safely pick off enemies in an attempt to make up the distance.
Swarms of new attackers are gradually pumped in, replacing anyone you manage to incapacitate. We weren’t able to test out using a taser to take the enemy back to base because we were given pre-build characters, but hopefully this is accounted for in the full release.
If your spy manages to get to each of the terminals, you’ll be able to recall them back to the Skyranger transport and leave the area behind. This is tough, because all of the techniques you’ll have learned from your career as an XCOM commander up to this point are also utilised by the enemy. They’ll dip into overwatch, throw grenades and launch rockets at bunched-up units. You’ll never quite feel like you have the upper hand because you’re matched in tactics but constantly outnumbered.
This isn’t the only addition, but all we were shown at the event. The new expansion is adding mechanised units which have increased armour and differing abilities, but sacrifice being able to take cover. There are also soldiers that can undergo gene-therapy to enhance their abilities, but that require a resource found in-world which dwindles as any mission drags on.
We’re impressed by what we’ve seen so far of XCOM: Enemy Within and have high hopes it will offers everything a player needs to get right back into XCOM.