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10 things I love about XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Ed's favourite upgrades, map dynamics and absolute bloody disasters

If you're waiting for a really exacting strategy game on Xbox 360 - a strategy game that looks upon your smallest missteps with the merciless eye of a Victorian ballet teacher - XCOM is that game. Just look at the latest OXM Squad video. As somebody who used to bully me at school once quipped, it'll "teach you the meaning of pain". Fabulous.

I've bagged reviewing rights for this, after a close-fought bout of hair-pulling with Matt, and you'll read the fruits of my labours next week. In the meantime, I thought you'd like to hear about some of the soldier upgrades, mechanics, enemies and so forth that are, quite literally and in many cases painfully, rocking my world.

1. The way panic works
XCOM's soldiers aren't automatons (well, some of them are, but you'll need to do a lot of research first). Expose them repeatedly to death, destruction and genetically engineered mutants from outer space, and they may crack under the pressure. Each unit has a Will attribute which determines how likely they are to react "spontaneously" to unsettling events, such as being suppressed or seeing a comrade die. When somebody fails a Will test, the results can be... emergent.

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Once upon a time, I was polishing off resistance when a Sectoid surprised one of my squaddies inside a utility building. The Sectoid took out a reaction shot, seriously wounding and scaring the man, who turned tail and fled through the door, panicking another of my squaddies, who responded by opening fire on a third, who had a breakdown of her own, galloped into the building and was killed, very next turn, by the self-same Sectoid. Brilliant? Yes. Maddening? Yes.

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2. When you're In The Zone
In The Zone is a top-level passive sniper skill which basically lets you cheat the laws of space and time. Slot somebody who's standing out of cover, and you'll get a free move, allowing you to potentially headshot another exposed enemy, and another, and another, till every bug-eyed monster in sight is corpse-meat. In practice, the Hand of Evil is seldom stupid enough to leave a unit standing in plain view - but then, you can always help things along by using a grenade to destroy any inconvenient free-standing furniture.

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