XCOM: Enemy Within is a stand alone expansion pack to the wildly successful 2012 reboot XCOM: Enemy Unknown by Firaxis Games. However, having received a mixed reception to the “Slingshot” DLC, as well as showing very little of the game prior to release, Firxais would have to come out swinging to get us excited to defend Earth once again. To be honest, at the time of writing, I am conflicted as I feel the need to address two different audiences, “Classic” XCOM fans and “Rebooted” XCOM fans. In fact, this conflict has delayed my review as it was hard to decide whether or not the series I grew up with was being respected or forced into a “friendlier” direction.
XCOM: Enemy Within follows the same solid gameplay foundation that was established in Enemy Unknown. Essentially, you are given control of the XCOM project during an alien invasion of Earth. It plays as one part base management; with construction, research, and a load out for each soldier in your control, with the other part being a turn-based strategy game; running troops from cover to cover, and using their unique abilities to turn the tides in your favour. So, with the foundations of a multi-award winning game, what could possibly go wrong?
Enemy Within’s plot does not venture beyond where Unknown had left us. Essentially, Earth comes under siege from an unknown alien army that threatens to wipe out all of life on the planet. In desperation, Earth pools together and starts up the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit or “XCOM”, bringing together all of the world’s elite soldiers and scientists to counter the invasion. The only difference this time is that a new human faction sees this as an opportunity to rise and takeover the world. While the idea of dealing with a new faction may seem significant, the story treats them more as a side quest or even as a fly when dealing with the forest fire that is the alien invasion.
Enemy Within introduces a few new ideas into the mix, with the first being a new resource known as “meld” which allows you to genetically and cybernetically enhance your soldiers once they reach a certain rank. However, this resource is only obtainable during missions and has a timer. Should you gather enough resources, and build the right facilities, you’ll be able to start enhancing your troops. From the genetically engineered troops that can stealth while in cover and leap buildings, to the mech-troops with a flame-thrower and a giant fist; you can’t help but giggle when using them. This adds a risk vs reward, which may pull players out of most turtling situations. These troops add a much needed variety and will give you new tactics during battles. For example, do I finish of this squad of thin-men and lose the meld, or do I grab the meld and hope Jeff doesn’t take a blaster to the face?
The human faction EXALT act as an evil doppelganger to the XCOM team, except unlike the aliens, they’ll require you to track them down by sending scouts to find their base and shut it down. As you play, EXALT will start fear campaigns; raising the terror of the public and stealing funds from your pockets. Taking them down will require you to send a soldier to each country to track down their base with a basic load out. During your playthrough, you’ll encounter the EXALT forces where they’ll play similar to the XCOM forces, but little dumbed down. However, as quickly as they come, they’re pushed aside to resume the original course set by Enemy Unknown.
In Enemy Within, you’ll be introduced to two new alien types. First, The Seeker, which looks like an octopus cross-bred with a shark, and will immediately jump into stealth and pick off troops that wonder too far from the group. However, the second; Mechtoids, and Sectoids in giant mech suits, are a welcome, but ultimately underwhelming addition. The problem with the addition of your new troop types is that you’ll get the upper hand on the aliens quicker, and you’ll often keep that pace going. Essentially, the two new alien types, as well as EXALT, do very little to slow you down once you’ve established a few good soldiers with some basic meld upgrades. Honestly, it felt, and pardon the horrible choice of words, “alien” to XCOM, having something to make the game easier.
On a positive note, approximately 40 new maps have been added, with additional council missions that change the overall layout from the dreaded escort missions. These were a much needed addition as by the halfway point of Enemy Unknown you’d have seen each map, despite where in the world you were. More customization options have also been added, from armor, to clothes, and most of all, new voices, with the option to have them speak in their native tongue. While these may seem the smallest editions, they honestly give it more of an “XCOM” feel.
Disgustingly, Enemy Within suffers from a lot of technical bugs just like it’s predecessor. In fact, several of the bugs from Enemy Unknown have been carried across, with a couple of them now worse than before. Game crashes, slow down on up close kill animations, kill animations with soldiers pointing guns in the wrong direction, line of site being either unblocked or blocked which may grant unfair advantages or disadvantages. These are just some of the single player bugs. Multi-player also got both the benefits and disadvantages of the single-player campaign, along with its own set of unique issues. Ultimately, it makes the whole thing feel rushed and unpolished.
XCOM Enemy Unknown was successful at rebooting the series and modernizing the classic strategy because the changes were enough to welcome new players, but not enough to scare off veterans. However, Enemy Within seemed to have missed the memo and feels rushed; maybe in response to the backlash from the “Slingshot” DLC? While some of the bugs can be overlooked and worked around, some of them are inexcusable. Ideas such as the new aliens and EXALT are interesting, but are simply not fleshed out enough to make a significant impact. Additionally, the new unit types are fun but grossly overpowered, and this doesn’t work either. It’s clear that Enemy Within understands the concept of what makes a great XCOM game, but drops the ball in the areas that count. With an assortment of bugs, glitches, and unbalanced additions, its difficult to recommend whole-heartily.