XCOM: Enemy Within Review

Lately, more and more often you have to listen to the disgruntled cries of deprived players – that, supposedly, they simplified something here, cut something there, and in general, everything was better before. Put one of them in XCOM – that would be fun. The original game already gave a run for its money to anyone who missed a truly challenging and challenging game. The expansion went the same way – get even more tactical options, even more deaths, and even more enemies.

XCOM Enemy Within is a very atypical representative of add-ons by modern standards. This time, they don’t offer us a cut part of the game in the form of a half-hour DLC for $15, but a full-fledged expansion of the original, a total reworking of familiar mechanics, a fresh look at familiar events, and turn what seems to be a thoroughly studied game into an exciting attraction.

XCOM: Enemy Within Team

As it is known, the XCOM series is about aliens and their plans to take over our planet. Of course, the threat could be neutralized naturally by inviting Shepard (Mass Effect) with two lovers to take care of the unwelcome guests, but since the commander won’t be born for at least another 100 years, we have to solve the problems with unconventional methods – the forces of an entire organization fighting against alien invaders. Let’s see what has changed in our command center over the past year.

From the very beginning of the game, you have to literally search for innovations with a magnifying glass – sometimes an invisible squid is discovered among the enemies, or your attention is drawn to strange yellow containers with some “composition” that have an unpleasant habit of detonating upon accidental impact or simply self-destructing a few turns after the start of the operation. However, soon everything falls into place – by studying the “composition,” you gain access to two additional soldier upgrade paths – Bellator in Machina (cybernetically modified fighters in mechanized exoskeleton suits) and Mutare ad Custodiam (genetically modified soldiers). The first path allows for amputation of unnecessary limbs of a soldier in order to fit into an impressive mechanoid, as if straight out of a new Neil Blomkamp film (“District 9”). The second path allows for genetic modification of practically any part of a volunteer’s body using two different technologies, thereby giving them new abilities, such as heightened sensitivity pupils or camouflaging skin. Moreover, both of these paths are so deep and offer such impressive sets of abilities and improvements that the only psionic expansion for soldiers from the original game seems rather dull. As your soldiers develop in these paths, they gradually lose their human appearance, blurring the line between man and machine. And this is the main question of the expansion – what are you willing to sacrifice for victory, getting closer and closer to resembling your enemy with each step.

Advanced Warfare

As for the situation on the battlefield, the game has now become much more random and unpredictable. The “Second Wave” options, added a couple of months after the release of Enemy Unknown, are also capable of bringing a lot of fun to the seemingly familiar plan of defending Earth. For example, you are free to set completely random weapon damage spreads or emphasize the individuality of each soldier by shuffling the sets of class abilities.

One of the most noticeable innovations is the emergence of a new enemy faction. The EXALT group is doing everything in its power to hinder the activities of the XCOM project. Thanks to the new enemy, “covert operations” have appeared in the game. The essence of these operations is to infiltrate an agent undercover into an EXALT cell with the task of gathering intelligence. After some time, it is necessary to evacuate the operative while simultaneously eliminating enemy squads that are doing their best to interfere with you. Each operation offers its own set of clues, analyzing which you can eventually discover the enemy’s base and deliver a decisive blow. If desired, you can scan the globe for money in an attempt to find the enemy before they present another nasty surprise. Whether such an approach is justified is up to you, as the commander of the XCOM headquarters. After all, you always know where to put your finances. As for tactical maneuvers, fighting against EXALT soldiers is almost more interesting than fighting against alien invaders. In many ways, this is because they are a mirror reflection of your own squads. You never know when a soldier will decide to shoot at a group of your fighters with an RPG or use another unpleasant skill. Later on, the group masters new techniques, surprising with GMO GM-soldiers or the development of laser weapons. The only disappointment is the outcome of the whole enterprise. The final mission – storming the EXALT base – is unlikely to surprise anyone. It’s a pity, they could have had a surprise in store for the end.

The presence of a “composition” and branching technology trees in the game forces a complete reconsideration of one’s views on the game economy – we were not often spoiled with money before, and now there is simply a catastrophic lack of funds. Each successful mission brings a heap of possibilities and directions for exploration – if only there were “greens”. And again, as in the original, the inability to break down collected items into component parts is disappointing. As a result, towards the end of the game, it becomes necessary to scrape together weapon fragments bit by bit for any even remotely interesting research, wasting time waiting for outings and delaying the resolution.

The scenarios of operations now offer much more variety and have become even more challenging. The creators set new and new goals for the task force, there is no time to stand still – the composition will be lost, the conditions of battle change during the operation, reinforcements of lunatics come from all cracks. The maps encountered in the add-on are meticulously detailed, and what is happening looks logical. Now UFOs can easily crash within city limits, and in a small fishing village, you can encounter an extraterrestrial source of biological contamination. It’s just a pity that the connection between some missions is traced a little unsuccessfully. For example, just now we pulled out the last survivor from the hot zone of a mysterious squad in order to obtain valuable information from him, but upon arrival at the base, we are simply congratulated on our victory, and the agent is probably sent to drink tea with raspberry in the barracks. Or here is a member of the triad, promising the center a mysterious briefcase that can turn the tide of confrontation, can also strangely disappear from the game if you fail to bring him to the evacuation point. Of course, in a couple of months, the management will finally remember the consequences of these events, but the player will probably forget.

Alien Threats Unveiled

In addition, some missions in the first half of the game are capable of triggering a frenzy. Frequent reinforcements appearing out of nowhere create a strong desire to break the keyboard. When during an operation against 6 strong enemy units, you are given a rookie as reinforcement, you feel like a runner stumbling before the finish line. Firaxis, why do you do this? Get ready to reload saves like in the good old days in an attempt to save soldiers (although true commanders only play in “Terminator” mode, where reloads are prohibited), and curse under your breath when an experienced colonel with a 90% chance of hitting suddenly misses. Every move can cost not only the soldier’s life, but sometimes the failure of the entire operation. What is most surprising is that despite all the numerous innovations and change in the pace of battles, the game’s balance has been successfully maintained. No matter how difficult the battle may seem, with some ingenuity, an elegant solution can be found for almost any situation.

The creators once again hook players, just like a year ago. Before us is an even more polished hybrid of strategy and tactics, so skillfully balanced that it is impossible to leave the game. The principle of “just one more mission and then sleep” is implemented in XCOM by the book. And although at a certain point the number of mandatory tactical tasks becomes tiring, it still has to be acknowledged that an already excellent game has become much deeper, more diverse, and more interesting, without losing anything in the process. Therefore, we have a direct candidate for the title of “Addon of the Year”.

Augmenting Soldiers

Firaxis maintains its reputation. The exemplary add-on Enemy Within offers a splendid opportunity to return to the best turn-based strategy of modern times, without getting bored almost at all. And for those who missed Enemy Unknown, we highly recommend it.

XCOM: Enemy Within
PS3, Xbox 360
Turn-Based Tactics
2K Games
Firaxis Games
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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