XCOM: Enemy Within - Commander Edition
Wind the clock back around a year and you would probably find most of the gaming press, myself included, heaping praise upon XCOM: Enemy Unknown. While the game was buggy it provided console gamers with an impressive take on a genre that has traditionally found it hard to gain traction on consoles and that is turn-based strategy.
XCOM: Enemy Within – Commander Edition builds on the success of XCOM: Enemy Unknown with the Enemy Within expansion all on one disc providing the definitive XCOM experience in one complete package.
XCOM: Enemy Within is based on a classic turn-based strategy series from the mid-nineties. The XCOM series has always traded on providing an atmospheric experience and strategy experts Firaxis managed to capture the essence of the series to create a game that really captivated both on PC and console.
As I've already mentioned XCOM: Enemy Unknown was exceptionally buggy at launch and when I reviewed it on the PS3 I experienced a load of issues from awkward camera during overwatch firing and numerous good old-fashion crashes. Enemy Within combats a lot of the stability issues and fixes the camera along with some carefully considered additions to the gameplay and actually makes the game a much more complete experience.
As you'd expect with an expansion it adds new weapons, two new enemy units, 47 new maps and a new alien resource called Meld. Where Meld becomes really important is in the other key additions. It is used to acquire the new soldier abilities afforded by the ability to research gene mods and mechanized gear called the Mechanized Exoskeletal Cybersuit or MEC for short.
At the most basic levels the game hasn't changed. It's improved mechanically by the fixes that have come with an additional year of development but it still plays well. The controls are intuitive and the minimalist sound design during missions ensures that the tense atmosphere of the original series is still there.
Where Enemy Within works its magic begins with the additional maps. Originally, Enemy Unknown could feel repetitive after a while due to what was quite a limited array of maps outside of the key story missions. 47 new maps make it more worthwhile to bide your time gaining resources and building research because there is a wider variety of strategic challenges available to the game when randomly choosing maps for abduction and UFO shoot down/landing missions.
The new research options open up very nicely with the introduction of the Cybernetics Lab for MECs and the Gene Lab for genetic modifications. Your soldiers can now have up to three gene mods added to give them advantages on the battlefield from eye mods for snipers to cloaking mods for the skin. The new MEC suit also brings some impressive new heavy options including a flamethrower and grenade launcher which can provide the edge against heavier units like Mutons, Cyberdiscs and the fearsome Sectopods.
Researching properly now yields much more rewards. For example, the Chryssalid autopsy now yields a gene mod and a new grenade type as well as the additional armour-plating that it did in Enemy Unknown. This means a lot more tactical options are available in the field.
There are some overlaps but they present different tactical options. The most relevant example is the research that produces the Mimetic Skin gene mod and the Ghost Grenade. Both offer a cloak to troops but the grenade offers a timed area cloak on all soldiers within the grenade's blast radius allowing you to set ambushes. Mimetic Skin gives one of the soldiers the ability to cloak at will. It's more useful for snipers to allow them to get into useful positions to provide cover at key moments.
The most controversial issue around XCOM: Enemy Within is that it is only being offered as DLC on the PC. Console gamers will have to buy a completely new version of the full game in order to get access to the excellent additions that Enemy Within brings to the game. 2K Games have explained this saying that the size of the expansion means that it would be infeasible to release it as DLC on consoles. It would be interesting to see just how this works out especially given that the Xbox 360 version still comes on one disc.
Odd packaging choices aside XCOM: Enemy Within is a pretty fantastic game. For those that haven't experienced it before it's by far the best console strategy game that has been released and should be played. For those that spent time with the Enemy Unknown, Enemy Within more than makes up for the the original's shortcomings.
What is key is that it retains all of its ability to tell personal and emergent stories about the team members. Whether you choose to go with the randomly generated soldiers you are given or create a carefully customised team there's a myriad of wonderful stories to be told. This is probably the game they should have released last year but hey, it brings enough to the table that it's worth a second shot.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Commander Edition is out now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. XCOM: Enemy Within is also available as DLC for the PC.