X-COM: Enemy Within – REVIEW

It’s been a long, torturous drought. The crops have all but died, and the livestock have grown terribly ill. What’s it been? 5, 10, 15 years? I know. It’s been a long time. There’s been many a trial and much strife. Trouble in paradise, to be certain. But rejoice, friends. The prodigal son has returned! Toil those dead soils no longer and follow me into the future. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Okay… I think that simple “I’m back,” just rang up the entirety of my extended metaphor budget for the rest of this review… But whatever, you only get this one life. Swag it as hard as you can. Am I right or am I right? Okay, unless you’re Hindu as a mug and believe in samsara. In which case, you still only get this one life to swag, but can pretend like you don’t. Unless you’re on God-King Xerxes level like me, in which case your reign will last another thousand years. Damn. It feels good to be a gangster.

Oh yeah, right. I had a review to write… I knew that. You think I didn’t know that?  Why are you looking at me like that…? Wow. I just came here for a good time and I honestly just feel so attacked right now. Here. Here’s your damn review. Don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful. *rambling, ego-fueled gibberish ends**review begins*

Not unlike eating a hundred Twinkies or getting a winky in the stinky (allegedly), X-COM: Enemy Within (Firaxis, 2013) is one of those things that you never truly comprehend the difficulty of until you attempt it for yourself. But unlike those two things , the sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile doesn’t also entail a vague, intangible sense of self-loathing  and disgust. Enemy Within is the re-release of X-COM: Enemy Unknown (2012), and comes packaged with all the DLC and expansion content as well as the base game, making it the most complete version available. After sinking in an almost embarrassing amount of time shooting E.T.’s in the face, I can firmly say this is one of the most criminally overlooked console games of the ps3/Xbox 360 generation. For those who can appreciate a slower, more methodical and strategically focused experience from a game, this is one that not only delivers an awesome campaign, but is very accessible for newbies to the genre.Premise: Aliens have invaded our planet. It is up to you as the commander of X-COM, a black ops military organization funded by Earth’s national super powers, to fight back against the hostile invaders and save our species from being eradicated. A bit of a tall order for the average person, some might say, and the game reflects that in its gameplay. After the relatively simple tutorial missions, the game takes the training wheels off and doesn’t take long before asking you to race that bike in the Tour de France. Jumping between two different modes of play – combat and resource management – the game constantly forces the player to weigh decisions between short-term and long-term gains/consequences. The micro level of this occurs in the game’s strike team operations, where you take the reigns as armchair general and command a squad of up to six soldiers. Playing these missions on the game’s “Classic” (aka: hard) difficulty is no walk in the park. Though you see the battlefield from a bird’s eye view, the maps are shrouded in darkness until you move a soldier into the area. And after losing soldiers by being too overzealous in my approaches, bum rushing them into rooms where 2 or 3 aliens were apparently just playing tiddlywinks waiting for us to show up, I learned pretty early on that this is a game where being overly aggressive is about as good for your continued health as being black near a police officer. (ooh topical)This is easily where most of your time in X-COM will be spent.  Because, unless you’re either Rain Man or someone who finds sick pleasure in throwing lambs to the slaughter, excelling in this game requires a thorough understanding of your soldier’s classes and strengths, smart utilization of your non-replenishing resources (like rockets and smoke grenades), and a little bit of luck. Since it is a turn-based game, any shots you take at enemies are based off percentages, which are based off a soldier’s distance from a target and if the target is in cover, which is based on whether or not you suck. But of course, you can still get f*cked when you line up a 90% successful shot and still miss. Because probability. Because math. Because go f*ck yourself. Nothing says elite martian-killer like missing the large, floating tentacle beast hovering five feet from your face. This is  probably the most annoying aspect of Enemy Within. It’s in those moments when I would lose immersion in the game. And I feel the need to add that the load times in this game are insane. Literally insane. Like, they’ll put you in a psyche ward because you’ll have lost your mind waiting to take back that seemingly ingenious flanking maneuver that ended with three of your best soldiers dead. These two things can combine to make some very frustrating moments. I recommend saving often if you plan on keeping any hair on your head.Since this is the expanded version of the game, there’s a lot of new customization options that make this version of the game stand out from the original. And I’m not just talking about painting your squad to look like the Power Rangers, though it is true that not doing that is to play the game wrong. Enemy Within has another currency/resource called “Meld” that is specifically used for  enhancing your soldiers. Meld can be spent in a gene lab to give your fighters useful new abilities, like being able to live past an initial death or the ability to leap to the roofs of buildings. This is an excellent way to tug the rope in your favor as the game’s enemies become more resilient (read: a bigger pain in the ass). In addition to genetic modification, Meld is also able to be spent on the new MEC class. Unlike the typical Sniper, Heavy, Assault, and Support classes of the base game, MECs cannot hide behind cover, but can become walking tanks through upgrades. Wielding Rail Cannons and being able to literally rocket-punch foes through walls isn’t cheap however, as MEC costs are considerably larger than gene mods.  And thus, not only is it challenging to collect Meld (which is found in missions, but is only acquirable during a short number of turns), but knowing how to spend it wisely is also an ordeal in itself. Is it better to save up for that sweet MEC upgrade or spread the love around to the rest of the recruits? In the end, it’s seeing how these decisions pay off that raises the quality bar of Enemy Within, as it makes the decisions of the player impact the game in ways they might not see immediately. Making tough choices is an important part of leadership, and the game does an excellent job of capturing that sense of player agency. X-COM: Enemy Within has a couple rough edges here and there. For one, it’s possible this game doesn’t even have a soundtrack, or at least, an unmemorable one since I literally can’t remember if there was ever anything playing outside of the corny cutscenes. This isn’t a major gripe, but as someone who appreciates a good OST, as demonstrated by almost every other review I’ve written, it’s a plus I sadly cannot bolster onto Enemy Within‘s resume. In terms of technical performance, the game is generally fine, but sometimes levels would load in with muddy textures and I would puke and it was a mess and nobody cleaned it and now I’ve been evicted and I live in the Gaylord Stadium. So yeah, that sucks. Especially (!) considering those heinous load times. Like, what were you even loading? A troll face? Speaking of trolling, let’s talk about the ending of the game. Can you say “underwhelming?” The final mission is set up to be the most “awesomest thing evarrr” and then when you kill the big bad, it’s just like “congrats, homie. Here’s some stats on how you did.” I mean, the story is never exactly 2001: A Space Odyssey, but a pat on the back is not decent closure for having just saved the human race. At the very least, give me  one of those quirky credits sequences with the aliens dancing or something. Like damn. Got me feeling like Rodney Dangerfield over here. No respect, I tell ya.

(God bless you, Rodney. May your soul Triple Lindy in eternity.)

That all being said, it would be heretical to rate this game low. The flaws aren’t all that apparent, and so long as you play on a difficulty level on par with your skill level, the overarching experience makes X-COM: Enemy Within worth at least one playthrough. There’s even a secondary mode for sadomasochists called “Ironman,” where you play on the hardest difficulty and can’t take back any of your mistakes because it just hurts so good. Essentially, it’s the gaming equivalent of the Christian Grey experience. Personally, the appeal of pulling out my own fingernails weighs slightly more favorably on the scale, but to each their own. Enemy Within is an incredibly deep and engrossing game with a lot of content on offer. I didn’t even get to mention the optional Exalt side missions where you fight against human cultists who seek to aid the aliens, and I didn’t play any of the online multiplayer. But that really just adds to the argument doesn’t it? There are a couple of small issues, and it’s certainly not a game for everyone, but there’s a lot of game to enjoy and it’s an exemplar of its genre. To quote from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers: “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.” So go out there and scalp yourself some little green men. For queen and country! Obligatory Number at the End: 8.75/10

 

Hey there. Just a little nugget right here for those who are still reading. If you liked what you read, why don’tcha be a pal and leave a comment? Even a racially insensitive one that will offend my Tumblrina otherkin sensibilities like, “Hey, this was purdy good,” or “wow friggin about time you posted, scrub.” It feels good to be kicking it in the driver’s writer’s seat again (which is actually just my bed while I bump heavy ass trap music like a damned fool in my headphones), and I appreciate all feedback. Thank you!!

And finally, here’s a taster for my next piece, in which I’ll discuss how Korean pop music has ruined my life for the better: