X-COM: Enemy Within review
The aliens are invading, but they didn't bet on Simon Brew. Bring it on, E.T.!
The modern-day revival of the X-COM turn-based strategy games last year gave PC gaming one of its best modern-day highlights. X-COM: Enemy Unknown recaptured the tension, menace and hour-sapping qualities of the original UFO: Enemy Unknown. It had its foibles: once you hit trouble, it was often tricky to get back on course, and there was also an element of randomness to it that felt just a little unfair. But still, it was an exquisite strategy game, that used old-fashioned values in very modern coating.
That old-fashioned ethos has now extended to the first add-on pack for the game, which is a meaty, substantial and worthwhile addition. It takes you back effectively to square one, with no team, scant resources and an impending alien threat but throws in far more to contend with. X-COM: Enemy Unknown was already tough, X-COM: Enemy Within (and the title itself is a clue) is no kinder.
The basic idea remains the same. It's a strategy game, split into a resource management and planning overview, and then turn-based ground missions, where you'll spend the bulk of your time. It's unforgiving too. If you can't keep upgrading your troops, their equipment and your arsenal in tune with the growing sophistication of your foes, then you can expect to be beaten and beaten soundly.
For the overarching threat is an alien invasion of earth, and X-COM is the organisation funded by the world to beat it. If certain threats in certain countries are ignored, then that funding comes under threat. For this add-on, too, there are alien sympathisers to contend with, and they lend themselves to some of the most brutal missions.
Fortunately, there are fresh enhancements on your side too. Genetic modifications, based on researching the aliens themselves, comes into play. And there are mechs, harking back to the MechWarrior games of old, which you can research and build to give your troops a leg up in battle. In truth, it's a bit of an overwhelming collection of options at your disposal, especially when – as the game progresses – the line between success and failure becomes ever finer.
Furthermore, the game itself gets tough – and tough quickly. There's a tiny bit of hand holding right near the start, but the inherent assumption here is that you know what you're doing. Expect, therefore, to be tested. And even though the narrative twists and turns in ways you may expect, that doesn't make it any less engrossing when you're knee deep in the middle of trying to save the world.
There are a few enhancements here and there, but the most sensible decision made by X-COM: Enemy Within is to respect what the main game got right and not tinker with it. You get a substantial extra campaign here, one that justifies, with change, the charge for it. And with a bit of luck, it'll do well enough that this won't be the last time that turned-based alien-bashing strategy keeps us up to the middle of the night.
• Price: £19.99
• Manufacturer: Fireaxis Games
• Website: www.xcom.com/enemywithin/us
• Required spec: 2GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 256MB graphics card, 20GB HD space