CHARLESTON, W.Va. - From the moment I first discovered "Ogre Battle" on my college roommate's Super Nintendo, I've been a fan of strategy video games. Real-time or turn-based, realistic or fantastical, I'm always eager to match wits with ruthless AI and flex my intellectual muscle against human opponents. From "Civilization" to "Command & Conquer" to "Starcraft," I've played all of the great strategy games out there.
And now I can add another outstanding game to that list.
With "XCOM: Enemy Unknown," Firaxis Games -- the same brilliant minds behind the beloved "Civilization" franchise -- has created a one-of-a-kind strategy experience that combines genre staples such as base building and resource management with an action-oriented turn-based combat system.
Based on the 1990s strategy title "XCOM," "Enemy Unknown" puts players in charge of a military group tasked with defending the planet from an alien invasion. Yes, that's something gamers have done countless times before, but never like this. Whether on the battlefield or at your home base, "Enemy Unknown" constantly tests the player's ability to think tactically and make choices that have permanent repercussions.
Choosing which tech to research, what upgrades to add to your base and where to launch surveillance satellites are the easy decisions. The real fun starts once alien activity is detected and you must choose where to send your troops, be it to thwart an abduction attempt in Europe or rescue a VIP in Australia. You can only take on one mission at a time and ignoring threats causes the panic level in that region to rise. Repeatedly ignoring a region will cause it to withdraw from the alliance, taking its perks along with it. Juggling your resources in order to keep everyone happy is just one of the challenges of "Enemy Unknown."
But the real test begins once you put boots on the ground and engage the alien threat.
Combat in "XCOM: Enemy Unknown" is squad-based with you directing each member's movements and actions. Each soldier has only a few options available per turn, and learning how best to utilize their skills is key to bringing everyone home alive. You're free to approach each mission however you see fit, but I quickly learned that scouting ahead to locate enemies and working to flank their positions was paramount. The enemy AI is brutally unforgiving and quick to punish you for pushing too far, too fast.
Mistakes in "Enemy Unknown" often have fatal consequences, forcing you to think several moves ahead and treat each turn as though it could be your last. Because it could - death in "Enemy Unknown" is permanent, meaning when you lose a soldier, he's gone forever. Nothing is more disheartening than losing a high-ranking veteran because of a stupid mistake, and I quickly became attached to my squad and took extra precaution to ensure their safety. Retreating to better cover, using smoke grenades to protect a reloading soldier and resuscitating wounded comrades are every bit as important as landing a critical hit on an alien invader.
The aliens you encounter in "Enemy Unknown" come in several varieties, each more dangerous than the next. The campaign introduces these threats to you gradually, but part of the challenge lies in not knowing what you'll encounter from one mission to the next. Some aliens can use mind control to turn your soldiers against one another. Others cause your soldiers to rise from the dead and fight against you. Knowing what you're fighting against, and how best to take them down, adds another layer to what is already a deep tactical experience.