needs with the needs of the countries attacked. The soldiers have perk trees which give them handy benefits, like rocket launchers, extra movement, bonuses against multiple enemies etc. Hiring and firing and buying equipment is done away with (except for the soldiers. You’ll be going through a LOT of soldiers), and I like that because it frees you from worrying about having enough living and work space for them all. The limited UFO encounters are now Very Big Deals, each one a huge and dangerous undertaking, with something new almost guaranteed every time. Everything missing has been countered by some clever mechanic. Firaxis have actually streamlined things, when to most developers streamlining simply means removing features and dumbing things down. The plot of the game is also the same. I won’t spoil it for anyone who missed the originals, but it’s still this unseen alien force directing its foot-soldiers on Earth, and it’s up to you to piece their motives together. There are still surprises for fans of the original, however. While most of the old favour-
ite enemies are still there, they’ve been given excellent makeovers and they all have access to special abilities you never saw before. New mission types (VIP escorts, find the alien bomb) keep things varied. The sound has received major attention too. Assault rifles are loud rattlers, heavy machine guns have that meaty growl, and plasma rifles make a delightful pew-pewpew. The soundtrack is by Michael McCann, who you may remember did the excellent Deus Ex 3 music too, and he’s done well again here, especially the otherworldly synth vibes when inside an alien UFO or base. And in a rare turn of events, Enemy Unknown doesn’t hold your hand. The tutorial gives you the bare basics, and the rest is up to you: How to expand your base efficiently? How best to keep your soldiers alive? Which research to pursue? How to set up optimum satellite coverage? There’s a steep learning curve unless you play on easy or normal mode. There is also an Impossible mode, which in my nasty, brutish and short experience
is aptly named indeed. And if that wasn’t hard enough, there’s Ironman mode: You are confined to one save game file, which updates EVERY time you do something, so you live with every wasted resource, every dead soldier, no going back. Overall, Enemy Unknown is a worthy successor to the UFO series. It recaptures the charm and atmosphere of the original and enhances it with today’s technology, and it tightens up the pacing and storyline so that you don’t spend a month of game time without anything happening. It retains the crazy difficulty levels for those who want them. It’s a bit like the Lord of the Rings movies, really: They capture the spirit and magic of the original, without all the boring faffing about poetry and waffling on about the intricate leaf design painted onto a door Frodo only ever sees once. X-COM: Enemy Unknown is distilled excellence. Get it. In fact, get the whole series (they’re dirt cheap on Steam and/ or GOG), and learn why 20 years later UFO is still the best strategy game out there, hands down.
The Gazebo is a free, quarterly e-zine dedicated to gaming in the UK and Ireland.