Skip to main content

'XCOM: Enemy Within' — Preview

The "XCOM" series has always excelled at one thing: letting you construct a multinational crew of specialists and pit it against aliens in turn-based strategic combat. "XCOM: Enemy Within," the upcoming expansion for "XCOM: Enemy Unknown," will take the series into new territory by pitting players against human foes.

The "XCOM" series debuted in 1994, but went on a long hiatus from 2001 to 2012. The gameplay fundamentals in the series have not changed much in the last 19 years, though. The Earth is under attack by varied alien forces, and it's up to the player to build a base and conscript soldiers from all around the world to fight back.

MORE: 26 Retro Games You Can Run on Modern PCs

Tom's Guide recently had a chance to preview "XCOM: Enemy Within," and learn the ins and outs of how fighting militant humans differs from — and complements — protecting the Earth from an alien invasion. Like its predecessors, "XCOM: Enemy Within" has two main phases: building and maintaining a base (the strategic component), and directing soldiers on the battlefield (the tactical component).

In "XCOM: Enemy Within," a new faction called EXALT sees the alien invasion not as a threat, but as something to be welcomed. Members of EXALT are willing to sabotage XCOM's efforts every step of the way in order to ensure that the alien attacks on Earth progress unimpeded.

The demo began at the XCOM base, where developer Firaxis walked us through a typical premission setup. As in "Enemy Unknown," you can recruit new soldiers, level up existing forces and research new technology. This time around, you can also give soldiers genetic or cybernetic enhancements, which grant them benefits like faster speed or improved line of sight.

Another small (but welcome) touch is that soldiers will now speak their native languages rather than English. The game has about 30 nationalities, with almost as many language packs. Canadian recruits will have a choice between English and French.

By launching intel scans, you can track down EXALT cells trying to drain XCOM resources. In order to stop them, you'll have to dispatch a soldier for a mission. Here, a lone soldier gets dispatched with only a jacket, jeans and a pistol for a few days. You don't control the mission, but you do control the aftermath.

There are two potential follow-up missions: Covert Data Recovery, where your main squad joins the dispatched operative to defend strategic points, and Extraction, where your main squad must get your operative out of the warzone alive.

For the demo, we took a look at a Covert Data Recovery mission. If you've played "Enemy Unknown," you'll find that the setup is more or less the same: Outfit and assemble a squad, which may include heavy-hitting commandos, long-range snipers and healing medics. Move your squad around the battlefield, picking off enemies and completing mission objectives as you go.

Fighting EXALT members turned out to be somewhat different than fighting aliens. Human opponents have abilities that mirror your own. Just as your commando can run-and-gun and hide behind cover, so can EXALT's. They will use items, exploit the level layout, pursue mission objectives and improve their equipment over time. If you're familiar with the multiplayer mode from "Enemy Unknown," which pits two human teams against each other, then you'll have some idea what to expect.

MORE: 10 Fun, Cheap Steam Games for a Rainy Day

Dealing with EXALT is not necessarily more difficult than fighting against aliens, but the experience feels somewhat different, and very fresh. Additionally, while aliens attack at random intervals, you can be proactive and choose when to pursue EXALT missions.

After completing a sufficient number of EXALT missions, you'll discover the location of their secret base and lead a final assault. How this ties into the overall story in "Enemy Within" remains to be seen, but don't think that the aliens will stop their assault just because a new enemy has entered the field.

So far, "Enemy Within" seems like a solid bet for fans of the franchise, but new players might want to start with "Enemy Unknown" before diving into the next chapter of the story. "XCOM: Enemy Within" will be available starting Nov. 12 for PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and PS3, retailing for $30 on computers and $40 on consoles. (The console edition comes with "Enemy Unknown," hence the higher price.)

Follow Marshall Honorof @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • ct001
    XCom:EU was a buggy mess that was never fixed. LOS and cover errors galore. From teleporting aliens, to weapons not firing at intended targets, to missions straight up unwinnable. Coupled with a terrible strategic/tactical coupling (I loved finishing escort missions only to have send my 2-3 hp men back into the field to clean up or risk having the escort commit suicide on the way back to the base???). I can only assume this'll be much of the same, slick graphics with horrendous gameplay.
  • Razec69
    I never played any of the original X-COM games, but I did get into this game rather heavily for what it is. It was my first real strategy game that I played and while I did enjoy it, I have to agree. It was incredibly buggy.

    It actually didn't even seem like bugs but intentional ass backward elements to the game. It felt like the game didn't like you winning in certain occasions. I've gotten into the groove of saving constantly before, during, and after ever conflict because you didn't know what was going to happen.
  • cobra5000
    Funny, I've got 158 hours into XCOM EU and I experienced NONE of the issues you speak of. It is a fantastic game, that I highly recommend!
  • Geef
    XCOM EU is great, but there is a LOT missing. I don't expect this expansion to be very amazing. Lots of people have been modding the game to make it better even though the creaters didn't make it easy to do so. The XCOM EU mod "Long War" does pretty good to make the game more fun.
  • agnickolov
    Having played all 3 of the original XCOM games (I don't consider the titles after XCOM: Apocalypse worth mentioning here) I have both good and bad impressions about XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The tactical experience is far more engaging with the limit of up to 6 soldiers (vs up to 26 in XCOM: Terror From the Deep for example though a typical squad would have 14-16 soldiers) and the excellent use of cover. The strategic experience is far more limited, however. My biggest gripe is that you can only send one squad out. Also, you can't set up factory bases (you can't even sell the items you manufacture).

    This Enemy Within expansion reminds me of the Sirius Cult from XCOM: Apocalypse. That wasn't a big part of that game, however.
  • chugot9218
    There are lots of graphical glitches I found somewhat strange considering the polish on the mechanics of the game, sometimes a troop will look in completely the wrong direction when firing, or I've seen some crazy over the shoulder shots. Fortunately for me, the gameplay makes up for it, but I do hope they fix those silly glitches.
  • dalethepcman
    There were tons of glitches in the game, camera angles that never showed your troops, battles on the 4 story ship where you could not see the enemy because the roof obscured your view, line of sight issues where the enemy could shoot through a wall or closed door at you.

    The game had its problems but my biggest problem with x-com enemy unknown, was that you could sit down on a Saturday morning at 8am, install the game and eat breakfast. Start playing around 9am, take a break for lunch around noon, eat lunch and take a nap. Start playing again at 2pm and be done with the game in time for dinner.

    The game was way way to short, @$10/hour for entertainment I will go to a movie instead. Sorry enemy within, you get an instant fail based from me. An 8 hour campaign is barely acceptable in fps games, why should it be acceptable in single player turn based strategy games?
  • thundervore
    Enemy Unknown is full of glitches and ive only just started playing the game 2 weeks ago for the first time.

    The cyber discs always seem to fly through walls when you fight them on a battleship or the first encounter with the sectoid commander at the alien base.

    Sometimes on the start of a mission my team is hovering in mid air. Then when you click on them they drop back down on the ground.

    Loading games that start in mid play would make zombies you already killed stand up like they are still alive even though they are dead, the same with cyberdisc wrecks, they would look new undamaged even though its destroyed.

    Sometimes a player can see an alien but the shoot option is greyed out, i have to perfom an action with another character then switch back and the shoot option is now availble.

    Ive had assult class in ghost armor in ghost mode miss a point blank rapid fire shot from behind a flanked sectopod with 85% hit 100% critical.

    Ive had snipers with squad sight 105 aim 95% hit miss both double tap shots on Etherals. Wow, just wow.

    Ive had turns where at the start of my turn i cannot move any of my troops because the option just is not there. i have to end my turn and wait next turn in order to move.

    And the biggest complain I have is when I am on an alien ship and I put troops outside the unopen doors, when i go to select another one of my troop away from the door, one of my troops open the damn door by themself makig a new enemy encounter.

    It never fails.
  • bengmau
    I miss the feature in the original where the aliens could infiltrate and send an attack party to your base. Design of your base to deal with alien incursion is missed in this reboot.