It is getting tough for gamers lately to finally get a game that has been sought after for a number of years. Most of the time, an HD remake is the best way to go, as a re-imagining of a popular franchise sometimes leads to disaster to everyone but the title’s biggest fans. That is simply not the case here. Firaxis has taken a beloved title in the successful XCOM: UFO Defense, brought almost everything that made it great and turned it into a game you may never know you wanted until you dig right in.

The gameplay can be as accessible or as painstakingly frustrating as you would like it to be with a slew of difficulty settings and modes to appeal to almost anyone that can pick up a controller. The tutorial will hold your hand through the first few sequences, and then either feeds you to the wolves or begins the punishment depending on how you setup your game. It might seem a bit silly to a new gamer, but the largely popular naming your own team members feature is back. We’re not talking simple team name, we’re talking about each team member getting their own custom name which you decide on. This makes the strategy element of this game all the more important. This turned based strategy roller coaster of emotions will take your well trained team members, permanently take them out of your lineup, and hit you with a sudden dose of realism that they are gone and someone new will need take their place. Re-spawning does not happen here, so don’t get too attached to your cleverly names squad-mates; They could be gone in an instant.

The controls are clearly designed for consoles, with intuitive movement during intense battles performed by a simple left stick movement and button press to get your team member where he needs to be within their available movement range. The right stick smoothly moves the camera around to get an idea of the layout of the current skirmish you’re in. Of course, you won’t get a complete birds-eye view of the entire battlefield, with an annoying haze covering the area of which your currently selected soldier is able to see based on their individual limitations.

XCOM Enemy Unknown Screenshot 1

The visuals will not impress anyone that is already playing any other current-gen game on the market. Character models, environments, and even the cut-scenes are nothing more than ordinary. Taking a look at other titles released around the same time will easily have you ditching this game for something more appealing. Sure you can customize your team members’ looks to your heart’s content, but it will really take a bit of imagination to feel like you’re not playing something from a console launch title. Even the cut-scenes will give you the feeling that you are re-playing a title from your back catalog, which will leave you hunting for the skip button to move on back to the gameplay.

Although visually bland, the game does try to impress strategy game enthusiasts by getting you right up in the face of the action by moving to an almost third-person over the shoulder view when moves are being played out on the battlefield. At first, you’ll want to start controlling the game as if it was a third-person shooter, but as soon as you realize you’re simply watching the action unfold with your decision, shooter fans will clearly want to move on to another game in their collection. Of course, if turned based strategy is right up your alley, you’re in for a special treat.

The soundtrack, like the visuals, is not anything that will blow you away. It sets the right mood, and creates the atmosphere you might be expecting, but at the end of the day, don’t expect for the music to win any awards. The sounds and voice acting follow the same expectations and will simply strike you as b-movie material. They’re not terrible by any means, but you won’t remember anything about them beyond that you might have played a sci-fi game the night before.

XCOM Enemy Unknown Screenshot 2

If you simply ignore the average sounds and visuals, you’ll see that beyond a deep single player experience is a truly engaging multiplayer mode that will keep fans of both the original and this new imagining of the series coming back for more. The head to head mode is fully customizable, with options to build a squad to your liking within a point cap, an adjustable time allowance, and a selection of maps. Serious XCOM fans will surely stick with the ranked or quick matches to minimize the amount of time between online matches.

Overall, if you’ve been waiting for the next true XCOM game, Enemy Unknown is the game you’ve been waiting for. The developers obviously focused on making the gameplay the best part of the title, and will surely be the thing fans will use to look past the average looks and sounds. If there is another turn based strategy XCOM game already in development, there is certainly room for improvement, but for now this is as good as it gets.

XCOM Enemy Unknown PS3 Box Art
Review Score : [starreview tpl=16] Title : XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Format : PS3 (Also on Xbox 360 / PC)
Developer : Firaxis Games
Publisher : 2K Games
Release Date : 10/09/12

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

*2K Games provided with a review copy.