If you’ll recall, last year we reviewed XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and we loved it so much we gave it nine and a half prawns. That’s a lot of prawns. The game is back, this time as a standalone expansion pack (ie, you don’t need to own the original XCOM to play it). To prepare for this review, you have some homework—go read the review of the first XCOM game, because much of what I have to say will be covered there; I’m only going to include what’s changed in this review. No need to do things twice, eh? Onward!

I was being serious. Go read that review.

You what? *sigh* Fine, I’ll reiterate bits of it here, but I really would read it if I were you. So…copy…paste. If you’d done what I asked and read the first review, you can happily ignore the next two paragraphs. It’s almost, quite literally, copy and paste.

XCOM tells the tale of an alien invasion and the eXtraterrestrial COMbat team tasked with exterminating eradicating the threat to humanity. You are directly addressed as the commander of the XCOM forces, and you, as a commander, command your team of scientists, soldiers, and engineers into whichever direction you think it best to deal with the invasion.

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XCOM is actually three very cleverly-crafted layers of strategic management. On the most basic level, you directly control combat on the isometric grid, laying out where the soldiers go, what to do, and how to act on the battlefield against the aliens. On a slightly more removed level, you also control the XCOM base, directing research and fabrication, hearing reports from your seconds-in-command, and directing how the base expands and is built. On an even more removed level, you manage the entire world, after a fashion. For each alien threat across the globe, nations are assigned a “panic level” that essentially lets you know how close you are to losing that nation’s funding as part of the XCOM project. Dealing with alien threats lowers the panic level, as does fulfilling requests for aid. The game makes things intentionally bleak for you, however: often enough, multiple threats are posed in different parts of the world, and naturally, you can only respond to one. The one place you deal with has its panic level lowered, and the other, ignored threats raise the panic level. It’s truly a game of insane skill. Knowing when to make a sacrifice and cut your losses is just as important as knowing when to push forward to make a win.

Copy paste is over—you can safely resume reading now. So, what’s new in Enemy Within? Quite a crazy amount, as it turns out. From the time you start the game, the first mission introduces you to the game’s newest resource component: Meld. Your soldiers need to acquire the Meld canisters in each level fairly quickly, because they’re set to explode after a given number of turns. Meld, essentially, allows your soldiers and mechanized troops to gain super powers. Melded soldiers can, for example, have a backup heart, or be modified into the MEC trooper, essentially a cyborg version of Ed 209.

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The next massive change is a new faction, EXALT. These extremists are to XCOM what Al-Qaida are to Islam. They’re just as bloody annoying as well, using covert tactics to bugger up your own efforts at repelling the aliens. EXALT, basically, just want to watch the world burn so that they can rule it afterwards. Twits. Still, a clever commander should be able to root out these annoyances where they appear, and deal with them directly. Usually by means of a MEC trooper foot to the head.

One of the more subtle changes addresses one of the largest gripes I had with the first game: voices. Many of the localized voices from the first game have been included now as voices for your soldiers. This doesn’t mean ALL accents and languages are supported (pity!), but at least for the European characters, these soldiers speak in their native language.

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If all this wasn’t enough, the game also includes a whole slew of new maps to play on (47 of them!), upgraded old maps, and of course, a whole mess of new enemies. Glorious! Furthermore, you can also earn medals to give to your troops. These add extra powers and buffs to your soldiers, so playing well means getting well rewarded. It’s a crazy amount of new content, and it all just makes an amazing game so much better.

But look! Another shoe! And it looks like it’s dropped, at least for the console version, anyhow. The shoe, of course, is the game’s price. Because it’s posited as a standalone expansion, you’re going to be paying almost full price for the game, which is a bit much to swallow especially if you already own the first game. It’s a great bargain for new players, however, because they get double the content for having waited a year. PC gamers also benefit from having the game at half the price of the console version. I’m a bit torn on this matter. It DOES mean that you don’t need to own the original game to play this, but I still feel it would have been more fitting as DLC, given the amount of old content here.

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Enemy Within is still a bloody amazing game, price notwithstanding. If thinking gamers were more in abundance, this game would most certainly be Game of the Year. At the very least, I’m going to call this one the Thinking Gamer’s Game of the Year. The story is brilliant, and if you’re a veteran commander from the first game, you’ll be happy to don the medal-festooned military uniform again. Alien butt needs kicking. The extra content makes it feel almost new again, and I certainly hope that this edition will entice newer players to try it. I can’t raise the score because of the price of the game, but I’m certainly not going to drop it for one detracting factor that doesn’t even come close to outweighing the sheer amount of game there is here.

Final score: 9.5 ass-kicking cyborg prawns out of 10

Detailed information
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Distributor: Megarom
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Steam
Age Rating: 18
Website: http://www.xcom.com/enemywithin/us/