Looking back at the games I reviewed in 2012, it's been a pretty good year for franchise reboots with the likes of Doom 3 BFG and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Today, we take a look at XCOM: Enemy Unknown by Firaxis Games. For those unfamiliar, this title is a re-imagination of the 1994 game XCOM: UFO Defense that spawned a whole series of spinoffs like XCOM: Terror From the Deep, XCOM: Enforcer, XCOM: Apocalypse, and more.
Today, we try to defend the earth from an alien invasion, and we do so in stereoscopic 3D on DDD TriDef Ignition and Nvidia 3D Vision platforms. So grab your ray guns, strap on your favorite rocket launcher, and let's get those snot-colored bastards!
XCOM: Enemy Unknown takes place in 1962 and features little green guys, flying saucers, gruesome dissections, and 60's style nostalgia. It seems the US government has known about the alien invaders for some time, and it's only now becoming very public thanks to abductions and violent landings happening all over the world. Playing the (silent) part of FBI special agent William Carter, it's your job to develop and manage the XCOM taskforce responsible for saving the world as we know it!
There are two major aspects to the game. The first is on the battlefield where, on a turn by turn basis, you have to accomplish missions and/or wipe the invading aliens off the map. The second is between missions or events where you have to develop your team, build up your resources, and carefully choose which parts of the world need your help the most.
Working on the ground, you can use a maximum of five marines at a time. There are different classes of marine, and each has unique capabilities that will be helpful when fighting the little (or big) green guys. For example, Support can throw smoke grenades that will reduce the chances of your team taking enemy fire, Assault can "run & gun" which means that you can do more in a turn (like move and shoot) compared to other players, Heavy owns the field with their trusty rocket launchers, and finally, the Snipers bring doom from afar.
Turns can be divided into parts. The move phase is optional. If each character moves within their blue radius, they're good to go for most types of shooting. If they move to the wider yellow radius (AKA "sprinting"), they can get where they need to be, but they won't be able to do any shooting or secondary actions. Certain weapons like rocket launchers and sniper guns require a full turn commitment, and won't let them move and shoot in the same round. All troops have a secondary weapon, so even if they can't use their rocket launcher or sniper rifle, they should be able to fire off a less damaging pistol round if its planned in advance. Firing a weapon or using a tool ends each character's turn.
Of course, members of your team will inevitably get hit - often seriously - and you will need one or more medical kits to get them back on their feet. Or if it's really bad, you might be lucky to just stabilize them so they don't bleed out, but they won't be useful for the rest of the game's round.
Expect your enemies to grow increasingly diverse, dangerous, and cunning. Sure, a few aliens may not seem that threatening at first, but what if they suddenly control the mind of a heavily armed teammate? Or worse, what if they turn the people you are trying to rescue into tentacled zombies? The same can happen to members of your squad, by the way. It's not pretty!
Firaxis Games did a good job of diversifying the battlegrounds as you progress through the invasion. Depending on where UFO's land (or crash), you could be blasting away in a forest, a city block, a warehouse...could be anywhere, really. Thinking back at the original game, I would have liked XCOM to be a bit more campy. For example, the original game was unique in that you would be fighting aliens in crop circles or in farm houses, while the modern version doesn't really play on this slow build-up, and really jumps in while aliens are coming down full force.
Between battles, you need to work quickly to get XCOM in shape and be prepared for the next wave of attack. You do this through Research, Engineering, and a sharp eye.
While your squads may look like they are armed to the teeth, that illusion gets gobbled up the moment an alien crustacean snaps their neck and eats their insides. They are going to need bigger guns, stronger armour, and special tools as they venture out into the unknown. Everything you find on the field needs to get researched so that new weapons can be derived, developed, and possibly found and used from the battlefield.
Once your researchers have learned to create a few things, the Engineering department can get them built for you. Nothing comes free, though! Many of the required components can't be found on Earth, so whatever you can scrape up from venture's past will be valuable resources for building important weapons and tools. There is a grey market you can use to sell things off and make some extra money in a pinch, but keep a mindful eye on not overselling the bits and pieces you will need later on!
Finally, it's not enough to just shoot down UFO's and take out aliens. The world is in a state of panic, and you need to keep them calm or bad things will happen (not sure what that is yet, I'll have to get back to you!). You keep the world calm by launching satellites to watch for UFO activity, send requested resources to different parts of the world, and basically do a good job. You get a report card every so often which helps determine the resources you are going to get from month to month.
So all things being equal, it's time for the big question. How is XCOM: Enemy Unknown in stereoscopic 3D?
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While XCOM's 3D Vision result is beneficial, it's uneven. You can achieve a combined depth and pop-out effect, but it's a mixed bag because the cut-scenes behave very differently from the battlefield screen. My recommendation is to set up your out of screen effects in the cut-scenes, and leave the battlefield alone. It's a fair mix given the limitations you have to work with.
When the game was designed, they were probably trying to save money by having pre-rendered movies without 3D data. They probably figured that if the game is just seen in 2D, no one will be able to tell the difference from one scene to the next. The problem is that there is no consistency in how they are doing this, and it's a bit disappointing to see a fun 3D image, then flat 2D, then 3D, 3D, 2D, then 3D, etc. etc.
The biggest problem with XCOM on Nvidia are the poorly rendered light flares. They are mostly visible during the in-between-mission periods, and can be very distracting. The nametags are also rendered in 2D, and since this is a top-down game which requires you to accurately pick and choose elements on the screen, it's a little harder to select the choices you are after.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is definitely playable in 3D, and it adds something - but more work needs to be done here.
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DDD has almost the same limitations that Nvidia 3D Vision faces with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but they are handled a bit differently. First, DDD resolved the light flare problem by getting rid of the effects entirely. I would prefer to see TriDef correct the flares rather than deleting them, but until that happens, this does look better.
The inconsistent camera angles are still a problem if you are looking to achieve a combined depth and pop-out experience, so it's best to set up your best settings during the cut-scenes as you would with Nvidia's 3D Vision described above. While GameGrade3D doesn't recognize this, you can try DDD's auto-convergence feature, but it's not for everyone.
While the nametags are rendered in 2D, the interface works well if you use DDD's dominant eye system so the mouse points exactly where you need it to go.
There is a post processing bug in certain situations where things explode on the map, and the objects don't mix very well with low contrast cut-out shapes. This was acknowledged in DDD's GG3D score.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a welcome reboot to the XCOM franchise. The maps are fun, the old-style mechanics still work, and it's definitely an enjoyable game. While Stereoscopic 3D gamers will benefit from improved visuals on both DDD and Nvidia 3D Vision platforms, things really need to be taken further to be a true example of what stereoscopic 3D gaming has to offer.
It would be extremely beneficial if DDD and Nvidia could find a way to balance out the battlefield and cut-scene 3D settings without using a distracting auto-convergence feature. The setting limitations are holding back what could be an awesome S-3D gaming experience.
On that note, have fun zapping those nasty green guys!