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XCOM: Enemy Within Review

gil_almogi By:
GENRE Action 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Like tricking out a ride after Xzibit already pimped it.

Firaxis is back after over a year with their latest expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, to last year’s strategy hit revitalization, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This time around, they’d like to know the answer to one simple question: Were your aspirations towards megalomania not megalomaniacal enough? (Also, if the enemy is within, can it still be unknown, and vice-versa?)

Enemy Within introduces a new currency, Meld, which is introduced early on and used to enhance your soldiers even further than before. Meld allows commanders to perform sick, twisted experiments upgrade their soldiers by using inhumane genetic manipulation enhancements or by turning them into cyborg MECS, devoid of emotion or independent thought a brand new mechanized class of soldiers. Notably, one cannot make a genetically enhanced MEC, and creating a MEC wipes out all previously learned class abilities but not experience.

Genetic enhancements include being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, regenerate health, become invisible, or turn death into extended bleed-outs. And MECs, well, can pulverize and lay waste with enhanced health and shielding. This may all sound like a massive tipping of the scales, but if there’s anything Enemy Within maintains like its core game, it’s balance.

The aliens have new weapons up their sleeves, including the Mechtoid, the extraterrestrial portmanteau of MEC and Sectoid. These new enemies feature double-firing arm guns and a ton of HP and are introduced almost as quickly as Meld. As such, Meld immediately becomes something of a necessity, and you’ll want to construct your Gene and Cybernetics Labs pronto to have a chance against the aliens’ increased forces.

And you’ll become familiar with the alien forces quickly because Meld is kept in containers on most battlefields with a turn-timer before they implode. As opposed to the careful approach Enemy Unknown had commanders navigating the terrain so as not to alarm too many enemy clusters, Meld’s sweet, sweet nectar sends soldiers all over, tipping off every creature laying in wait. This is not a bad thing, actually, since Enemy Within immediately becomes a different game, still requiring strategy but something entirely different. You can’t be the same commander you were before or it’ll put you at a disadvantage.

If that wasn’t enough, aliens aren’t the only foes you’ll be fighting. A new rebel group, EXALT, takes the stage, basically running their own XCOM operation at your expense. EXALT missions come about in the same manner as any other, but the missions are far different.

Sensing EXALT activity on the map leads to sending one of your precious soldiers alone and carrying only a pistol to do some dirty work. After a number of days, your team is sent to retrieve him or her in missions requiring you to hack satellite arrays or play tower defense around some XCOM encoders. (Yes, with up to 7 soldiers, including your operative.) The enemies themselves are humans, and they know every trick in the book that you do, probably because they stole it. Eventually, they even learn a few that you can’t.

Although the spy game is somewhat intriguing, it feels like a distraction from the larger plot and one whose antics are no more engaging either. It’s all folded in so smoothly, in such a balanced manner, that you’ll nary raise an eyebrow at it. Still, it counts are more content that you didn’t have the last three or four times you played Enemy Unknown. I just wish EXALT were more demonstrably nefarious, not just shadow foils to your base and squad.

The Enemy Within expansion also comes with two new major story missions. One mission, which has to do with the title, is a tough but rather exciting battle that tosses up all the typical game mechanics really remarkably. Instead of planning your perfect team and their loadout, this mission is sprung upon you out of the blue, forcing you to deal with a group of soldiers that is more or less ragtag. Control freaks, beware! Though surviving this mission feels triumphant, its larger ramifications are ignored as the plot rolls on, which is almost idiotic.

Meanwhile, the other new mission mostly feels like any other Council mission that newcomers won’t even realize is special. What they will notice is how frustrating a scenario it is, and I think that sentiment will be universal. Unlike other missions where failures are both luck-of-the-draw and poor leadership, the final act of this one is a complete setup. I don’t doubt many will try, but many players won’t finish it without losing one or two soldiers. Unlike other battles, everything here felt unfair and insurmountable.

In what feels like Firaxis’s own inside joke, these two missions balance each other out like every other feature added through Enemy Within. On top of Meld, EXALT, Yin and Yang missions, and new enemies, there are more customizations, localized soldier languages, a lot of new maps, and small perk-granting medals commanders can award their squads.

Unlike other DLC, it seems that Enemy Within wasn’t created so much to be an extension like story or mission packs for other games. In fact, the story is just a hokey as ever, if not more so. Instead, this expansion is so meaty with additions that balance each other out, it’s practically a sequel the way we like them: keep what made the original what it is while giving fans a reason to re-enter the series. Actually, though you need the base game to play Enemy Within, you need to launch it separately and create new save files to play.

The amount of new elements, along with tweaks to old elements, is vast enough that it wouldn’t be reasonable to list them all here without writing a Wiki page. Just be aware that XCOM: Enemy Within is not just DLC. It’s a new game with an air of familiarity. It’s a new reason to play XCOM a few more times. It’s what is widely considered illegal human experimentation masked by grand speeches about the “greater good.” It’s more of what you love for a very reasonable asking price.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PC version. Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3.
XCOM: Enemy Within
  • New genetic enhancements and MEC class
  • New enemies to balance out genetic enhancements and MEC class
  • Two new major story missions
  • One better than the other
  • New EXALT foe and missions feel like a wash
  • A ton of other new content
  • Reason to play XCOM again (and again)
  • New features are so balanced, new players won’t notice them.
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