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XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a reboot of the classic 90’s  UFO: Enemy Unknown and XCOM series and returns to its roots as a turn based tactical RPG shooter.  It was released on 9 October in the US and the 12th worldwide for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Set in the near future following an alien invasion of earth, XCOM puts the player in control of an elite multinational military organisation which is tasked with defending the Earth against the alien incursion.

The player commands troops in the field on a number of turn based  missions and between the missions directs the research and development of new technologies from recovered alien technology and captured prisoners, expands XCOM’s base of operations, manages XCOM’s finances, and monitors alien activity.

Reasons to buy it

“It works. It better than works. XCOM is muscular, tense, thoughtful, mutable turn-based strategy with the dramatic, explosive presentation of a contemporary all-action game. … I played it for some 50 hours and counting. I regret none of that time, I have missed showers, meals and Quality Time with girlfriend, cat and Dishonored in order to obtain it and I want to spend even more of  it in XCOM instead of writing these damnable words.” Alec Meer, RPS Wot I Think – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

“The absolute best aspect of XCOM is the sense that there’s never enough time or resources to do everything that needs to be done. … Every moment of XCOM is defined by these either/or decisions where every move involves some sort of sacrifice or compromise. When you combine that with the overall tone of the game, which emphasizes a DEFCON style countdown to a complete alien takeover, the whole experience is fantastically tense and engaging.” Steve Butts, IGN XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

“Still, in the arena that counts the most—ground combat—Firaxis gets it thigh-slappingly right. It’s here they remind us how good they are at making boardgame-like videogames: they know how to take something static and turn-based and turn it into a sci-fi chess diorama.” Evan Lahti, PC Gamer XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

This game is a winner. So much craft has gone into its atmosphere, into innumerable small details that together add enormous depth and flavour to the world … Near the campaign’s end, there’s a direct tribute to the original game’s designers, the Gollop brothers, accompanied by an achievement called ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’. It’s a beautiful touch, a nod from one development team to another across the generations. They have something in common now. In their own time and place, each made a fantastic game called XCOM.” Rich Stanton, Eurogamer XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review

Room for Improvement

Alec Meer’s list of small complaints in RPS’ Wot I Think – XCOM: Enemy Unknown:

“I do, though, really miss free aim, which seems to me to be a sacrifice made for a console-friendly, jump to target interface. It’s frustrating to not be able to get to an obscured alien even though you know full well the lizard-skinned bastard is crouching right behind a destructible bit of wall, or later on to not make your guys target an enemy you’ve mind-controlled, while the harsh8limitations on grenades and rockets can leave me with the dull, intangible ache of a phantom limb. But these gripes are safely in the territory of “that’s a shame,” not “no sale”.

My most serious reservations come up in reference to XCOM’s other game, the base mode. Again, it looks great – the much-hyped Ant Colony mode presenting what was formerly top-down squares as a buzzing cross-section of activity. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at that stuff after the first sight of it. Most of the rooms I went on to build I never even saw”

Interception, meanwhile, is an almost bizarrely flat affair. While its radar-view simplicity was never X-COM’s strongest suit, here it’s reduced to even less. No choosing attack type or distance, just watching a 2D, side-on battle of shapes play out, with the option to click on one or some of the three buffs (attack, dodge, speed) you can research and build for weird costs (creating a dodge power-up requires Floater corpses, for instance). Interception also happens oddly infrequently, and most of your craft will be housed in never-seen hangars in other parts of the world. Never glimpsed, so never felt attached to. Interception feels incomplete, frankly, but it’s a critical part of the game, unless you want all the funding nations to walk out in a panicked huff.

I have a slew of smaller complaints which I feel a tad churlish in bringing up, but it is important not to let my barely-bridled excitement at having a true-blooded new X-COM game on my PC get the better of me. The PC UI and control systems feels a little off – not hugely, but a bit rough around the edges and caught between two stools. However, I felt a lot more comfortable with it than I did the more restrictive gamepad controls. … Then there’s the lack of setpiece events, compared to the original…. And there are bugs. It is not a buggy game as such, generally being a slick affair… I’m also very disappointed that much of the soldier customisation – primarily armour colour, but a few more visual options too – has been partioned off into pre-order DLC (no doubt made available as an extra purchase later). … Oh yes, and that soldiers have American voices regardless of nationality is distracting. Especially as I believe localised voices were recorded for other territories anyway. Modders, to arms!”

PC Gamer XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review: “The only shortcoming of the levels is that they don’t express Earth’s diversity. If you’re saving civilians in Egypt or China, you’ll probably do it in a vaguely Western convenience store. A desert, Arctic, farm, or jungle tileset would’ve been welcome. Most of the missions you’re sent to these places to complete are standard, satisfying kill-’em-alls. The others introduce twists that—hilariously—endanger your soldiers even more: VIP escort, bomb defusal, civilian rescue.”

IGN XCOM: Enemy Unknown Review: “Within the framework of what XCOM is trying to do, there are really only two serious missteps in the tactical game. The first is that the enemies don’t seem very mobile until they see or hear you, meaning they won’t ever really surprise you… The lack of elbow room compounds that problem. Instead of letting players exercise their tactical muscle through maneuver and exploration, here the tactical decisions are heavily weighted towards just picking the right abilities and managing your cover. This tendency leaves you essentially playing an RPG that feels more like a cover-based shooter than a strategy game. To be fair, position matters and you can flank enemies and destroy their cover, but there’s never enough room to really get inventive with your tactical positioning.”



Visual Accessibility * Audio Accessibility * Physical Accessibility * Cognitive Accessibility

bright disc exploding xcom

Visual Accessibility


Relevant to those who have visually triggered migraines or seizures, photophobia, contrast loss or glare problems. 

Missions take place both at day time and night time where weapon effects have a higher contrast and seem a little brighter. There are some strong visual effects in the game, the brightest are a blue ripple effect radiating outwards and a bright orange flash when a disc explodes. I did not come across any repetitive bright glaring flashes in over 50 hours of game play.

Camera Movement

Relevant to those who experience motion sickness whilst playing video games

The camera angle is mostly fixed. It follows the selected squad member and jumps to visible enemies to show their actions automatically. Players have control of the camera through left and right pan buttons as well as moving the mouse at the edge of the screen which will move your camera in that direction. It is a little off on the PC and feels awkward at times and the spin that can result from panning can be somewhat disorienting.

Clarity, Text size, User Interface & Heads up Displays

Information for those who are partially sighted, have a visual impairment or who experience visual disturbances. We specifically consider the impact of  central field loss, multiple field loss, tunnel vision (peripheral field loss), distortion or blurred vision.

Text size is generous and the UI is easy to read and use. There are no peripheral screen effects that would hinder anyone with tunnel vision and as the camera angle can be moved with the mouse, if there’s a blind spot you can’t see, you can move the camera to reveal it. Combat damage is indicated above the head of the target with floating combat text and points removed from the health bar, so even if you miss the floating text, you can tab through your squad on your turn to check how much damage they have sustained. Mission objectives are clearly indicated with a bright and when relevent pulsing triangle that’s hard to miss. It is a very accessible game with a user friendly interface.

Reliance on colour

When evaluating games we take into account total color blindness as well as red-green colour blindness and blue-yellow colour blindness. 

The only reliance on colour is cosmetic. All colour indicators, such as damage figures are written in red text, also have a non-colour reliant component. Colour can be used cosmetically and changing your squad’s hair colour and armor to bright primary colours can make it easier to spot them on missions, but the colour is chosen by the player, so those with issues with particular colours and select the colours of their choice.


There are video and graphics options that can be adjusted. The video options allow players to select mode, either full screen, windowed or borderless window and the option to lock the mouse window is available with a tick box. The resolution can be set from a drop down menu and there is a Gamma slider that can be adjusted with the aid of two images displayed on the right. There is a tick box to enable v-sync and another to enable framerate smoothing.

The graphics options have 7 sets of options to choose from: Preset which will change all graphics settings to either low, medium or high. Alternatively, shadows, texture filtering, fog of war, anti-aliasing, texture detail and effects can be adjusted individually to low, medium or high.

Audio accessibility

Information relevant to those who have a hearing impairment, experience problems with speech perception, suffers from tinnitus and the profoundly deaf.

XCOM is very accessible from an audio point of view.  Subtitles are available for all ingame cinemagraphs and the text is of a reasonable size and scrolls at a reasonable speed;  however it is not turned on by default and as a result the initial cinematographic will make far less sense.

Within the tactical portion of the game the sound effects do add to the atmosphere and the shout outs of squad members can be helpful to direct your attention, but there are no reliance on it.


There are 5 options:

  • Master volume slider – Adjust the overall volume of the game
  • Voice volume slider – Adjusts the volume of the soldiers battlefield comments as well as any incoming communications from Central, Dr Shen and enemy vocals
  • Sound effect volume slider – Adjusts sound effects for explosions, gunfire, movement and actions such as kicking in doors or breaking windows
  • Music volume slider – Adjusts the background music.  Note that the music does change volume on its own to some degree becoming louder in combat and quieter when you are creeping around
  • Enable soldier speech – A tick box toggles soldiers speaking in combat, comments like “I’m on it” to acknowledge orders, “Enemy is retreating” or screams as they panic.

Physical Accessibility

Reaction time

Relevant to those who struggle to react quickly, usually associated with certain muscular or neurological conditions, sleep disorders or a side-effect of some medications.

XCOM is extremely accessible from a physical point of view by its very nature as a turn based game.  This means that your reaction time is not a relevant factor and you can take however long you need to think about and select the correct keys.


Relevant to those who lack precise muscular control as a result of partial paralysis, tremors, spasms or involuntary movement.

Little precision is required due to absence of free aim and presence of tile based movement. The only potential difficult parts is selecting the right tile, and one misclick could cost you dearly in the life of a much valued soldier who finds himself out of cover. I would recommend saving frequently if you struggle to select the correct tile so that you can go back and correct the error. The edge scroll speed can be adjusted with a slider to make it easier to control the camera movement with greater precision.

Pause and save options

Particularly relevant to those who suffer from chronic fatigue and/or chronic pain conditions, like arthritis, joint problems or repetitive strain injuries who struggle to play for long periods of time or may need frequent scheduled or unscheduled breaks.

To save the game includes an autosave under the Gameplay menu, but it is switched off by default.  When switched on it saves after all notable events – for example finishing a mission.  In addition there is a manual save which you can trigger at any point.

There is not a specific pause function built into the game but as it is a turn based game this isn’t missed. The periods where you cannot save or walk away from your computer is during combat and with turn-based combat, you’re committed for one enemy and one player move between each natural pause point.


Relevant to anyone who only plays with one hand , using either a mouse, keyboard, keypad or adapted controller. Also information for those who have to swap hands or need to regularly rest one hand whilst primarily gaming with the other.

XCOM: Enemy unknown is one of the most accessible games on the market for one-handed gamers. It can be played entirely with either a mouse or a keyboard (or keypad).


The game is controller enabled (PC version) and can be played entirely with the Xbox 360 controller or a mouse or a keyboard or a mouse and keyboard combination. In addition I tested a dwell clicker in the game and had good success and did not have my game play significantly impeded.


The game have two input settings that can only be changed from the main menu. If you select Options during game play, the options to change from mouse to controller is disabled. As such, you cannot use a controller and occasionally hit a key on your keyboard, once the controller option is enabled, the mouse and keyboard is completely disabled. If you have the mouse and keyboard set as primary input device, the controller will sort of work but  not well at all, so make sure you enable the controller option from the main menu to fix it.

It is rare to find a game that can be played without a mouse and in this regard XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a real gem. In addition, complete key mapping of all functions are available with two options for each function.


Cognitive Accessibility

Relevant to those with Dyslexia, a language-based learning disability, Dyscalculia, an acquired brain injury, various neurological conditions, stroke, TIA or mini-stroke, hormonal disorders like hypothyroidism, medication side-effect, depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Autism, Aspergers

Reading, language and vocabulary

It is quite a complicated story with some interested and very well thought out jargon created with every day words. Examples include “Nano-Fiber Vest”, “Arc Thrower”, “Uplink Targeting” and a Satellite is defined as “An advanced reconnaissance satellite modified to detect the unique gravitational distortions caused by alien craft in flight.” It isn’t necessary to understand all the definitions as there are diagrams and visual representations as well and quite often, you can glean what something is or does just by looking at the image and experimenting with it in combat.


It is quite a complex strategy game. The menu system is three to four levels deep and each have multiple options to choose from. There is an in-depth tutorial at the start that explains all the basic game mechanics to take note of. However, as a newcomer to XCOM and its genre, I followed the tutorial to the letter on the first mission and lost 3 of the 4 members of my squad. I restarted and didn’t loose any by using common sense and reading the information on the user interface instead. It’s an intelligent game with two interlacing components that has to be balanced by making very tough and complicated decisions throughout.


There is very little requirement for remembering details as everything is written down within your User Interface. During combat, once you select an ability, a pop-up box detailing the ability appears and you can either click okay to continue or escape to go back and choose another. The base has five sections to select from at the time, a current projects list that can be expanded on the right and a mission control button to progress in the centre bottom.

The story is not long or complicated and mostly serve the purpose of setting a scenario and hiking up the tension.

Focus, Organization & Planning

There is a heavy reliance on focus, organization and planning. If you loose track of enemy location, how many moves your squad have left or where you are in developing your base, it could cost you the entire game in a few turns. Some items take a long time to build, satellites for example take 20 days and other projects have multiple steps, for example, 5 days to build a shaft, 5 days to excavate, then you have to build another power station, get some more engineers, get the cash together and then you can start a project that may take a week or two to complete. You are on a time scale, so if you neglect to build satellites early on, by the time you realise your mistake it may be impossible to fix. It’s a game of chess and the further you think and plan ahead, the better your chances of success.

Math and computations

There is a requirement for basic mathematical skills. Units start with 3-4 health points which can go up to 25+ later on and you do have to keep track of how much health a unit has lost and has left. There is also a very strict budget to maintain, you get very little money and have to choose very carefully how you spend it. If you don’t spend your money wisely, the game is lost.

Social Interaction

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is first and foremost a single player campaign. You control your squad and you have a multi-national council to keep happy, but you do so through mechanical means; there is no affection or loyalty ratings for your team and countries are happy when you complete missions within their borders or add satellite coverage to their region.

There are multiplayer maps with both ranked, quick and custom matches. You can play one vs one with a friend or pit yourself against an unknown enemy. Unfortunately, open mic voice chat is automatically enabled, so if you do decide to play with strangers, keep in mind that starting a match will also automatically open your mic.


XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a must-own, must-play game. Whether you are new to the genre and franchise or whether you have been waiting 15 years for this title to re-emerge as a dogged fan, it’ll live up to your expectations. It’s great value for money with a lengthy campaign that has significant replay value of harder modes as well as a few multiplayer maps to keep things interesting. It’s also one of the most accessible titles of the year for those with either visual, auditory or physical disabilities and for some cognitive disabilities.

It’s a tactical turn-based strategy made to be exactly what a tactical turn-based strategy game should be, a nail-biting edge-of-your-seat-experience that will have you paralysed with indecision, frustrated beyond measure as a nervous and very human soldier misses an enemy six yards away in a straight line with a 90% chance of success, plummeting your whole squad into peril and when you succeed, it’ll be with a immense satisfaction for having been wise enough to see what’s coming, plan for it, risk all and win the throw of the dice only slightly tipped in your favour. There are flaws, a lot of flaws, but none are significant or game breaking or detract much from the thrilling and nerve-wracking journey through XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Based on the PC version of the game.

XCOM Enemy Unknown Accessibility Review MP3

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