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XCOM: Enemy Within (PC) artwork

XCOM: Enemy Within (PC) review

"The biggest difference is that you can now do all of this with mechs, because if you're going to add one thing to a winning formula, it should probably be mechs."

XCOM: Enemy Within asset

XCOM: Enemy Within is the same game. I say this with full knowledge that the job of an expansion is generally to expand upon existing content, but in this case, you really are getting the same campaign that you probably spent dozens of hours with last year. Same routine: you capture and interrogate an alien, capture and interrogate a bigger alien, invade a base, shoot down the Overseer, and so on and so forth. The biggest difference is that you can now do all of this with mechs, because if you're going to add one thing to a winning formula, it should probably be mechs.

Mechs are certainly not the only thing Firaxis has thrown into the equation here, but even once you've bundled together all of the new units, mechanics and maps that Enemy Within offers, the value of the package – DLC that's currently three-quarters the price of the original game – is a tough sell. If you're a vet of last year's Enemy Unknown, you'll have to trudge through a lot of familiar content just to get some experience with the new stuff. If you've never played the original, you'd still need to nearly double the entry fee just to give the added content a whirl. Unknown was terrific, but it'd take something more substantial than this somewhat scattershot expansion to make me excited to spend another 30-40 hours with it.

I've already helpfully reviewed Enemy Unknown, and Enemy Within being the same core game means that it's still an absorbing mixture of turn-based tactical combat and behind-the-scenes resource-meddling. It also means that it's still awash with line-of-sight issues, still gives enemy units an extra move every time they're spotted, and still feels far less intuitive on a mouse and keyboard than it has any right to be. I wouldn't expect an expansion pack to make any large-scale changes to the groundwork of a game, though, and it's not like any of these problems stopped Enemy Unknown from being one of 2012's best games. The formula is still riveting. There's no question about that.

XCOM: Enemy Within asset

The most notable new inclusions here relate to a material called Meld. It's scattered around battlefields in canisters that will self-destruct after a certain period of time if they haven't been collected; Enemy Unknown was always pressuring players with nerve-wracking deadlines (whether you were reviving fallen teammates, pulling nations out of panic, or whatever) and harvesting Meld just adds another layer there. Once you've acquired some Meld, you can use it to augment your existing soldiers with either genetic modifications or robotic exoskeletons.

Both function roughly as you'd expect. The gene mods are numerous and potentially game-changing; some are simple stat upgrades, but then you can also have soldiers regenerating health and leaping to extreme heights. You can even provide a secondary heart for a unit, thus ensuring that he or she doesn't immediately die when downed on the battlefield. As neat as the gene mods are, though, none are as instantaneously gratifying and – dare I say? – awesome as the new MEC suits. These are essentially walking tanks available within the first hour of play, and they can use either devastating melee attacks or freaking flamethrowers on top of a default minigun that already does at least twice the damage of any out-of-the-gate firearm. MECs can't take cover, nor can they climb ladders or fire more than twice before reloading, but the pros seriously outweigh the cons on this one.

The aliens fight with mechs now, as well, but it's the other new enemy type that's more notable. The Seekers are floating squid-like robots that can cloak for long periods of time and strangle soldiers until either the victim dies or they themselves get shot. It's a neat idea, and they're terrifying foes. The trouble is that they can slow battles to an infuriating crawl when they disappear for long stretches without reappearing. I'd often destroy all other enemies in the area and then have to just sit around twiddling my thumbs for a few turns, waiting for the Seekers to reappear and do their thing. If you played Unknown, you probably had the experience of eliminating all but one or two enemies on the field and then having to slowly sweep the area for the outliers. Hunting Seekers, especially if you don't have the gene mod that helps to unveil them, is similarly tedious.

XCOM: Enemy Within asset

The final new addition to your adversaries are the EXALT forces, which are noteworthy because (a) they're human, and (b) they'll actually go after your base directly. The best thing about them, though, is their introduction. You're called to investigate a seemingly unremarkable attack, but when you arrive, you notice that the victims were all killed with... human bullets! I loved that moment, because it properly reinstated the overwhelming fear of facing a mysterious and very impersonal menace. Enemy Unknown was a non-horror game that made me scared; it forced you to discover and outwit strange new threats on a regular basis or suffer the very real consequences (since you can actually lose the game). It's a sensation that's otherwise gone from Enemy Within, since you've already mastered all of this.

I suspect that XCOM: Enemy Within will play much better when it's inevitably packaged with the core game down the line, or when it's sold cheaper as a standalone expansion. As it stands... this is DLC. Enemy Unknown was great, and the new content occasionally makes it exciting again, but I don't know if it's worth spending nearly the price of the original game just for the occasional bursts of adrenaline in what is otherwise the same experience.

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (November 18, 2013)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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