At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Matt Bailey PC/Mac 2K Games Firaxis Games November 12th, 2013

XCOM: Enemy Within preview

XCOM: Enemy Within wasn't a well kept secret. 2K Games and developer Firaxis put out teasers earlier this year, but its announcement was undermined by those pesky ratings boards and their public listings of rated games. It did, however, help me piece together what my mystery Gamescom appointment was probably for ahead of time, and considering my enjoyment of last year's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I wasn't disappointed to find out more was on the way.

Enemy Within isn't a full sequel - not surprising considering the short turnaround - but rather a significant expansion pack for Enemy Unknown, similar to what Firaxis themselves have been doing with Civilization V. These are packs that don't really fit well under the traditional idea of "DLC" - they are actually more like the disc-based expansions of old. On Windows PCs and Macs it arrives on Steam as an add-on for Enemy Within, but it's so big that the console versions will be bundled up on a disc with the original game, alongside the smaller pieces of DLC released to date.

Will you turn your squad members into bionic women or men?

Will you turn your squad members into bionic women or men?

By going down the expansion route, what you get is a game shaken up by new ideas, including the introduction of mech suits. Your soldiers can abandon their class and take up the suit instead, and this brings with it a whole new ability tree to explore. It changes the way you balance your team, and it also changes the way you approach enemies; you'll take more chances in the open than previously, able to take advantage of the suit's powerful armour to within a few enemy shots, but they are still vulnerable to well-placed enemies and surprise attacks. They're also particularly vulnerable to the aliens' own mechanised unit, the Mechtoid.

The alien technology you were picking up in Enemy Unknown finds a good home here with the introduction of genetic enhancements for your soldiers. These gene mods are upgrade slots for various parts of your body including your brain and legs, offering abilities such as jumping up to high ledges and being able to block the psionic attacks from the enemy. Again, it mixes up your squad configuration, forcing you to use what you've learnt previously as you rebuild your squad in new ways. This mixture of abilities will result in a new round of experimentation, and help keep the game refresh.

The mechs shake up the way you play

The mechs shake up the way you play

Also helping with the fresh feeling are forty new maps which join the rotation, although this expansion isn't about new missions, or offering a different take on the story. It's very much about remixing the main game in a way that will not only encourage another playthrough, but will hope to change the way you play. The Kinectic Strike melee attack, if your soldier has it, makes things more exciting when the ammo has run out, while the Collateral Damage ability sees you destroying the environment, which can considerably change the way a battle is progressing.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the Firaxis team in their presentation of the expansion at Gamescom, despite it being the last morning of a draining conference. They've been working on it since Enemy Unknown released late last year and seem excited to finally show it off. And so they should, because the theme of exploring what it means to take on this exciting but dangerous new alien technology, and the shake up to the core gameplay of an already interesting game, make XCOM: Enemy Within an exciting prospect.

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