XCOM: Enemy Within was originally released back in October 2013, and it is a DLC for XCOM: Enemy Unknown which was released back in 2012, however this is one of the cases where the DLC is a must-buy to experience the whole package.
It adds numerous contents to the game including mechs, new types of enemies, new maps, and new gameplay mechanics that really change the base game and take it to the next level. You can even say that this DLC can be a standalone game on its own with all the new content it has.
It is the reason why I mentioned XCOM: Enemy Within review instead of the base game name, since in google play and iOS, you can only get XCOM: Enemy Within, and they delisted Enemy Unknown in their respective app stores.
As of this writing, you can only play this game on PC, iOS and Android. However, if you have PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, or Xbox 360, you can probably snag a copy somewhere on the internet.
Let us now go talk about the story, which is quite straightforward and simple. Earth is attacked by unknown enemies, and they are abducting people. To retaliate, Earth’s governments have united to create XCOM, which is basically Earth’s last line of defense, and you are chosen to be the commander of the headquarters.
The headquarters will be placed on the continent you pick when you start the game, and it will give you a passive buff throughout the playthrough.
What I like about Enemy Within is that it kind of connected the story more coherently compared to the base game, in which the progression only moves forward by completing missions and doing research which take a lot of in-game weeks.
Although, Enemy Within did not change that part of progression drastically since most of the time you still have to research the alien’s technology to progress and build the needed facility to move forward, but in my opinion, it definitely helped the story aspect of the game by providing more pre-made operations with cutscenes or dialogues to expand the lore.
Now for a game such as XCOM: Enemy Within, half of the story is told on the journey of your soldiers and how you command them until you reach the end. I highly recommend you play with Ironman mode, which basically stops you from save scumming for a more genuine and higher stakes playthrough.
A good example is when one of the pre-made operations was thrusted to me, which is the site mission related to chryssalids. They are melee-type aliens that convert people they attack to aliens after some turns, and I was very confident that I could easily complete it. After all, I have mechs and high-ranking soldiers already by that time, but turns out, it is way harder than I thought since your soldiers can be insta-killed by these melee-type aliens, so you have to stick together, and the enemies are being spawned left and right.
It took me an hour to complete the mission. Basically, you must press a button in a far location of the map to signal the HQ to bomb the area, then you need to go back to where you got dropped off to escape. Thus, I even contemplated that one of them must be sacrificed for the majority to be able to survive.
The aliens are closing in on us, while everyone is sprinting back to the rendezvous zone. Luckily, I managed to minimize the damage, and no one got sacrificed, but that is simply one of the best experiences in that playthrough.
Despite being generic soldiers, you will really care for them since you are honing them to be better soldiers on each mission. I have lost some of my best soldiers, especially with the alien invasion on your headquarters, and that really broke me. I think if I didn’t play in Ironman mode, it would have less impact on the overall experience, so I highly recommend you turn it on.
Another addition that Enemy Within brought to the table was the Exalt subplot. These are humans that want to evolve the human species, so they try to research the technology in their own way. They are not really affiliated in any way with the aliens, they are just terrorists hoarding alien technology. It is a welcome addition as you will have to infiltrate them later on in the game and find their headquarters, which is a nice change of pace sometimes.
However, let’s be honest, XCOM: Enemy Within story is probably its weakest aspect, but it does not mean it is bad. It has a simple premise and objective, and good thing that they added more pre-made operations, and the addition of the EXALT subplot made the game have more substance compared to the base game.
Visual and Audio Presentation
Moving on to the visuals, and I must say I honestly like how the game looks, although it is quite dated since it has been 10 years since this was first released.
Let us start with the characters since there are only a handful of the main characters who drive the narrative, such as Dr. Shen, Dr. Vahlen and John Bradford. They are forgettable, as well as your soldiers since they are randomly generated. However, there is a minimal customization on how your soldiers look. It is pretty basic as you can only choose your nationality, your head type, skin color, facial hair, and armor deco and tint. Most of them are preset made without the ability to further change them, and that is okay for mainly a tactical game, but that kind of sucks as this could have been improved a lot to give more “characterization” to your soldiers.
Although, I love the way they designed the mechs and the aliens in XCOM: Enemy Within, they are unique, and very memorable especially the Mutons and Chryssalid. The first time I encountered them, I learned to deal with them swiftly since they have high HP and can destroy a team that has standard weapons.
For the world design, it is definitely well-made, each map has so many blind spots and good spots for flanking and attacking enemies. Plus, the walls, trees, or anything that can function as a cover can be destroyed, which adds to the strategy for each mission.
Additionally, there are more than 70 unique hand-crafted maps in this game, although, some may say several of those maps look identical, and a part of me agrees on that sentiment, but if we look closely, they really are different. My issue is that it does get repetitive after a while, especially if you are planning to do multiple playthroughs. By the time you are in the middle of your 2nd playthrough, you probably saw 100% of the unique maps they can offer, and thus, you can anticipate where the enemies will spawn and whatnot.
For a tactical RPG game, the animation plays very smoothly, transitioning from running to cover, and the ragdoll animation when a soldier or an alien dies is kind of exaggerated, but I guess if you got hit by a laser beam, that is how your body will react like you got hit by a shotgun in close range. I also love that the buildings are destructible as it just shows how powerful alien guns can be, and in contrast, the alien ships are almost not destructible in any way.
As for the audio presentation, voice acting is okay for the main characters I mentioned earlier. Their lines may be forgettable, but I guess they did an okay job for the script they were given. Nothing exceptional, but nothing bad as well.
For example, Dr. Vahlen was voiced by Moira Quirk, Dr. Shen was voiced by Francois Chau, Central Officer Bradford was voiced by David Hoffman, and the council spokesperson was voiced by Jon Bailey, the Honest Trailers’ guy. These guys, if you google their work, obviously have a lot of experience doing voice acting on games, so they did decent work for what they had been given in the first place for Enemy Within.
On the other hand, I actually liked the fact that there are voices for each nationality in the game when you hire soldiers, which is simply adding more for the immersion. Those small details are really something that made this game special, to be honest.
The soundtrack is amazing, which the majority of those were composed and produced by Michael McCann, who also did soundtracks for Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Borderlands 3, and Deus Ex games. Roland Rizzo also composed some of the tracks and he is known for composing the music for the 2001 X-Com: Enforcer game, as well as in Civilization IV and V. The soundtrack is consistent in giving this upbeat but full of mystery music that is very fitting for a game with an alien invasion concept.
Now, for the best aspect of XCOM: Enemy Within, the gameplay is something that I have enjoyed every time I play the game. It never gets boring at all. If you are a fan of tactical/strategy RPG, this is simply one of the best games out there, and it is a must try.
Let’s delve deeper and start with the management aspect of the game. As I mentioned earlier in the review, you have to select the continent where your headquarters will be built at the start of the game, which will provide you with a unique passive buff throughout the playthrough.
There are 16 countries that are part of The Council, these are countries that you have to protect at all costs since they basically are the ones giving you money. They are your primary source of income. Each month, they will provide you with stats of how well you did and based on that they will supply the funds.
You may use it to build a new part of the headquarters, such as generators, satellite uplinks, and other important buildings that will improve or progress you in the game. Some buildings have bonuses if you manage to build two or more of the same building by being adjacent to each other.
You can also hire soldiers or upgrade the team by increasing the number of soldiers to be deployed on the battlefield. Moreover, there are items you can buy in your foundry such as new armor, new grenades or new guns for your soldiers, provided that you have already researched the technology for the items. All of these need to be within your budget as it will take another in-game month for you to receive ample funds.
Overseeing your funds and base building is 50% of what made the management aspect of XCOM: Enemy Within, the other 50% is how you handle the panic across the globe. Every now and then, there are random events that will cause panic in different countries, and you have to select 1 from 3 countries or choices where you want to deploy your soldiers.
The consequence is that the other 2 countries that you did not help will have increased panic, and we do not want that because once they reach a certain amount of panic, they will leave the XCOM project, giving you less budget every month, and they will be gone for good. You have no way to get them back.
Moreover, higher panic means harder enemies, but if you do not want to lose the country, you must cater for them. Adding satellites to a country also helps decrease panic, plus if it is in the same continent as your headquarters, your passive buff will level up as well.
Now, how about the actual combat gameplay? If you have not played any XCOM game before, it is a Strategy RPG where you command your units one by one each turn. They have limited movement and limited action per turn, thus, it gives players how to tactically attack opponents. There is also a fog of war, which can result in a very bad ambush if your units go a little deep in the enemy’s territory. Units can hide from almost anything that you can see in the map whether it is a tree, a rock, or even a bus stop. These covers can be a half-cover or a full-cover, and any of these two will be good for your units rather than leaving them open, because the latter usually leads to an easy kill from the enemy.
Enemy units can hide from covers as well, which makes it harder to hit them. There are two workarounds on that; one is you flank the enemy so you can get an easy hit, and you will know if you are flanking them if the alien logo on the lower right indicating you have a target is yellow instead of red. The other workaround is just destroying the cover since most covers are destructible, especially if you have stronger guns later in the game, and this is my preferred way instead of moving around to flank your enemies since it may attract more of them at once, which may put your units in disadvantage.
Enemy units vary from each other since they have classes of their own like Thin Man, Sectoids, Muton, and many more. Encountering them will need different tactics to defeat them, and that is what I like about this game. You will encounter more enemy types as you progress in the game, and sometimes, overpowered alien robots can literally destroy your platoon if you are not careful.
Of course, each of our soldiers has its own class as well, and as they get more kills, they also level up and gain more skills. These classes are Assault, Heavy, Support, Sniper, and the Enemy Within’s exclusive MEC Trooper class.
Assault units can do run-and-gun tactics, which helps them get out of a messy encounter with enemies. Heavy units are great against robot aliens, and they can suppress enemy units as well to help his comrades. Support units are more on healing and reviving downed teammates, and they are highly recommended in every single mission. Sniper units are great at assassinating enemies from long-range, and they can be overpowered at times especially if they have high stats on aiming. You can literally win a mission if you manage to put a sniper in a very good place where he can shoot any enemy that gets too close. Lastly, MEC Troopers are units that can operate Mechanized Exoskeleton Cybersuits (MEC), and they are heavily modified, so they can be a great asset with their abilities to punch aliens and destroy covers. They also have a lot of health compared to normal soldiers.
Each mission has its clear goal and occasionally side quests too. For example, Alien Abduction is a kill all hostile type of mission, which means you just have to find all enemies and neutralize them. On the other hand, Terror Site is the same kill all hostile type mission but with a twist, because you will try to rescue as many civilians as possible before they get killed. However, I wish there would be more variety in these missions as they are mostly the same every time.
As you research more on alien technology, you will be able to upgrade your weapons and gears for your units, and in no time, you will be blasting aliens with laser guns, use grenades that do not destroy the environment, or have your units equip a jetpack so they can fly and maneuver faster during battle. You can easily get this technology by killing an alien as it will give you a fragment of their equipment, which is essential on creating new technology. You can even capture an alien, and by doing so their weapons will not get destroyed and your research will benefit greatly from it.
In Enemy Within, a new resource was introduced, which is called Meld. Most missions have this as a side quest to retrieve as it is essential to be used for Genetics Lab and Cybernetics Lab. Basically, it is used to upgrade your units whether it is for MEC or their genetics. There is also a timer to get this resource in every mission and it keeps you, the players, on your toes since you will be pressured to rush on the locations of this resource if you want to upgrade your soldiers and MECs.
Another addition that was added in Enemy Within is the subplot for EXALT, which I already mentioned earlier. Instead of aliens, you are fighting terrorists or a secret society that wants to acquire the alien technology for themselves.
To prevent this, you can send a spy to do some covert operation, and once they are done with their mission, it is time to extract them while completing their objective, which is to stop the EXALT from either increasing panic in a country, steal funds from your headquarters, or reverse some of your progress.
I like this addition as we can fight humans that exploited alien technology, and it is very similar to fighting other XCOM units. Although, after a number of EXALT missions, you will notice that they are all the same and it gets very repetitive, and you can easily overpower them once you have the plasma weapons, because their weapons peaked at laser weapons. I assume this is due to the fact that plasma weapons are acquired by capturing aliens.
I wish they added more base attacks for this subplot similar to invading a spaceship of an alien since there is only one and that is actually the final mission for the subplot when you attack their headquarters. The same goes for the alien invasion of your headquarters as it will only happen once. I wish there would be a timed event like every 3 to 6 months that aliens will try to invade your headquarters to pressure you more, and I actually took a lot of losses, especially my best units when they suddenly did the invasion on my playthrough, which is kind of fun.
That is basically all the gameplay for XCOM: Enemy Within. There is a multiplayer mode on PC, which I have not really tried because it is an old game, and I could not find a match. However, it will play similarly to the usual, but you are up against a human enemy. You can build up your roster depending on the points you have so that is how they try to balance the multiplayer.
XCOM Enemy Within has so much going for it in terms of Content Value. Yes, the game is linear and there is only one ending in this game, but a single playthrough may take you around 25 hours.
Now, XCOM: Enemy Within has a feature called Second Wave, which is a collection of gameplay options to enhance or make your life harder on your next playthrough. At default, there are already a lot of options to choose from like randomizing the economy, and rookies have random initial stats. This already gives you a fresh campaign as everything will be a little bit different from your first playthrough.
Moreover, completing the game on higher difficulty will unlock other options such as Results Driven, where your funding will be determined by panic level, and Total Loss, where soldiers who died in a mission will lose all their gears. This gives the game a more enjoyable third playthrough as it adds more challenge and RNGs.
There is also a mod support in XCOM: Enemy Within. It is not as easy as 1,2,3 as you may have to copy and paste some of the mods manually in the game folder. However, there are so many good mods like the XCOM Long War, which overhauls the campaign to make it longer such as having more units deployed, and units need to rest every other mission even if they are not injured. There are also mods for adding new maps in the game, which adds more variety when you already played the game more than once, and it will lessen the replayability of the maps, an issue that I am having on the vanilla version of the game.
The price of this game on Steam will still cost you $49.99 for the complete pack if it is not on sale. On the bright side, this game is always on sale every single time I check it, which comes down the price for $9.99 for the complete pack. XCOM: Enemy Within definitely has great value for its price when it is on sale.
There is also an XCOM: Ultimate Collection which has the complete pack of this game, as well as XCOM 2 Collection, and XCOM: Chimera Squad, which is a decent spinoff. If you have more budget, you can grab that as well.
Now, for the conclusion, XCOM: Enemy Within has been one of the best tactical RPGs of the past decade, and it still holds up very well even to this day. Some would even say that it is actually better than XCOM 2, especially once modded. However, I cannot really say for myself as I have not yet completed XCOM 2 nor its expansions.
Nevertheless, what I can say is that this game will be able to give you a fun 25 hours on your first playthrough, and probably another 70 hours with the succeeding playthroughs including if you install mods for the game.
It is truly an enjoyable experience from start to finish, although, again there are some hiccups in the game such as its lackluster story, an okay-ish voice acting, and the dated graphics with limited customization. Though, all these shortcomings are squashed by the greatness of its gameplay, soundtrack, well-made maps, and content value (if it is on sale).