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XCOM: Enemy Unknown breathed new life into a classic DOS game, XCOM: UFO Defense. While Enemy Unknown cut down some features that the original had (base defense, multiple bases, multiple Skyrangers, etc.), it is a fantastic strategy game. Using squad-based tactical combat and thinking, the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit (XCOM) fights an invading alien force using laser weapons, psionic mental powers, heavy armor and even alien weapons. The new XCOM franchise, made by Firaxis, the creators of Civilization, definitely is a worthy successor to the original, highly successful XCOM: UFO Defense. But, the question is, does the new recent expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, improve Enemy Unknown or does it bring it down?

Following the traditional old-school expansion pack, Enemy Within adds new gameplay-changing elements into Enemy Unknown while, at the same time, keeping the basic concept and story of the game the same; which is good in terms of gameplay but disappointing in story, which will be explained later. The biggest introduced element is a new resource which you collect named “Meld.” This new resource is contained in special containers located in alien missions that self destruct within a certain amount of turns. Your soldiers either have to clear out all enemies before the timer runs out or go to the actual container and collect it. This gives you a choice of whether to risk dashing to the container and possibly risking your soldiers’ lives for more Meld or stay safe and do your best to collect Meld conservatively. Meld is a special substance the aliens have that the player can collect during missions to make two brand-new classes to the game: gene-modded troops and a big, Mechanical Exoskeleton Cybersuit (or MEC). Simply put, it’s a 10-foot-tall cybernetic soldier in a robotic suit; created by using Meld and money to build a MEC suit then chopping off the limbs of a soldier and replacing them with robotic limbs. These new cyborg soldiers are a brand new class called “MEC troops” who lose their basic class skills all-together but gain a starting ability unique to their original class; they cannot be used in combat without an actual MEC suit, however. MEC suits can be upgraded with new abilities and weapons, like flamethrowers, rocket fists or rail guns, as well as the MEC trooper her/himself. Gene-modded troops are different in that they retain their original soldier class but you can add special modifiers to that soldiers stats or give them new abilities by spending money and Meld.

In the game, you can start producing MECs and gene-modded troops almost right away after you build a Cybernetics Lab and a Gene Lab. These new units take a considerable amount of resources to keep upgraded through the game, making XCOM’s famous perma-death mechanic much more menacing. Losing a highly promoted MEC trooper or gene-trooper to a lucky shot when you sunk over 300 credits into each can really frustrate you. While you don’t lose the MEC suit, you do lose the highly ranked soldier and the abilities he’s gained through the game. Which is why you must treasure these new units carefully.

Now, the XCOM soldiers are not the only ones who have new toys to play with . The alien invaders have added two new units into their ranks, both are very formidable and dangerous if not taken seriously. The first is a flying, squid-like robotic units called the “Seekers.” While they seem weak at a meager 5 HP, appearances can be deceiving, especially when you can’t see them due to their “Stealth mode” which makes them invisible upon immediately being discovered. Their primary role is exactly what their name implies, to seek out vulnerable targets,such as snipers. When they attack, they deactivate their stealth mode and latch on to a soldier and strangle him/her for 2 HP every turn until they suffocate. Soldiers have to shoot the seeker off of their comrade before he/she collapses to the ground. Seekers are easily manageable, however, through the use of tight formations and Overwatch, although that gets tricky when Floaters come in and lob grenades into your packed troops.

The biggest danger to XCOM troops is the new “Mechtoid,” which is basically a Sectoid who went through an identical process as your MEC soldier. Mechtoids are big, lumbering death machines armed with dual heavy plasma cannons which can easily one-shot a soldier if he/she is not wearing adequate armor. Mechtoids appeared around the 4th month in my playthrough and can seriously mess up your plans if you haven’t been preparing right; I can easily say that they can be just as menacing as Sectopods. With a fully armed squad, Mechtoids are manageable, however they are always accompanied by regular Sectoids who can psionically give their Mechtoid overlord an energy shield which adds additional HP and a buff that halves all incoming damage as long as the shield is up. It became very stressful just chipping away at the Mechtoid’s shielding, unable to get a lucky shot at his Sectoid minion hiding in high-cover with a 15% chance of hitting. Mechtoids add a balance to XCOM’s MECs; they are just as dangerous, powerful and menacing.

The new aliens were a very welcome addition to the already menacing invaders but Enemy Within has one more new opponent to add to it’s arsenal. As the title “Enemy Within”  implies, a new enemy has risen from within humanity in the form of the alien-sympathetic EXALT organization. Sporting suits, ties and orange bandanas covering their faces, EXALT’s mission is to give XCOM a hard time by any means necessary. This includes stealing your funds, creating more panic in Council nations and delaying research on important technology which can get pretty annoying really fast.

Luckily there is a way to combat the EXALT threat and put an end to the organization through a new global overview called “Covert Ops.” This requires scanning the world for XCOM cells hidden in Council nations for 50 credits the first scan, then an additional 50 each time you scan afterwards. This really bleeds your funding, surprisingly. After finding a cell, a soldier is selected as a covert operative, armed only with a pistol and an additional item, and sent into the cell for three days. After the time’s up, you are tasked with sending in an extraction squad ti evacuate the operative who has gathered intel on the EXALT cell and takes it down. This adds two new mission types called Covert Data Recovery (CDR) and Covert Extraction (CE). CDR requires that your squad protects an Encoder which EXALT is trying to capture in order for them to find the Transmitter, which is located on the same map but hidden from EXALT. It’s more of a combination between king of the hill and a horde mode. Then CE requires that your covert operative and squad hacks two communication arrays and then reach the extraction zone. With every operation completed, you gain clues as to where the main EXALT HQ is located. You have the option to send a strike team into a Council nation to search for the HQ before collecting all evidence, but you run the risk of losing the trust of that nation and it withdrawing from the XCOM project.

When first encountering EXALT, I have to say that they are an easy enemy to fight. They bull rush their way to the Encoder/Transmitter, being easily flanked, and sometimes don’t use cover at all. However, they do have a massive advantage in numbers, with your squad fighting against 18 EXALT operatives per mission. They all use the same tactics XCOM uses, unlike aliens who use brute force and psionic abilities; including the extensive use of smoke grenades and medkits. EXALT also uses gene-modding in their troops, however later in the game, you realize that their experimentation goes much farther beyond your own. Later in the game, with the introduction of EXALT elite operatives, they begin to be a very difficult enemy, able to soak up your bullets, lasers or plasma like champs. EXALT is a formidable enemy and annoyance as the game progresses, however when using MECs and gene-modded troops later on, they tend to be too easy to defeat on normal difficulty, and sometimes hard.

XCOM: Enemy WithinNew units and enemies aren’t just the only thing added. New cinematic cut-scenes involving Meld and EXALT related events look really cool and interesting, such as watching your first MEC soldier stand from the operating table and looking at an incomplete MEC suit. Or watching your first gene-trooper emerge from a tank filled with yellow liquid, removing tubing that was attached to her. Another interesting thing that Enemy Unknown had before but Enemy Within added is the addition of new optional game modifiers called Advanced Options. A personal favorite is the Aiming Angles option, which gives your soldier an increased hit percentage the closer he or she comes to flanking an enemy but that also works vice versa. These options make the game more challenging and tactical, which many games should do.

Firaxis has definitely done a phenomenal job with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Enemy Within just made the original game SO much better with added content. However, I wish they could have done more to integrate Enemy Unknown’s story with Within’s but they failed to do so; leaving all of Enemy Unknown’s original story completely unchanged. Therefore, it disappointed me because I had to watch the same abrupt and disappointing ending again. Not even the original XCOM’s ending was so abrupt and open-ended. But, all in all, XCOM: Enemy Within definitely is a worthy buy, although the fact that players on console have to buy a completely new edition of XCOM (the Commander’s Edition) just to get Enemy Within compared to PC’s simple download is a little inconvenient, especially for console owners who already own it. I have to give XCOM: Enemy Within a personal recommendation.