Fighting Internal Foes In XCOM: Enemy Within

With XCOM: Enemy Within’s announcement, Firaxis came out and talked about mech suits, genetic modifications and other changes to the XCOM formula, but I was still somewhat confused by the game’s title. The enemy threat was still very much external, with the alien forces souped up and enhanced to match your own, and the changes to your team seemed very much like enhancements rather than internal threats.

However, sitting down with the game once more, I was able to get at the true meaning behind the title. It’s not the aliens you have to be worried about, it’s the alien-loving human nut-jobs in EXALT!

OK, so the aliens are still the main threat here, but EXALT brings a new twist to the game, as this underground movement wants to pull the rug out from under the XCOM organisation and let the aliens win. A new front has opened up on Earth, and it’s yet another thing on your To Do list.

Their methods are entirely subversive, as they start to drain on your cash reserves, hack and disrupt your research progress and undermine the confidence and happiness of those countries still under your protection. These might be small things, but in the middle of the conflict with the aliens, it can be the tipping point.

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So it’s up to you to hunt them down and put an end to their activities, with the onus really on you. They won’t initiate hostilities, but rather you must take advantage of the opportunities presented to you, and try to infiltrate their organisation. Sending in a lightly equipped operative is a risky business, but nothing compared to needing to extract them a few days later as they complete their mission.

This is where the real new gameplay lies, as your fully equipped squad is dropped in right as the operative is at the crucial point. The two mission types I saw varied quite nicely, with the first seeing the operative needing to hack into the two EXALT communications towers on the map, and then extract back to the drop ship.

As my operative did so, it was all-out carnage in the main fight, as my troops encountered humans firing back with human weaponry. Quite distressing, it would seem, as one of my troopers died and practically my entire team went into panic. However, I recovered, and took a hard fought and costly victory home, as more EXALT troops and snipers came at me from all directions to stop my escape.

If my first extraction was messy and panicked, the second mission let me kick terrorist butt a lot more convincingly. Now I was on the defensive, set to protect an encoder and transmitter from oncoming EXALT fighters. Spread out across the map it was still a headlong charge from my starting corner to the encoder, in order to stop EXALT from controlling that point on the map.

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An interesting note would be that the game isn’t kidding around when it says that your grenade might damage a “friendly object”. I was more than happy to blow up the cars that I could see, in order to deal damage to hunkered down enemy, but forgot to take into account that blowing up my encoder might occur too.

A pyrrhic victory on one end of the map let me focus on a single area, whilst I sent my operative off to hack the handful of comms towers and disrupt the EXALT forces – though I’ll be honest, I’m not sure this did too much. The incoming waves of enemies weren’t too bright, rushing forwards to contest the Transmitter’s control area, but there were quite a lot of them, and it took a bit of doing to be able to take them down as quickly as I did.

In the full game, both of these victories would have unlocked clues as to where EXALT’s main base of operations exists. As you complete more and more of these extractions the clues start to build up: they are not in Africa; they are not on an island nation; they are in one of the 5 most populated countries on Earth.

Once you have three clues, you can start to make guesses as to where they are and conduct a comprehensive sweep for their base. However, you need to be careful, because guessing wrong will see that country hastily pack its bags and leave the Council. Dredging up more clues will make it easier to figure out where the base is and lead a task force to wipe them out, ending the EXALT threat.

What’s particularly interesting in all of this is the care and restraint shown with this new addition. Just as with the new abilities and unit types, there are places where Firaxis have decided not to go with, no matter how cool they sound in your head.

There are no three-way battles between you and EXALT with the aliens swooping in for a scuffle too. In fact, EXALT really just want alien tech, and the aliens are more than happy to let the humans fight each other. Similarly, it’s always you that initiates the missions and combat with EXALT, and they decided against having sleeper agents infiltrating XCOM. It’s all about keeping you in control of the situation, so that it’s your actions which define how the game plays.

In giving us more and more options and scenarios, Enemy Within is looking like one hell of an expansion pack. The only downside I can think of is that it demands a standalone disc release on consoles – albeit at more of a budget price point.

1 Comment

  1. Have they indicated if you can use your original XCOM save file to import your squad? Or are you starting from scratch again?

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