I can’t usually play games for long stretches of time. Once it hits the 2-3 hour mark, I either start to get bored, or have the urge to go do something else. But XCOM: Enemy Unknown has grabbed me by its tendrils and refused to let me go. Although I’ve never played a Civilization game before, I was cognizant of Firaxis’ prior exploits, and was well aware of the “one more turn-itis” that has been a hallmark of the series. But I was shocked at how deep I plunged into this XCOM induced hole. This has been the first time in a long time where I’ve just simply been unable to stop playing, until I come to the realization I’ve been sitting in the same spot for the past 5 hours.
Although XCOM is billed as a turn-based strategy game, the base and resource management aspect of it is the reason why I’ve logged countless hours over the past week. It feels like I spend more time mulling over what upgrades I should buy, what kind of base layout would maximize each facility, and what research is most useful to me than actually controlling my soldiers out on the battlefield. Actually, I think I can place the blame sorely on the “coming up” section of the calendar as the main reason I can’t stop playing. My internal monologue when I’m about to turn off the game usually goes something along the lines of this: “If that autopsy is going to finish in 2 days I might as well just get to it… Oh wait is that workshop going to be built in 5 more days? …. Hey, an abduction. Fine, let’s go save those damn Canadians.” The macro is just as essential to the experience, if not more, as the micro.
That’s not to say strategy facet of the game is chopped liver. Every mission, no matter how easy or difficult, is equally rewarding. The beauty of XCOM is that you’ll feel like a strategic genius if everything goes perfectly, or like a bumbling fool if it doesn’t. The satisfaction you get when the 50/50 coin flip goes in your favor, and you exterminate the muton that was about to pummel your sniper into submissions, is truly unmatched. That feeling, however, is definitely a two-way street. You’ll throw your hands up in the air and yell at the television angrily when your heavy misses his 70% shot. The hills and valleys that you go through are what make each mission unique, and all the more memorable.
What makes XCOM such a phenomenal game is that the core mechanics of the game are so fundamentally sound. Every layer of the game interacts with another in an intelligent way. There are just a ridiculous number of gears and cogs that make XCOM function, but all of them fit perfectly to create a well-oiled machine that is hard to put down.