As a fan of the original, I have been waiting for this for a long time, and in most ways I am not disappointed.
XCOM is/was the grandfather of all turn based strategy games. It defined a genre, and so this title has a lot to live up to. Coupled with this is the fact that there are so few decent turn-based strategy games on the PS3 - Disgaea can get a little silly, Agarest is spoiled by an over-abundance of fan-service, which leaves the brilliant (but sadly under-rated) Valkyria Chronicles. The new XCOM is a worthy addition that sits right up there.
Basically, XCOM is split into two parts, these being squad based tactical combat and Sim-City style base building and resource management. In combat, you manage between 4 and 6 troops in an isometric turn-based strategy to hunt down and destroy alien invaders. Outside combat, you have the job of maintaining workshops and research labs, along with building satellite surveillance networks and interceptors to make sure that E.T. is well and truly blown home.
The difficulty level is steep from the start, requiring you to be as good at managing the accounts as you are at keeping your squad alive. Fail to manage each country's panic level or neglect putting boots on the ground in their territory and they'll eventually withdraw funding, and if over half of the nations pull out, it's game over.
It's testament to how things have evolved for the "casual" gamer that the (very) Hard difficulty level is actually called "Classic", as this represents how brutal the original game was. Even on easy and normal levels it's easy for things to get out of hand and have countries panicking all around you. A further Ironman option restricts you to a single, automatically updated save that records every action if you really want to torture yourself as you can't reload after your entire squad dies in one turn. There's a tutorial that holds your hand for the first few hours, but for those that don't like to be constrained, it can be skipped as it does force you down certain paths. For true brutality, play on Classic Ironman and see how long you last.
It's important to note that this is a re-imagining of the original and not a remake. For long-time XCOM fans you'll see a number of differences. Unit classes have been introduced, which add a new tactical depth, along with an RPG style unit development system, so you feel more attached to each trooper before the game brutally rips them from you. This also streamlines the inventory system, which was unwieldy in the first, requiring every squad member to be equipped individually before every mission - now the squad member automatically takes everything he needs, but there's no putting rockets in every pocket, as like in the real world, troopers are limited to one or two rockets/grenades/med-kits.
A few aspects have been stripped out, such as the ability to make more bases around the world, but this isn't a noticeable loss, as in the original most of these were interceptor bases or an Antarctic research base. This time, you can site interceptors in a continent regardless of whether you have a base there, and science doesn't take up quite so much space, so there's no need for other bases. Coupled with this, the base defence missions have been removed, which is a small loss as these were some of the most tense battles in the original, but with only one base it wouldn't be fair as losing it would be an automatic loss in this version.
The squad size is down from 12+ to a maximum of 6, which rather than limiting options actually forces you to think more about your tactics, as the loss of a single individual can jeopardise a mission. Later on in the original, I'd end up with half my squad still in the Skyranger or wandering the map aimlessly anyway, so focusing on fewer soldiers is actually a good thing.
In combat, facing and Time Units have been replaced with a greater focus on cover and a more intuitive input system of Move/Move, Move/Action or Move/Overwatch, which allows you to focus on the tactics themselves. Missions are more fast-paced, and you'll no longer be forced to mindlessly wander the map searching for that last panicked/dug in alien. On top of this, special requests have introduced escort and extraction missions, and responding to alien abductions forces you to choose between three possible countries - the one you choose will reward you, but panic will rise in both the other two and their neighbours. Terror missions are, if possible, even more brutal than the original, forcing you to defend civilians to get a good score.
Graphically it does the job. It's not going to win any awards, but that's not the focus of a game like this. The Unreal engine has its glitches, however, and on many occasions you'll see textures not loading correctly, frame-rate stutters and troops trying to shoot through solid objects while on overwatch due to bad clipping (and sometimes succeeding). For the sound, there's a decent array of sinister alien gurgles, screams in the dark and mood music. The voice actors on the main characters are well done and do a lot to make your staff endearing, but the voices on your squad are somewhat lacking, as regardless of what nation your troops represent they are all voiced by Americans, which combined with the generic nature of the character models (hulking male body-builder or slim female,) gives a very bland feel to the squad. You can customise colours somewhat though, but some extra attention here wouldn't have gone amiss.
One thing to note is that, compared to the original, this game is very, very short. You can probably complete the entire storyline in 25-30 hours, which for a generation raised on the likes of Clone of Duty. Modern Borefare is considered epic, but when you've put hundreds of hours into the original it's a little disappointing. Of course, you can string things out by not taking the final mission, but when there's nothing left to build or research by this point, there's little to be gained by this.
Overall, this game is a worthy successor despite being a little buggy in places. Yes, it has been streamlined to appeal to a more casual gamer, cutting out much of the complexity and shortening its length considerably, but for the most part the changes are either a good thing or can be lived with. Only the bugs (which are these days sadly to be expected in a next-gen console release,) and the shortening of the game loses it points for me.
At the end of the day, if you're pining for the classics so much then download and play the original as it's very cheap these days, along with the Terror From the Deep sequel. If you're looking for a modern game with a level of strategic depth you rarely see in today's shooter clone age, then you'd do worse than to look at both this and quite possibly Valkyria Chronicles as well.