Like many of us I played the originals and formed a love/hate relationship with them. They were very rewarding but unbelievably frustrating. The originals were frustrating because they offered absolutely zero help in terms of how best to go about building up your research, troops and bases. At no point were you given a hint about how dire the situation was until all of a sudden you were fighting mind controlling aliens that destroyed you in a single turn.
Thankfully that isn't a problem in this one - you are given a few tools for gauging progress, most useful are the 'priority missions' that I see as checkpoints in the main campaign. There is always an objective to carry out that will progress the story and you always know exactly what to do.
I hate giving this a 4 out of 5 because it really is an exceptional game of strategy and management. However there are a couple of disgraceful flaws that are just not justifiable in my opinion.
The characters are excellent - generic enough to be imprintable and to forge their own little stories in the missions. You'll mourn the loss of the guy who sniped a muton's face off before the beast had a chance to murder your medic and you'll go to the memorial to see his name now and again and how he stacked up against the other guys who perished. The campaign can be a bit much at first as everyone I knew - including myself - neglected satellites. These are key to vistory yet only get a brief mention in the tutorial. Most of us had failed bfore we had properly begun! But once this is understood the various other aspects fall into place and you see how many paths of progress there are.
The combat is satisfying and rewarding, challenging yet fair - most of the time.
On easy and normal the battles are 99% awesomeness with only the occasional bug spoiling things and making you feel cheated. Now and again a soldier will fail to take a reaction shot because he hasn't got line of sight, yet the enemy is in partially obscured by a box - which s weird because the game makes use of its own system of line of sight which doesn't depend on an actual LOS but rather a simple 'is it sort of visible or not' situation. Basically you can be behind the edge of a brick wall, parralell to the enemy, who is also behind the edge of a brick wall, but you both see each other. There is hardly any stealth. This isn't a big problem as the battles are fairly fast paced.
Notice how earlier I said that the combat is fair most of the time? Put it on classic or impossible and prepare to smash your electronics against the wall in frustration. I put it onto classic mode after having a very enjoyable run through on normal. Everything seemed fine at first, but very quickly I became furious at the cheap tactics used by Firaxis to make it more 'difficult.' Every shot you take in the game is given a percentage chance of success. This works fine most of the time but on classic it is utterly unreliable. Every time I got a chance of less than 80% I knew i would miss. that percentage means that if I fired five shots, one might miss. But so many times i'd have Colonel (highest rank) snipers with scopes (extra accuracy) behind full cover taking shots at flanked enemies and miss. I would literally have all six of my team firing, one after the other, missing. All of them taking between 70-96% chance shots. More than a few times my 96% chance shots miss too. What I'm saying is that if classic mode makes your men less accurate (which it does) then give us the true percentage. Because now I daren't take a shot if it's anything less than 90% because i'll probably miss it! To make things worse the game starts spamming mutons about half way through, and they very rarely ever miss a shot and very rarely do they not get a critical. Many a time my toughest guys have been slain by a mere Thin man who got a 'lucky' critical against my guys in full cover. I literally could not do any more to defend my soldiers within the mechanics of the game yet they drop like flies. All of your plans and tactics fall apart when your overwatch guys totally miss every time and are then mown down by the puniest of enemies.
There is also a curious design element that gives the enemies free turns. This isnt necessarily a bad thing but it can be seen as unfair in some situations. If your soldiers spot an enemy the enemy gets a fright and gets a free 'disperse' turn in which they can run for cover. However, the same thing happens if an alien patrol, on their turn, bumps into you. They move, get a fright, move again, and im sure they're allowed to take a shot after that second move which often sees your guys outflanked by an enemy who was on the other side of the map one turn ago. And to make things worse the aliens can all move a lot further than your averge soldier so you can't counterflank effectively.
All in all, one of the best games on the 360, one of the best games in recent years. I recommend everyone to buy it but be very careful about doing it on classic or impossible unless you get a kick out of that sort of punishment. I personally would only try Iron man mode on easy as I don't mind losing a guy but if I feel i've been cheated by the programming I can't stand it!
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