XCOM: Enemy Unknown doesn't just update and re-imagine a classic PC game for a new generation. It executes on bringing a deep strategy game to consoles without skipping a beat. Developer Firaxis is well-known for creating accessible epic-scale strategy through its Civilization series. In XCOM it applies those skills acquired over a very long career – talents that went underappreciated with Civilization: Revolution – and streamlines the strategy genre to a point where everyone can feel welcome, and aficionados of the genre can recognize the brilliance in the simplicity.
XCOM is a personal lesson about responsibility. You are the commander of XCOM, but you are beholden to The Council, a shadow organization made up of the world's powers who will affirm your leadership or be sure to impress upon you their displeasure. It's easy to go down the conspiratorial path of whose interests The Council actually represents, but that's an issue for a commander above your pay-grade.
The Council isn't the obvious threat here, it's those pesky aliens – and the only good alien is a dead alien! Then again, it's only good dead after it's been captured, interrogated, dissected ... and even then it can be sold off for some spare cash. I guess the only good alien is one that can be brokered as a commodity.
XCOM's finely crafted balance hangs on resource management and using every available improvement to the HQ. Players seeking an extra thrill can turn on the game's "Iron Man" mode, which doesn't allow you to fall back on a previous save file. Every decision matters! A player may scream about how unfair it is that their high-level sniper missed a shot (with a 90 percent chance to hit), only to be crushed by a Muton Berserker. Iron Man mode makes it clear: they had a 10 percent chance to miss, and why was there a sniper within smashing range of a Muton Berserker anyway?
Firaxis, understandably, has had founder Sid Meier's name attached to the front of every project up until XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The studio has shown skill outside the confines of the classically conceived Civilization games with Civ: Revolution and Pirates!, but it's the acclaim for XCOM that we hope leads it to making more wonderful strategy games for the masses.
Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2012 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far: