The Android port of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of the only mobile ports of a PC game out there that doesn’t lose anything in transition. Considering that it’s really good on PC, the fact that the Android experience is about the same means that it’s one of the best games on the entire platform. Now, the expansion, XCOM: Enemy Within, has been ported over as a standalone game, and things get more complicated for people who’ve never played either game.
Enemy Within is structurally the same game as Enemy Unknown, only with some new additions: things like new enemies, new mission types, and new technologies. The biggest gameplay change comes from the addition of Meld, an alien resource that must be collected during the game’s missions before it expires, and which can be used to pursue new avenues of genetic and mechanical research. In Enemy Unknown, you can eventually develop specialized soldiers with psionic abilities, and the new Meld-based technologies explore this specialization further, letting you put your soldiers in huge mech suits or enhance them genetically. Meld also has an effect on the strategic elements of the game: the addition of a valuable temporary resource in the middle of missions punishes hyper-cautious tactics and encourages riskier, speedier exploration.
Meld adds an entirely new layer to the gameplay, so people who have played Enemy Unknown and are looking for more variety in the missions will likely enjoy it. As the expansion’s most important addition, though, it becomes too prominent to the point where it messes with the equilibrium that Enemy Unknown did such a good job of creating. The original game was already a juggling act that asked the player to manage their resources wisely, but in the actual missions, you had simple, uncluttered objectives. Adding a timed, glowing yellow resource to these missions feels obtrusive and shoehorned in, and the fact that you’re racing to get it means that you can’t focus on the aliens as thoroughly as you could when you could take your time.
A lot of new things have been added to XCOM: Enemy Within, including the addition of an entirely new set of enemies and missions involving an organization called EXALT. Enough content has been added to make it interesting for those who have played through the original, but Enemy Unknown’s basic sense of progression hasn’t significantly changed. Enemy Unknown did a really good job of weaving its random missions and events into something that felt like an intimate, coherent story, especially if you managed to beat the whole game on your first playthrough. The drawback to that intimacy is that it’s lost on repeat playthroughs, and even the new content in Enemy Within isn’t enough to dispel the feeling that you’re starting over at square one for no reason. This won’t be a problem for all players, and anyone who’s played through Enemy Unknown more than once already is more likely to appreciate the mechanical changes than someone who’s looking for a fundamentally different experience.
XCOM: Enemy Within is a really great game, but it falls into a trap that makes it hard to recommend to both newcomers and veterans. If you’ve never played Enemy Unknown before, I’d recommend it over Enemy Within: it’s more elegant, and many of the new gameplay elements in Enemy Within are designed for those who have already played Enemy Unknown. On the other hand, I can only conditionally recommend Enemy Within to Enemy Unknown veterans, because Enemy Unknown plays less like a replayable strategy game like Civilization and more like a strategy RPG with a beginning and an end. People who aren’t in the habit of replaying games they’ve beaten will find themselves doing something like that if they play Enemy Within after Enemy Unknown. If you’ve played Enemy Unknown and wouldn’t mind playing it again, though, then you’ll probably really enjoy the new elements in Enemy Within. It’s not a bad game by any measure; it’s just a modified version of an amazing one.
Is it Hardcore?
An expansion for XCOM: Enemy Unknown that’s been packaged as a standalone game. There are a few interesting new elements, but the base game is going to be a better experience for most people.