But we haven’t even gotten to the best part: what’s it like playing as the iconic XCOM aliens? For starters, these units can’t be customized like human soldiers, and thus cost a fixed amount of points. That’s not to say there’s no variety between them – with around ten unique units to choose from, no two extraterrestrials play alike. With their insane mobility, freaky mind powers, and technological prowess, mixing a handful of aliens into your squad composition gives it that much more flexibility to take on whatever the opponent’s packing.
Sectoids, the bulbous-headed gray dudes you’ve seen in previous XCOM trailers, are the equivalent of alien cannon fodder, scampering around with decent firepower and diminutive health (though Sectoid Commandos are far more threatening). On the other end of the strength spectrum are the Mutons, hulking behemoths that come in the plain or Berserker variety and soak up damage like true tanks. The Heavy Muton Berserker was our personal favorite; his brutal bull rushes can break clean through cover to pummel foe’s faces. Even better, when it gets shot at, it gets angry, indignantly thumping its chest with a brash fury.
For scouting, alien armadas can use Chrysalids and Floaters (not that kind) to scope out the competitor’s location. Chrysalids are spindly creeps that can skitter around a map at a startling pace or climb buildings to get a better view of the action. As an added bonus, when a Chrysalid performs a killing blow on an unfortunate human soldier, it’ll impregnate them with chest-busters that’ll bolster your forces. Floaters are essentially legless living jetpacks, capable of launching to any point on the map as long as they’re outdoors – perfect for flanking.
The most intimidating alien was the Cyberdisc, whose ridiculous strength was balanced by a hefty point value. This hovering disk looks a little like a chrome coffee table when it’s dormant – but once provoked, it springs open into a beast that looks like a cross between a purple-and-white lionfish and the turrets from Portal. Able to take to the skies and fire at the puny mortals beneath it, Cyberdisc’s ultimate ability is the menacing Death Blossom (a much-loved Last Starfighter reference). Spinning into a white blur, the Cyberdisk fires its neon-orange laser in every direction, frying any units unfortunate enough to be nearby.
With such imaginative creatures and easy-to-learn controls, EU’s multiplayer is something we can see consuming our free time in much the same way Civilization does. The tense tactical gameplay (complete with great musical cues when you make contact with the enemy) works wonderfully on an Xbox 360, something that most strategy games have struggled with. There’s also a hilarious anxiety to making your shots – much like the classic Worms series, you can’t help but laugh when you miss what you thought was a sure-shot, or accidentally drop a grenade at your own feet.
Between the action-flick-esque single-player and enthralling multiplayer, EU is shaping up to be quite the turn-based strategy game. We can’t wait for its North American release on October 9th, followed by an international release on the 12th.