The Best Game Never Played
X-COM: Enforcer (3rdPerson Shooter / PC)
Introducing the Genre
Hello and welcome to another edition of franchise vs. genre, where I review a game that’s part of a long running series and part of the genre landscape. X-COM has a ferocious following with “purists” who hate even the slightest change to what they (rightfully)believe is (one of)the best games ever. X-COM 1 set the baseline. X-COM’s sequel, Terror From the Deep amped up the difficulty to 11. X-COM Apocalypse added the option of having a real-time battle system. It behaved much like the geoscape where time stops or goes back to slow whenever an alien is observed. There have been some spiritual sequels made by fans and recreation projects. The original team had gone their separate ways. Their game programing pedigree obviously influenced the creation of the UFO: Aftermath series for the PC, as well as Rebelstar for the Game Boy Advance.
Since the team had split up and the company dissolved, the X-COM franchise was tossed around to different developers. From this we received some spin-off series like X-COM: Interceptor, which isolates one section of the X-COM experience, the interception and shoot-down dogfighting scenarios, while retaining some of the base-building and research customization of the original. There were also two titles which, sadly, never saw the light of day. One of them was a tactical squad based shooter, before tactical squad based shooters became mainstream, and one that told the story of a human starship lost on the other end of the galaxy, a decade or so before Stargate: Universe or the new Battlestar Galactica(but a few decades after the original BSG and a few years after Star Trek Voyager)
Introducing the Game
I saw something that had the X-COM name on it. I had to buy it. It was that simple. This was before the gaming public had to be particularly scrutinizing about their franchises. They weren’t used to being constantly betrayed and having their franchises being ruined. This was the most radical departure from the X-COM gameplay style anyone could imagine, X-COM: Enforcer.
The original X-COM, which I reviewed earlier, was an intensely deep strategy game that covered the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of warfare in a campaign to save humanity from an unknown alien enemy. The game includes the recovery of alien technology, reverse engineering it, and using it against the alien menace.
This game is an alien-blasting gun-blazing arcade action game with power-ups, crazy weapons, and a little light-hearted silliness. The game is a fast paced scavenger hunt to rescue humans or destroy aliens. It’s pretty much the antithesis of what the original X-COM established.
Each level has one or two general mission objectives. The Enforcer is teleported into a location to rescue the human civilians, or destroy the alien teleporters. The teleporters are spawn points, or monster generators like Gauntlet.
Every few seconds a random power-up or weapon will spawn near you. This happens constantly. You’ll never be without ammo for very long. It mixes up the dynamic frequently enough that combat never becomes boring. Sometimes the dynamic is to dodge the weapon because you don’t want it to replace your current weapon. You can only carry one weapon at a time.
Hidden in each level is a (?) orb that unlocks a new power-up or weapon. There are also hidden bubbles of the letter B, O, N, U, & S. Collect them all and you get a bonus level at the end of the level. These bonus levels take the form of collecting points in a Pac-Man level, dodging traffic in a Frogger level, collecting points spewing from a fountain and not falling into bottomless pits, and more. They’re fun light-hearted breaks from the constant threats and action, and reminds you of the silly fun you ought to be having.
X-COM: Enforcer is a side-story to the original X-COM. One of the many nameless scientists who worked in the eXtra-terrestrial COMbat unit had an idea for a project, but never received the backing or financing for it. He wanted to make a killer robot.(awww… <3)
Enforcer starts off with the reclusive scientist being discovered and having to activate the robot before it’s finished. You play as the killer robot. It’s one robot vs the entire alien invasion force.
That’s all the story needs. The robot goes globe hopping, saving innocent civilians and beating back the invading aliens. You travel to ships, and eventually destroy an alien hive ship that the X-COM unit(according to the original game) never even saw coming. So Enforcer proves his worth, but dies in the final battle, along with the engineer who built it. So sad. :’(
The graphics are a bit dated by today’s standards. They weren’t even very impressive when it first came out. Players with sharp eyes should be able to spot that it’s just a mod of the original Unreal engine. Some of the aliens are hard to identify as returning from the original X-COM game.
The upside of the low-end graphics means that just about any computer can play it. The environments are realistic locations like mountainous landscapes, shopping malls, parking garages, a trailer park, some sewers, and an alien hive ship. I always appreciate when games attempt to recreate realistic locations, instead of making unrecognizable labyrinths with the same wall texture everywhere. That alone sets is apart from first or third person shooters of its day, or even today. I can only take so many non-descript post apocalyptic desert cities or alien worlds.
This game came out just before the dynamic soundtracks seemed to emerge. The title music is a “main theme” that I’ve always been able to recall. The rest of the generic techno soundtrack is more forgettable. If you buy the game on CD, you get a soundtrack. If you buy the game on Steam, unfortunately, you won’t get anything but the title track, which is part of a pre-rendered video in the intro.
The sound is very arcade-like with high-pitched bings and chirps for picking up power-ups. The robot’s voice is… robotic. The scientist/engineer who built you is always monitoring your progress and chimes in once in a while with some vocal support. He’s very comical in his enthusiasm, but not really funny. The scientist is a caricature, like Professor Farnsworth from Futurama, Professor Fink from The Simpsons, or Jerry Lewis’s Nutty Professor. It keeps the game from getting too serious.
Like most FPS games at the time, and like the Unreal series, from which this engine is based, WASD move you around. H for (H)elp makes a blue flashing arrow appear above your head like a compass, telling you where you have to go to either destroy the next alien teleporter, or rescue a civilian hostage. I think that would have been an incredible addition to the alien landscapes with bland interior design games that seemed to dominate the market for a few years.
Like great arcade games, it’s better with more people. This is absolutely ideal LAN material. Instead of just one Enforcer, you can have as many as a game of Unreal. There’s going to be a constant game of 1-upmanship as you compete to collect the data-points and random power-ups that constantly spawn around you. Seriously, no LAN party should be without this game.
For an arcade shooter, I’m surprised at the depth of character design that’s in this game. Hidden somewhere in every level is a “researchable item” that may be a new weapon or a new power-up. Using all the data-points you collected from blowing up aliens, you can purchase research upgrades into these items, increasing your maximum health, or the amount of health received from health globes, faster run speed, higher jumps, weapon upgrades like increased damage or entirely new effects, like the blade launcher homing in on enemies, picking up data points, or penetrating enemies. There’s 16 weapons, 16 power-ups, all with 4 levels of upgrades, plus a few categories of your main body to upgrade.
Your first playthrough is bound to be like Kratos in God of War, just max out everything by the end of the game. Playing through a second time is like a New Game+. You’ve already “found” everything, now you just have to upgrade it. So you could unlock only the best weapons and power-ups so only those spawn.
After you’ve been through the whole game once, and seen how chaotic things can get, the harder difficulties unlock skins for your Enforcer, and beating it on hard unlocks an eXtra Spicy difficulty. It’s challenging without being impossible. Normal difficulty will let you unlock everything in your own sweet time. The harder difficulties force you to prioritize your upgrades.
I have a soft spot for any game with killer robots or aliens. So, even if it wasn’t X-COM related, I’d probably have bought it.
This is kind of like a Contra game, but without the punishing difficulty.
I’d like to see the Enforcer units show up in the other X-COM games.
Boiling it Down
LAN essential fun chaotic arcade-stylevaction game.