If there’s such a thing as a “Gaming Journalism Ten Commandments”, I’m relatively certain this post is breaking at least one of them. Somewhere in there there’s got to be a “Thou shalt not make a game you haven’t finished your Game of the Year”, likely following commandment number seven, “Thou shalt not give Duke Nukem Forever a good recommendation”. While I assure you I won’t be writing the latter, hear me out on the former. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, although it is my game of the year, is one that I have not completed. In fact, I haven’t even gotten close.
Part of that is my fault. I am a shameless perfectionist, and for my first three saves on Ironman Classic difficulty, I would quit and start a new save as soon as a single country dropped out of the XCOM project. As those of you who have played Enemy Unknown or the prior installments of XCOM already know, that is not a good idea, and by my time starting my fourth save I decided I could either A) lower the difficulty, or B) stop being so goddamn stubborn. Nine saves later, now working on my thirteenth game on Ironman Normal difficulty, I’ve finally faced the hard truth: I’m probably not cut out for this game.
And yet, there is no doubt in my mind that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is deserving of Game of the Year. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time with it; quite the opposite rather. For every 20 minutes of scheming and strategizing, there was at least 10 minutes of rage every time a cyberdisc appeared out of nowhere, or a thin man scored a cross-map critical hit. I won’t lie to you; when half my squad got taken out by a couple of sectiods, I wasn’t praising the game. I was mad as hell. But alas, even at the risk of sounding cliché, that is XCOM, and I assure you those more veteran to the series than I can more than relate. You build up your squad, they get brutally murdered, and you start all over again.
Really, my wholehearted recommendation of XCOM: Enemy Unknown comes in large part from a genuine appreciation that a game can make me feel this way. I’m not a platformer fan; I stopped playing Super Meat Boy or Dustforce before they got frustratingly hard, so the emotions of rage, anger, and even a bit of self-loathing that XCOM: Enemy Unknown forced out of me were something I haven’t encountered since I was asking my dad to finish levels of LEGO Island 2 for me. I’d gone more than 10 years without a game genuinely making me want to smash controllers or destroy property, and to be so quickly thrust back into such feelings of hopelessness and rage was more than a bit surprising. And yes, XCOM may certainly not be the most polished game of 2012, as it still has its fair share of bugs and glitches. Its story may not compare to Far Cry 3’s, Dishonored, or Assassin’s Creed 3, and its gameplay might not be as refined or complex as previous XCOM games or Firaxis titles, but I can’t bring myself to fault the game for that. I consider myself a fairly level-headed person, and while I’m slightly embarrassed XCOM has caused me so much grief, I have to give the game credit for the emotional meatgrinder it creates. And hell, maybe one of these days I’ll actually finish it.