The last two weeks I have been playing this game. I heard of the original, but never played it. In one of the steam sales I bought it and it was really worth it. It took me about 37 hours to finish the game in ironman normal difficulty.
Now some analysis:
1. RPG elements on your squad soldiers with specialization(level up + special abilities)
Your squad is made up of 4 elements(upgradeable to 6). Each soldier has a rank and speciality. By increasing rank, a soldier gains a random speciality and new abilities to use during the battle. Since you can decide which soldiers are in your squad you can adapt your preferred style and go with it, tweak it and notice what fails or succeeds.
By allowing the player to choose their squad you let experienced player break the odds and the probability by using his skills to win the encounters.
My preferred choice was 1 support medic, 2 heavy soldiers, 1 assault and 2 snipers. Assault locates the enemies and flank them, heavies nuke the crowds, snipers shot the flanked enemies and medic heal the wounded.
It is important to notice that a wounded soldier after battle has to recover, making it unavailable to fight. This means you have to place a newbie in your squad while they recover.
2. Tactical strategy decisions
The battle field is constrained to tile movement, but it has terrain elevation which allows for tactical decisions. To go up and get elevation bonus, but also leaves you more exposed to damage.
Taking cover is also extremely importan. Two types of cover: Full cover and half-cover. Full cover protects you better which is always a good choice and the half-cover is the most common cover.
The fog of war is also an important element. You can only see as far as your squad goes. By going higher ground you are granted a better vision and can even surprise the enemies before they get to you. The enemy can also act the same and surprise you.
Finite ammo and having to reload, plays also a huge role. Nothing as bad as getting surrounded and having to waste a full turn just because you forgot to reload.
3. Turn based
Your squad starts the game and after you end your turn, the AI moves. One exception to this which made the game feel more dynamic are the reaction shots. By setting the soldiers on overwatch mode they can shoot the moving enemies while not in their turn. This added an extra layer of complexity. Moving on an overwatch enemy brings new dangers, but also improves the gameplay.
4. Permadeath in your squad. When a soldier dies it is gone (Unless you reload the save)
This was a great for me. It kept me engaged and made me think more about my choices instead of just play it fast. If a soldier dies in combat is gone from the game. He will appear in the memorial where you can go and visit them. A dead soldier means two things: All the leveling up has gone to waste, and you need to hire more soldiers.
Permadeath makes you take care of your squad. You no longer see your soldiers as disposable, you are a team and as a team every soldier is part of your strategy.
Personally I loved the ironman mode which prevent you to reload the save or having multiple saves. It felt more like real life where every choice make is final.
5. Simple, but engaging story
The story is simple: Aliens attack the Earth and XCOM is build to protect it. That is it. They attack, we defend. Kill or be killed. Not very deep, but good enough.
6. Resource management
Another huge part of the game. You control the XCOM base. You can research, build facilities, build weapons and armours. The catch is that countries have your back while you keep them safe. Keep them safe and they will increase your monthly budget, let them panic and they will leave with all their money.
Since money is limited you need to decide in which order to invest your money.
- Should you get new armor to for additional life on your squad?
- Add more satellite coverage on the countries that are starting to panic to keep their monthly money?
- Build new weapons for extra damage?
It is a great game. What makes it great is that YOU have to decide. The game put YOU in charge of protecting humanity and it is YOU the one calling the shots. Make a bad choice and regret for a bit, but you need to keep moving forward.