Exploring the unknown parts of XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Speaking with XCOM: Enemy Unknown producer Garth DeAngelis earlier this year, I managed to unearth a little information that had been (appropriately) unknown about the game at the time. Specifically, I learned that aerial combat is returning in Enemy Unknown. Dogfighting alien aircraft played a huge role in the original X-COM, a game that developer Firaxis is trying very hard to live up to.

But what other secrets are housed within Enemy Unknown? We've been privy to plenty of information when it comes to ground combat and tactics. Make no mistake, that's the meat of the XCOM experience, but the core gameplay of outwitting alien combatants is all supported by the structure of scientific research and aerial combat.

To uncover more pieces of Enemy Unknown's intricate design puzzle, DeAngelis has returned alongside designer Jake Solomon to exclusively explain to Joystiq about gunning down UFOs, scouring its wreckage, and turning its alien tech back against the invaders.%Gallery-161402% Players of the original X-COM know that shooting down UFOs and investigating crash sites was absolutely essential to advancement. Taking out UFOs is still "crucially important," says Solomon, though things work a little differently in Enemy Unknown. As I mentioned in my previous article, players won't have to establish new bases to detect alien incursions, but instead launch satellites to cover different parts of the world. "There's a lot of little subtle mechanics to it, but you need to back up your satellite coverage with your Interceptors, and so you need to have jets stationed around the world ready to intercept these UFO contacts." Should you manage to take down a UFO (or if it lands of its own accord), you'll be able to investigate the crash site, kill any surviving aliens, and harvest their technology for research.

Campaign missions are separate from UFO missions. These missions allow the members of XCOM – the in-game world's Extraterrestrial Combat Unit – to keep the global peace, rewarding players with funds and resources like scientists and engineers. Meanwhile, UFO missions offer more tangible rewards in the form of recovered alien technology. DeAngelis likens UFO missions to finding a treasure chest – "a treasure chest full of horrible things that want to kill you," Solomon says.


X-COM's Firestorm returns

"It's like a treasure chest for the scientists and engineers, because you get all these different types of resources and loot that are impossible to get on the other types of mission," DeAngelis adds. These resources then leads to research projects that players might not otherwise discover. Solomon notes that UFO missions are the key route for players to recover and adapt alien technology. "There are very, very few other ways to get ahold of alien technology, so you really have to be ready for when that UFO shows up."

And that means upgrading Interceptors to keep pace with more and more advanced UFOs, says Solomon. By the end of the original X-COM, players would be manufacturing their own flying saucers, adapting alien technology to create new fighter craft. I ask if fighter/UFO hybrids are returning in Enemy Unknown. "That is a very good question," says Solomon, "I'll say that, yes, in order to fight the best UFOs that you're going to see in the later game, you would have to have some serious adapted alien technology to take them on." At the very least, we do know that the Firestorm from the original X-COM is back, as seen above. Aircraft also take advantage of "consumables," single-use items that give an instant boost in combat (extra defense, higher hit percentage, etc.). There are other weapons as well, including an EMP cannon. "When you shoot down UFOs with that," says Solomon, "you get a lot more loot from the wreck, because you haven't shredded it with your vulcan cannon, or something like that."


The laser sniper rifle packs a serious, long-distance punch

Investing too much into UFO defense, however, could deprive you of resources in another area. "You've got to consider that, as you say, when you start spreading your fleet around, you're going have to have more Interceptors. You're going to have to maintain higher maintenance costs," says Solomon. "It's just one of those trade-offs, where you really don't want to – too early in the game – spread yourself too thin." DeAngelis then admits that, in a recent game, he did exactly that, investing far too much in Interceptors while neglecting to invest in soldier upgrades. As in the original X-COM, a degree of balance is necessary.

Neglecting it is not only unwise, but it also prevents players from seeing the cool technology that Enemy Unknown has to offer. "I like the surprise mechanic in research," says DeAngelis. Most lines of research offer a fairly clear idea of what sorts of projects will come next. Research in conventional weapons, for example, will evolve from basic ballistics to more advanced laser weapons. The possibilities with recovered alien artifacts, however, aren't as cut and dry. "What could this give me?" DeAngelis asks. "I got this loot from a crashed UFO mission, it's a UFO power source or a NAV computer, and it's not clear what it's going to give me," he says, "so it's almost like 'What's behind the secret door' versus this discrete reward that you could've gotten, and I love when I have choices like that." Giving players the choice between clear rewards and more nebulous ones is all a part of the game, says Solomon. "I think that mystery is a very big element of XCOM."

DO NOT POST Exploring the unknown parts of XCOM Enemy UnknownResearch is vital to any commander seeking an advantage on the battlefield.

While there are some surprises in store, Firaxis has been sure to bring back some favorite weapons and technologies from the first game. "Fans of the original will notice a lot of tips of the cap to the original game," says Solomon. "They'll recognize lots of things, and we reference things in the research reports that I think fans will recognize." I ask the pair for their favorite weapon in Enemy Unknown. "Rocket launchers are always good," says Solomon.

"The rocket launcher can get pretty crazy late-game, if you know what I'm saying." He knows I'm a fan of the series, and I do know what he's saying. I ask if he's talking about remote-controlled rockets, a reference to the Blaster Launcher, a ridiculously powerful weapon from the original X-COM. Even over the phone, I can tell he's smiling. "I'm just saying it can get crazy. That's all I'm saying."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.