“Wait, EXALT are in my headquarters?”

The line above makes for one of the most – if not THE most – exciting and frustrating battle scenes from the past decade in a turn-based game. I’ll explain what it means in a moment, and why you want to make sure you beat the bastards before they take over the world. But first, let me tell you more about the best Expansion I’ve seen in a while.

XCOM: Enemy Within is a downloadable expansion pack for the turn-based military invasion game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Just as the base game, Firaxis Games developed it and Feral Interactive ported it to the Mac in November 2013.

Enter XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM: Enemy Within for Mac takes all the polished strategy spit-shine from Enemy Unknown, marches it through the alien-infested sludge and grime from Firaxis and Feral and makes the first iteration of XCOM seem naked and empty after playing this skillful expansion. In the words of Syndrome from The Incredibles: “I’m still geeking out about it!

At first glance, the only addition to the core game is a new resource called “Meld”. This “Meld” material, randomly spread out in the various invasion sites, pops out with a turn-timer on the container, showing how long you have to collect it before it disappears.

At first I didn’t understand why I should care. Leave it to my always-mouthy, but somewhat attractive Dr. Vahlen from research, to explain later on how she could create super-soldiers with biochemical implants. Oh, and my brilliant engineer Dr. Shen can create super-suits out of the chemical as well. Now I had to work twice as hard to gather enough resources to upgrade my now seemingly weaker soldiers.

In case you weren’t aware, Firaxis is the brilliant studio behind the Civilization series, and the intricate and minute level of strategic detail is not missing in Enemy Within.

The finest parts of Enemy Unknown are still here: the challenge of keeping countries within the global alliance, all while maintaining engineers, scientists, money, satellites, buildings, and expanding the XCOM initiative. This all means that your choices can make or break a mission and ultimately sink you to the bottom of the XCOM corporate ladder. For example, losing one country means losing scientists and engineers, monthly income and possible EXALT infiltration into XCOM.

Missions themselves aren’t much different than before, except Enemy Within adds close to 50 more levels with varying degrees of difficulty. Ironman difficulty will kick your ass sideways and makes each turn more like a chess match than before.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of the first games that made me feel real-life emotions. This continues with Enemy Within. After a brutal campaign, when only one rookie came back alive and the other five seasoned soldiers were DOA, my heart sank into my boots. The results screen appeared, showing the names and rank of the dead soldiers, their successful missions, their past kills, their badges, and how they were going on the Wall of Fame. /sniff.

But there isn’t time for crying, Commander. The surviving rookie deserves a promotion and a rocket launcher. And it is wise to recruit some new soldiers while we’re in the barracks. Better to balance your available resources than find yourself stuck with all rookies on a Terror Alert mission that could save a country from leaving the XCOM union. Again.

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Other than the famous “Meld” material, the other biggest changes in Enemy Within involve improvements to the alien enemies themselves and a small enemy faction called EXALT.

First, the aliens are completely buffed. For example, Chryssalids went from “Oh look, there’s those jumping things on the bridge that turn civilians into zombies“, from Enemy Unknown into: “Well, might as well quit now and start from a save game…”. Aliens are now nightmare-inducing death bringers of pure hate. And as you venture further along the storyline, they only get more intense, from the face-eating Seekers (who stealth, by the way), to the new Mechtoid which is a Sectoid in a MEC suit (and hates you with a passion).

The EXALT bastards are a covert team of militant operatives trying to take over the world by using stolen alien artifacts. They are similar to XCOM, but you have to stop them from infiltrating the XCOM missions and decrypting the satellites. Sometimes a terror alert will show a few EXALT guys attacking you while they try to run off with alien tech, however trying to capture an EXALT member forces them to commit suicide.

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Spoiler Alert: One of the best battles in Enemy Within is when EXALT attempts to take over the XCOM headquarters and failure to remove them means game over, reload from a saved game. Unless you’re playing Ironman, which means start a new game and buy a new mouse you just threw against the wall.

Final Verdict

XCOM: Enemy Within is a great game and I can’t recommend it enough. I throw this game to everyone who comes to visit and after 30 minutes, they usually give me a dirty look and tell me how much they hate me for making them buy ANOTHER game… it’s that’s addicting.

If you liked the base XCOM: Enemy Unknown, do yourself a favor and get this delicious Expansion Pack.