It seems the de-evolution of the X-COM series is complete. Starting as one of the most beloved, entertaining, and innovative strategy games ever, the series has traveled down the rungs of gaming fodder from rapidly declining strategic sequels to truly heinous space combat sims, canceled first-person squad shooters and, finally, a completely mindless third-person shooter. This latest game, X-COM Enforcer, has all the complexity and depth of a frying pan.
It's a safe bet that Enforcer will send fans of the beloved original X-COM into fits of apoplexy. If you don't mind your action fast and mindless, however, you may find something to like. When you get right down to it, it's hard to deny the fun of smashing all those familiar X-COM aliens from Enforcer's rapid fire, Unreal Tournament engine-powered viewpoint.
As the robotic creation of an overly chatty scientist, you go forth into the world to do some spot alien extermination. With over thirty-five levels ranging from canyons, sewers, and urban sprawls, to trailer parks, secret bases, an alien space ship, and a football field, the action certainly gets around. You face constant hordes of aliens small and large (and in some cases, really huge), and there's seldom a break in the action throughout the game. This is a good thing, since the game doesn't have much else to recommend it. Still, there are a few glaringly pointless problems.
For one thing, it only lets you save after completing a level. The levels usually aren't very long, but some of them are incredibly difficult. Another odd feature that harkens back to the old days of classic coin-op shooters like Contra and Commando is that the Enforcer can carry a grand total of one weapon at a time. The reason for this is left to speculation. He's a big, strong looking metallic fellow, after allyou'd think he could carry a tank and have room for more.
The lack of any vertical camera control is also somewhat puzzling. The camera angle is locked in place, and you can't look up and down at all. It's not as constraining as it sounds, but occasionally it's a bit annoying. The crosshair also has an extremely unnerving tendency to hide during the action, so it can be hard to keep up with the alien bashing in heavy firefights.
For all that, anyone looking for a mindless action buzz will find that Enforcer fits the bill. The graphics are sharp, colorful, and detailed. The twenty different enemy types are suitably bug-eyed and vicious, and you can even change the skin of your Enforcer to make him look shinier or scarier. The audio is decent, with lots of nice laser fire and explosion effects, although the constant upbeat affirmations from your creator get more than a little grating after a while, and the music seems strangely unsuited to the dark, violent shooting in the game.
The gun selection includes a widespread shotgun, freeze gun, bouncing stars, grenade and rocket launchers, a lightning gun, a cool spinning blade, and even a nuke. The variety of weapons adds a lot to the feel of the game, especially since you can use the power-up points that dead aliens drop to increase a gun's power (or buy better abilities) between levels.
The single biggest bright point is the inclusion of co-operative gameplay. Playing with a friend over a LAN makes the levels far more manageable (especially since dying doesn't force you to start the level over again, although you still respawn at the beginning of a map), and while both the single and multiplayer gameplay can get monotonous over the long haul, it's definitely entertaining in smaller doses. Even deathmatch mode is a lot of fun thanks to the excellent weapons and wide variety of maps.
X-COM lovers will hate this game, and it's clear the label was just tacked on as some lame attempt to cash in on the series' brand appeal. Beyond that, Enforcer doesn't even try to be an innovative shooter. It sticks to the very basics, relying on eye candy, constant action, solid level design, and cool guns. It's the game equivalent of a popcorn movie, and on those terms it holds its own.