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XCOM: Enemy Unknown, With The Enemy Within Expansion Reviewed On Linux

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Feral Interactive have been great for Linux with their ports, and it's time we took a proper look at XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This has been played through with the expansion Enemy Within which I feel is an essential extra.

Further to Samsai's GOL Cast we are taking a full look now that the game has been out for sometime. Even though I streamed it a lot when it first came out on Twitch, looking back I never really gave it a write-up, and considering how much I've written about the botched launch of Dying Light it's only fair to give a great game like XCOM the proper written treatment.

XCOM used to be a bit of a love/hate relationship with me, and I've been a long time fan of the series due to having an original boxed copy on the Amiga (R.I.P Amiga), and it stole quite a number of hours from my childhood. I often regard the original XCOM as one of the best games ever made that can stand the test of time, and I think a lot of people agree with me.

We will look at how good/bad the game is, and let you know what the port is really like after having spent so many hours dealing with it.

The first thing to note is that a 64bit operating system is required, so it’s yet another reason to update that ageing 32bit install of yours.

The next thing to note is that you really need the expansion pack, as it extends the game in many ways, and just makes everything so much more interesting. That isn't to say the game isn't fun without it, but the expansion is just all around better.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown revolves around a special military organisation named XCOM that specialise in dealing with the extraordinary, and it's your job to command their soldiers, pick research, and generally deal with the menacing alien threat to Earth. It's a strategy game with turn-based battles, and an interesting base-building mechanic shown from a pretty sweet looking side-on perspective underground.

How is the port?
Testing it on Linux Mint 17.1 64bit, and Xubuntu 14.04 64bit the game is nearly flawless. We don't get to say that about a game very often, and it's simply fantastic to be able to. On Linux Mint it seems I couldn't alt+tab without bringing up the Steam Overlay, so a minor nuisance, but nothing wrong with the game directly. Apparently it works fine on Ubuntu's Unity though.

We say nearly flawless as there are a few very minor issues, like the one mentioned above, and most of them are from the game, and not as a result of the porting to Linux.

We came across zero crash bugs as well, and I cannot remember any other game that has been that stable.

As for how smooth the game is, the game is silky smooth in all areas tested. I was constantly hitting at least 80FPS with highs over well over 110FPS in most situations, so performance really isn't an issue, and Feral did an outstanding job on this Unreal Engine powered title.
You can see the glorious FPS I am getting in the top left with the Steam Overlay counter.

We are seriously excited about how well done it is, that we can’t wait to see more from Feral Interactive.

I played through the game on the Normal difficulty, as I feel it gives the most balanced gameplay, and most importantly I find it to be the most enjoyable. The difficulty in the other modes is seriously hard.

I mentioned that this is with the Enemy Within expansion which adds tons of new content, like the “Meld” substance. Acquiring and researching this opens up new facilities, and options to equip your soldiers with. In all honesty, the game without the expansion feels empty if you try to go back with it, so I feel it’s as essential addition.

One of the facilities the expansion opens up is the Genetics Lab, where you can augment your soldiers. This is exciting, as it opens up even more strategic options for you to think through. You could do something like giving a Sniper better accuracy, and who wouldn't want to do that?
This isn't all the expansion adds, as it would take too long to list it all.

Save early, save often. That's the most important bit of advice I'm going to give you when playing XCOM. It's incredibly frustrating to see members of your squad die during combat, and with no way to bring them back if you don't heal them in time, all your progress for that character will be lost. Although, if you do manage to finish the mission while they are in critical condition, they won’t die, however, they will be out of action for quite some time.
It may feel a bit like cheating to reload every time someone dies, but the enemy is ruthless, and saves are one of our secret weapons, and this isn't some sort of permadeath roguelike, so it's okay.
Some of your squaddies can be pretty important too, like the Heavy who can fire rockets when levelled up even once, so it can be infuriating if they die.

If you aren’t going to be a save-a-holic like me, then do not get attached to your soldiers, as one tiny little mistake, and it’s all over in this ruthless strategy game.
I touched on the base-building in XCOM earlier, and to expand on it a bit: When you start off you pick a location for your base, and this is where it diverges from the original, as where you pick defines what major "boost" you get for the duration of the game. If, for example, you chose Africa like me, you would get 30% more funding each month. It's an interesting idea that already has you doing some strategic planning before the game has even begun, and the original had nothing of the sorts.

Something completely new to this XCOM over the original is during planetary scanning you can detect three “abduction sites”, and you have to choose which one to engage and defend with your squad. Each mission gives a different reward, so if you’re looking to speed up research on new weapons, you may want to go for the mission that rewards scientists, for just one example.
The downside, is that panic levels in the regions you don’t pick will rise, and if panic levels get too high they can withdraw your funding, so it’s more strategy to be aware of outside of the battles. The game certainly does a good job of keeping all aspects of the game interesting outside of the battles.

The only things I dislike about this newer generation of XCOM are the action cameras when firing and running, as often the camera will zoom in behind the soldier when firing, so it blocks out some of the view, and when soldiers running sometimes it will do the same. Luckily, you can disable these in the options, so it seems the original developers knew some people wouldn't like them, and we love the fact that they thought of us when doing it. Too many games add in silly animation sequences that aren't needed, and options to remove them, which make the game feel smoother, are very welcome.

One of the great things about the game is the use of rooftops. If you place some of your squad at a height it can give you a real advantage with accuracy, so it’s a really good idea to dispose of any aliens on rooftops quickly due to this.
Having a sniper handy is always a good idea, and I tend to always place them at a height wherever possible to give them a good view, and to really give the aliens hell. Watching a sniper take down an alien from the rooftops never gets old in this game.
Just don’t be a moron like me and put a soldier with a shotgun on the rooftop, as you might already know, they are pretty useless.

In addition to the action cameras sometimes acting a bit weird (seriously, just turn them off), occasionally the normal view of the battlefield can also be a bit wonky. Especially when you have enemies or soldiers on varying levels of the battlefield. Moving up and down the levels with the scroll wheel can sometimes be a bit confusing and it can sometimes lead to you not being able to see exactly where enemies and your own soldiers are on the battlefield. There can be times when you don’t see what you’re firing at due to this.
Luckily this is mostly a minor thing as you don’t usually play in environments that have huge amounts of height variation. You also get used to it rather quickly.
The battles are constantly intense, and I rarely feel such intensity from turn-based battles. It has successfully managed to capture the feel of the original with the battles, and then some. The battles are actually more interesting in this newer XCOM due to having many more abilities, and the introduction of the cover system. The cover system actually feels useful, and not tacked on like in some games, not only that but it's automatic cover, so you don't need to press any special button or have any special skill. You could duck behind the car bonnet for half cover, or the wall of a building just next to a window for full cover, but to make it even more interesting the cars can explode and cover can be destroyed, ouch time.

The thing to remember about turn-based battles is that the characters aren't technically standing still, so if you are really close to an alien and miss you have to remember that in "real life" they would be moving about somewhat, so that's where the accuracy percentage comes in. It used to infuriate me missing a shot from two tiles away, until I reminded myself of this. Once I got that firm in my mind, the game turned from infuriating into an absolute joy. This is where my previous comment came from about it being a “love/hate” relationship, as I kept getting annoyed by missing shots so close, but I always come back for more.

XCOM really does make the combat feel good. If you select a sniper from a rooftop who is going to shoot an alien across the way, then the game will give you a near x-ray view of the area in between them, so any rooftops or obstacles covering your view of the carnage don’t get in the way, and I absolutely love that. I've played many games that obscure combat when inanimate objects are in the way, so the developers thought that through too.

The music during battles is brilliant too, and it really helps set the scene of the combat to have music that helps keep you pumped for the action. The drum beat is especially good at keeping your heart racing, and certainly helps the atmosphere feel urgent.

The game features multiplayer too, but that’s the only place the game seems to fall short, as it’s just simple matches between 2 players in a duel of sorts. You just have to wipe out the enemy human/alien squad and that’s it. It’s nice to have, but when you have a fantastic single-player experience it’s really not an issue, and not really worth bothering with unless it’s against a friend.

Final Verdict
We don't do review "scores" here at GamingOnLinux, as we don't think a score out of a random number gives you any real indication of what do to. We generally tell you to pick something up, to wait for a while, or to avoid it.

Thankfully, we can easily tell you to pick it up, now. Seriously, if you haven't already picked it up, why haven't you? It's fantastic.

Check out XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Steam right now. Considering the game is only £24.99 for the complete pack it’s an absolute bargain we don’t want you to miss out on.

This review was written with some help from Samsai, who is our GOL Cast video specialist after both pumping hours into the game. Article taken from
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly.
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Teal 12 Feb, 2015
I think it's very important to mention the the so called XCOM: Long War mod, which massively ramps up the difficulty and depth as well as duration, bringing the game more in line with the original XCOM game.

It's a pretty huge overhaul to the difficulty curve you can expect both from the meta gameplay on the game map as well as the tactical missions, and makes the entire game far more rewarding, even if SERIOUSLY difficult and SERIOUSLY long term deal.

It also brings plenty of new features and options, but choosing correctly and planning diligently is more vital than ever.
Interzeroid 12 Feb, 2015
Unfortunately Linux port need much more resources, than Windows version.
Eike 12 Feb, 2015
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I already had played Enemy Unknown for about 70 hours under Windows, but when it came out for Linux, I spent about the same amount of time with Enemy Within. Didn't even use any mod.

Do get it.
edo 12 Feb, 2015
Quoting: InterzeroidUnfortunately Linux port need much more resources, than Windows version.
Then its a stable port but sadly not well optimized, so probably it's not a great port, just a good port.
whatever 12 Feb, 2015
I played the original UFO: Enemy Unknown back in the day (one of the many reasons I had low grades at school, lol) and it was miles ahead. It was so good I replayed it many times again during the years.
That being said, this new XCOM is a good game, I played it for at least 50h and I had fun playing. And the Linux version is well made. But then again, it's nothing like the original: if you don't mind low res graphics go play it, maybe the new open source reimplementation OpenXcom.
Liam Dawe 12 Feb, 2015
Quoting: GuestOne thing to note, and while this game's performance looks great on my system (25 hours of playtime logged), I keep tabs on my various system temp settings and with XCOM: Enemy Unknown running, my CPU quickly cooks up to 65-70°C as all 4 cores max out even though I have CPU-Ondemand (core-throttling) enabled on my system.

I don't have a low-end system, mind you. It's pretty reasonable as a gaming rig:

Linux Mint 17.1 "Rebecca" LTS 64bit MATE w/ 3.13.0-37 Kernel
Intel Core i5-4690 Haswell Quad-Core 3.5Ghz
16GB DDR3 1600 RAM
GeForce 760 GTX 4GB w/ Proprietary Nvidia 346.35 drivers

Great game, just not totally optimized as a Linux-native client.

I have comparable specs to you, slightly lower CPU (Intel i5-4670) and higher graphics (Nvidia 970). Same distribution too.

With that in mind I find pretty much any higher end game on Linux acts this way, so it's not to do with this port. Dota2 does it, interstellar marines does it, and many more.
Swanny 12 Feb, 2015
To disable the Steam Overlay with Alt-Tab; go to the Steam Settings and under the "In-Game" section uncheck the "Enable the Steam Overlay while in-game" or alternatively change the shortcut keys. Alt-Tab is then passed to the window manager as normal (at least for me using Enlightenment). It's a bloody annoying default!
edddeduck_feral 12 Feb, 2015
Quoting: InterzeroidUnfortunately Linux port need much more resources, than Windows version.

We're fairly similar in performance to the Windows version of the game, I don't think we need "much more resources". We supported a smaller set of newer cards (however many older cards will work if you get the right drivers and setup).

I'd be interested in what your reasoning is, could you email our support with your information?
Donkey 12 Feb, 2015
Great review! It really captures the spirit of the game and the port. The only performance problem I have noticed was when lots of additional rooms have been added to your base and they are all visible during some animations. Luckily its not very often and only effects static events and never any critical moments during the game-play.
FredO 12 Feb, 2015
Great game, great port, enough said. If you haven't got it already then make sure you do.
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