Who cares if it's not a tactical masterpiece? It's fun!
Well, I've just played through this game for the second time, so there has to be something good about it, right? Well, there is. I don't think this game gets a lot of respect because, to be honest, its marketing angle is an odd one: Take one of the most beloved series of strategic squad combat games and use it to create a completely brainless arcade shooter. Obviously, this is not going to be hugely popular with the majority of X-COM fans (who had already seen at least two highly anticipated new strategic X-COM titles get cancelled) or of huge interest to action fans (who will probably not care/know about the X-COM series). In fact, I believe that a lot of people could enjoy this game. For pure action fans, forget about the X-COM licence - It doesn't matter. This is just a fun alien blaster. For the X-COM fans (like me), forgive this title for not being another strategic masterpiece - It doesn't matter. Just think of it as a cute companion piece to your favourite series, a Happy Meal toy version of X-COM, if you will...Fun, not totally true to the original, but still with enough X-COM points of reference to satisfy. Right, let's get to it:
X-COM: Enforcer is a fast-paced (*very* fast-paced) arcade shooter. You play the part of the Enforcer, an almost indestructible (or so it often seems) robot killing machine, able to use all kinds of super-powerful alien destroying weapons and able to run rings around the poor Snakemen and Sectoids who came to this world thinking their only opposition would be a couple of rookies with stun-rods. Each mission sees you teleporting to an area of the world that is rapidly being overtaken by aliens. Your tasks vary somewhat, but the central goal of each mission is to blow up all of the transporters that the aliens are beaming in through. While doing this, you will also have to blow away literally hundreds (if not thousands) of alien slimebags and you'll have to collect all the 'data-points' and bonuses that they drop. Yep, data-points. Like I said, forget realism, forget authenticity; We're talking arcade-action all the way here. And everything you kill or blow up gives you data-points. The more you collect, the more you can use at the end of the mission, in the 'R&D' screen - which neatly mixes classic X-COM-style research with classic shoot-em-up end-of-level 'shops.' You can use data-points to upgrade your weapons and abilities. Also, on missions, if you can find the special 'question-mark' spheres, it means you have found a new invention that can be unlocked on the R&D screen. The whole system works very well, and there is a pleasing array of technology to be researched.
The game takes place over a wide selection of different levels. Okay, so quite a few of them are fairly boring, square city blocks, but there are some imaginative locales, including a trailer park, a farm (complete with corn fields to run through), a city sewer system, a multi-storey carpark (one of my favourite levels), a mall and, of course...the alien mothership (which makes for an impressive finale). Some of the levels take a while to complete, but most are over in a matter of minutes - Minutes which will see you running, jumping, shooting, smashing windows, leaping over the heads of giant Reaper pigs and causing explosions left and right. Make no mistake - This is one frantic action game. When I first played it, in fact, its sheer pace was like nothing I had experienced before. Also, when I first played it, I was initially very unimpressed. I hated the first couple of levels, and was bored by the next several. In fact, the game seemed so brainless, easy and dull that I was thinking about giving up on it. It was only when I got to the multi-storey carpark and found myself leaping around like a maniac, running round in circles on the roof and blowing the hell out of the hordes of enemies who were following me (and the parked cars, which were just sitting there) that I suddenly realised what wild, crazy fun I was having. Coincidentally, this was also the level where I first remapped the jetpack to the right mouse button and really started to realise the importance of jumping (an importance which should definitely not be underestimated). From that point on, I never looked back, and I had some pretty mad fun as I blasted my way through the rest of the game.
I've had a little education in the year that followed my first play through of Enforcer. I have now played Eugene Jarvis' classic blast-em-ups, Robotron: 2084
and Smash T.V.
, so I feel I *really* know what frantic gameplay is all about. Experiencing Enforcer for a second time, I've had a ball, right from the start, even enjoying the first few levels that I had previously hated. Also, perhaps due to my Jarvis-trained reflexes, I found the game a good deal easier (and it was pretty easy last time). I think the first time I died was on level 28, or something. Anyway, Enforcer really reminds me of Jarvis' legendary games, with hundreds of enemies coming at you and you blowing the hell out of them all. The difference is, though, that whereas in those games, if one enemy hit you, you died, here in Enforcer, it takes a whole horde of enemies surrounding you, to kill you or even seriously damage you. You are a mighty robot. This is pretty cool, as it's not often you get to play a game where you feel so all-powerful, but at the same time, it makes things a bit easy. No less fun, though. And there is the 'hard' mode, which I haven't tried yet.
Alright, here are some other cool things:
* The Professor! How could I have gone this far without mentioning him! This is the guy who created the Enforcer, and whose voice you will hear, urging you on ("You're going the wrong way, Enforcer! Look at your guidance system!"), rewarding you ("Biiiiiiig bonus!") and getting very excited about research ("Oooooh! Bring that back to the lab!"). Personally, I thought the Professor was great (although I'm sure he is one of those characters you will either love or hate...and bear in mind, I loved Lance Boyle
) and I never got tired of hearing his shrill voice warbling in my audio receptors.
* If you collect all the B-O-N-U-S letters in a level, you get to go to (surprise, surprise) a bonus level. There aren't many different ones, but they're fun (particularly the Pac Man style one), and exploring everywhere and finding all the letters adds a tiny bit more depth to the game. Only a tiny bit, though.
* The climax of the game (Hope I'm not spoiling anything here) is the alien mothership, and that level, strangely, gave me more nostalgic, tingly X-COM flavour than the whole rest of the game combined. It even provided some serious tension, during its 'Chryssalid hive' section. Brrr!
* The music is effective and stuck in my head. The Unreal-powered graphics move swiftly and do their job well. There are a few in-engine cutscenes which add flair.
First off, this is probably the most brainless game that I have played and enjoyed. This is quite an achievement, as most brainless games I've played have featured not only brainless gameplay but also brainless design and are, therefore, crap. Enforcer is definitely not crap, and is actually a lot of fun. But it's super-brainless. There is really no strategic or tactical element to it (which is all the more ironic, considering its heritage). It's just, blast, blast, blast. And if you're one of those people who thinks DOOM is brainless, then you'll be thrilled by the new depths that this game sinks to. It's not helped by the fact that, on its 'normal' difficulty section, it's really very easy (with just a couple of levels that gave me minor grief). I haven't tried 'hard' yet, but I might in another year. You'll find yourself hurtling through level after level, and without even realising it, you'll be on level 20. It's fun, but not often challenging. You are really too powerful for most of the enemies and the only two strategies you need are: 1) Keep moving and 2) Don't pick up any crap guns. In fact, the first time I played this game, avoiding guns that I didn't want (New guns appear constantly, and you can only carry one at a time, so your weapon will always be changing) was a major part of every level. The second time I played, I wised up, and just never researched the guns I didn't want (Tip: Just say 'no' to the Freeze Gun).
The Bottom Line
Sure, it's nothing like X-COM. And if you hate shooters, then you'll hate this. It's also not going to win any awards, but it deserves some credit for being a fun little game that also brings with it a kind of frantic action that is not seen too often. If you let it, Enforcer will give you a couple of days of madcap blasting fun. As the Professor would say: BIG BONUS!