Could XCOM: Enemy Unknown be one of the finest translations of a game from PC to console?

Still Playing: XCOM Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which we reviewed here, isn’t just one of the smartest and most faithful updates of a classic game we’ve ever encountered. It’s also one of the finest translations to console of a game with such strong PC roots we’ve ever had the pleasure to play.

And that’s in every way. Its pad controls are as intuitive as mouse and keyboard. When administering your base, the management interfaces are elegantly streamlined into just a few main sets of options, each with only a few submenus, making it clear to navigate. Information screens, like notifications of the completion of research, smartly send you on to the next logical step, like choosing a new artefact to study. Advancing time is a case of hitting Y, on 360, to visit the Geoscape, and then hitting A to watch your queue of important events and construction times count down. The result is that the game keeps your attention on what’s important: choices and strategy, and watching your bustling base expand.

During missions, the interface is just as honed. The left stick sets your units moving; the right stick pans the view. The levels are laid out in such a way that you won’t even find yourself having to swing the view around with the direction buttons very often. Overlaid contextual details, like cover or the limits of your unit’s range, provide the information you need when you need it, without cluttering the screen. Pressing the right trigger opens up your selected soldier’s action menu, which only allows you to access those actions it’s able to execute at the time. Again, it’s so simple and logical that your mind’s fixed on tactics and atmosphere, not wrestling with trying to make things work.

In other words, Firaxis, having cleverly squeezed Civilization’s interface onto the pad for Civilization Revolution, has continued to hone its art with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. But that’s not all that makes the game such a great translation for console. Most console owners will be familiar with the slightly janky reality of games that have been made primarily for PC and squeezed into the seven-year-old insides of 360 and PS3. Framerates lag, loading times drag; it’s a huge challenge to strip the likes of Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Crysis 2 down to fit the 360’s 512mb of RAM and 500mHz GPU.

But XCOM: Enemy Unknown somehow feels entirely native. Its loading times, partly hidden under scenes of your Skyranger taking off or mission briefing screens, are short. I can’t quite understand how it displays your base in its entirety, with you able to zoom in on its floors at will to see it all working away, with as much detail, all at once, and without a single stutter. It transitions into cutscenes without a pause. Sure, it’s not the most fast-paced game around, but the cutaways of your team taking fire and putting their own shots down are smooth and, again, never stutter, and as you scroll around the framerate holds absolutely steady.

This stuff matters because, as it’s probably clear, it means you’re in the game, not thinking about how you’re not in the game because you’re waiting for it to load, or subliminally fearing certain bits of it because they’re just a little jankily presented. Huge congratulations to Firaxis for translating one of the best games ever made into modern form, making it beautiful, and also for making it feel as at home on console as it does on the platform that trailblazed it.