Review: XCOM: Slingshot (Microsoft Xbox 360)
by Mark B. on December 12, 2012

XCOM: Slingshot
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: 12/4/12

Times certainly change; while back in the days when the original X-Com: UFO Defense was making the rounds your options were generally full sequels, expansion packs or mods, these days developers can just dump some DLC into the game and off you go. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is no different, as Firaxis has indicated that they’ve got a few DLC packs in mind for the game, which immediately sparked interest among fans. While it’s unlikely anyone is really expecting Firaxis to give us a full-on Terror From the Deep styled expansion, despite the odd comments to that effect here and there, it’s entirely possible for them to add in new alien types, weapons, powers and more with little effort, so the idea that this could be a reality was interesting. Well, we’ve received our first full DLC package (not counting the expanded design palette package) in Slingshot, an expansion set in China and built around a series of more storyline-oriented missions. In theory, this was an opportunity to add content to the game that would give players a little more to do with it and could have been used as a launching point for any number of new additions to the game. In practice, Slingshot is certainly fine enough given what it adds, but it doesn’t impact much and while it’s novel, it’s not an instant must-have expansion on its own merits.

Note: as there is a full review of XCOM: Enemy Unknown available that discusses the mechanics of the experience in full, this review will be strictly dedicated to what content Slingshot brings to the table. As such, for any discussions on the mechanics of the core game itself, please refer to the above linked review.

So, what do you get for your five hundred and sixty Microsoft Points (seven dollars)? Well, Slingshot adds three specifically structured Council Requests to a normal campaign, with the caveat that, to experience them, you’ll need to start a new campaign, as this won’t add to your existing campaign. This also adds in new armor and character customization options, including hair styles and helmets, for those who like to customize their squads a bit. The new missions add in some new assets and dynamics to the mission structures we’ve come to expect, and for those that download the DLC, you’re also given a powerful squad member early on in the game (relatively speaking), some useful assets from completing the missions, and access to a high powered ship weapon far earlier than you’d otherwise have access to it. You also get a fairly large amount of resources relative to what you’d be expecting to receive for completing the missions. Depending on what you’re looking to do with the game, that’s not a bad deal, but let’s take a look at the added missions and see how they break down a little to analyze that further.

The first Council Request you’ll see, dubbed “Friends in Low Places”, can pop up any time after you’ve completed the basic tutorials; for example, I saw it pop one day before completing an Alien Containment facility, and there was no rhyme or reason to its appearance. This mission is the most plot heavy of the lot, as you’ll have to escort a man, Shaojie Zhang, to your dropship, as he has in his possession some information XCOM seems to have great interest in. The plot here fine enough as an addition to the product, but this is basically the only mission that puts any real emphasis on Zhang as being anything important, sadly. This mission is structured functionally identically to a normal escort mission; Zhang has no weapons or protection, and your squad has to get him to the drop zone to escort him away safely or fail the mission. The mission consists of a few dropped-in waves of Sectoids and Thin Men, which is about standard for the mission type, though a Chryssalid is thrown at you in the end as a curveball in case you’re the sort of person to run the target to the drop zone at the end. The environment you fight through uses new assets that look solid in comparison to those in the main game, though you won’t see much of these assets outside of this mission, sadly. Still, for an early game mission, which this is, it works well and should give you a solid payout early on to help you out.

Post mission, Zhang joins your XCOM squad as a Lieutenant level Heavy Trooper. Statistically he’s on the high side, so he’ll likely be more powerful than your other troopers, and as a Lieutenant, he starts with several useful stats already in play if you want to have a powerful soldier on your side. Depending on how you balance your kills, Zhang may or may not be more powerful than your troops, but he’s a valuable asset on any difficulty and can unlock several useful options for squad advancement if you’re not quite to Lieutenant level before he joins up. He also uses a unique name, voice and appearance, and as such, cannot be customized in any way, so you can’t change his armor appearance or color either. That said, he’s still a Heavy otherwise, so he doesn’t bring anything especially new or exciting to the table, meaning that if you don’t use Heavy troops much or already have one at Lieutenant level on your crew he’s not going to do much more than add in some minor variety. On higher difficulties he’ll likely be a good asset, however, depending on how much you end up having to replace dead troops and such.

The second mission of the pack, dubbed “Confounding Light”, pops up a few weeks after the first and, again, seems to have nothing in specific tied to its appearance. This mission reuses the standard train station assets, for the most part, but it does do two things that are somewhat novel: first, it introduces aliens you’ll likely not have seen at this point into the campaign early for some added challenge, and second, it provides a new mission dynamic. The mission structure is similar to that of a bomb disarming mission, with two major changes: first, you’re given a set number of turns that cannot be increased, and second, your objective is to arm four transmitters and get to the drive car, not to disarm anything. From a design perspective, since this is designed as a mission on a train car, it’s not terribly difficult; if you bring two snipers and have them run like crazy to get forward whenever possible they’ll likely be able to either Overwatch kill or straight up snipe anything that drops into battle, honestly. That said, the structure of the mission is really interesting in comparison to the normal mission types you’ll see, and there’s a decent amount of variance to the expected enemy types, as you’ll see the normal Thin Men you’d expect alongside Mutons, which will be fairly powerful for this stage of the game. Of the missions thrown at you, this is arguably the most interesting of the lot.

The third mission of the pack, dubbed “Gangplank”, pops up a few weeks later with no obvious tie to it appearing, and is the most involved of the lot. The mission takes place on top of an alien battleship, which isn’t uncommon in and of itself, but the battleship is presently in flight at the time, which adds in some interesting visual changes if nothing else. Mechanically, this adds nothing to the mission, but your objective is a little different, as you’re tasked to shut down six conduits on the ship (either by interacting with them or blowing them up) to bring the ship down in one piece. This mission seems fairly challenging in theory, as you’ll face a wide assortment of enemies, including Sectoids, Thin Men, Chryssalids, Mutons and Cyberdiscs, so you’ll have to be prepared for a lot of different possible combat scenarios. In practice, though, there are a few high places where you can camp snipers to ruin enemies with ease and the mission is designed with several doorways that can act as choke points, so you’ll have plenty of tools to fight back without getting slaughtered. Winning this mission nets you several pieces of intact alien tech, including a heavy ship weapon that you’ll be able to research much earlier than you’d otherwise see it in the game, which should give you an edge.

So, is Shingshot worth the money? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. On the positive side, for seven dollars, it comes with a strong character to add to your squad who may potentially be more powerful than anyone else you have available at the time you recruit him, and the mission payouts are really nice relative to their overall difficulty and position in the story. While you’re not likely to see a lot more cash than you’d have at this point, you’ll get a fairly extensive amount of resources from these missions, in addition to autopsies you wouldn’t see until later in the game, which can make higher difficulty playthroughs easier. You also get an extra hundred points worth of Achievements to earn, and while most of them are simply tied to completing the missions, two require special circumstances that can make them more challenging to unlock depending on other factors. On the other hand, if you’re not into the customization options that the DLC provides, you’re basically paying seven dollars for a slightly more powerful Heavy trooper and three missions that reuse assets and enemies you’ve seen before with some mild changes across each. If it’s content you’re looking for in some form or another you’re going to find this lacking, as you’ll get one new looking mission that functions identically to other mission types and two new functioning missions that look largely similar to other missions, which may be a bit of a downside for you. Also, the DLC doesn’t really do as much with Zhang as it could, as he’s largely just a body in your squad after the first mission, and the plot doesn’t mean as much as it could in the confines of the game, so you’ll not miss it, plot-wise, either way.

XCOM: Slingshot is basically a useful DLC that’s worth the money if you’re looking to add in content that expands upon the little things, as it adds in some novel missions and customization options while giving you early access to some helpful enhancements, but it’s not a significant addition otherwise. Its main benefit comes from the strategic value of what it offers, as it offers the player a slightly more powerful character than they might be able to get early on, as well as some higher than normal payoffs for missions and access to research and powerful gear they wouldn’t have access to early on. The missions provided offer some interesting changes up as well, which, while not vital, are cute and make the missions feel unique. For the player looking for some variety or to make a Classic or Impossible run, Slingshot offers up both through its novelty missions, character customization options and early research options, so for those players, this is easy to recommend. However, the plot attached to the missions is fine but isn’t really as engaging as it could be, the pack largely reuses assets for its missions (though the new ones look and sound good) and it’s not in-depth as an addition to the game. Slingshot is mostly for players who want some new customization options and early access to useful tech for harder difficulties, and if you’re in that group, it’s worth your seven dollars, but if you’re looking for all-new content, you’ll not find it here.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GREAT

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
XCOM: Slingshot is DLC that will appeal to a specific sort of player, as it adds in customization content for your squad, a couple novel missions, early access to useful tech and a slightly more powerful squad member, but for those looking for a significant expansion, they won’t find it here. For your seven dollars, you get three new Council Requests that add in some minor assets and restructured mission types, a large package of customization options for your squad, a slightly more powerful unique squad member, and access to early research you’d not otherwise have. For the player who’s looking to make a run at Impossible difficulty, this could well be a big help, and for players who like changing up the appearance of their squad this also offers a lot of fun and useful content, which makes it easy to recommend. For the player who wants a more content-adding expansion, however, you’ll not find that here, as Slingshot doesn’t add much to the narrative, doesn’t use many new resources, and exists mostly unto itself, adding nothing to the main game outside of its own three missions. Slingshot is generally not a bad purchase if you’re interested in hitting the harder difficulties or making your squad look unique, but it doesn’t add a lot of new content, making it more for players that are interested in the little things over whole new content packs, and for the cost, it’s generally worth it if you’re part of that group.




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