XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn based strategy game...or is it? While I acknowledge that I am a grade-A wuss in all things frightening, XCOM can still feel scary—almost like a horror game.

You're incredibly vulnerable, for starters. Regardless of how much I upgrade, the alien threat is always capable of destroying me. So I urgently seek out cover—but even behind full cover, I can feel myself tensing up whenever it's the alien's turn. I don't feel safe, how could I? Cover doesn't guarantee anything, and my soldiers—modeled after people I care about!—aren't coming back if they die.

Unless the Chryssalids get to them. Then your soldiers might be screwed. The spider-like creature doesn't just kill its victims. It impregnates them with a Chryssalid egg, which can then take over the host. That host might be your best friend or something, but guess what: you have to put the poor sod down now. Because if you don't? A Chryssalid hatchling will burst out of your soldier's body. Gruesome. Some fates are worse than death indeed.

But that's not as bad as the hair-raising Cyberdisk unraveling its simple saucer to reveal an elaborate mechanical creature, now looming menacingly above your soldier. Suddenly your soldier feels tiny. Suddenly you feel tiny. And that thing hasn't even blasted its high-powered weapons yet.

But the back and forth of a firefight isn't as terrifying as everything that happens before it. You start off matches with locales that once held people, but are now haunted by a dark navy fog of war haze. Sometimes you're navigating those empty, eerie streets for entire minutes—but you know that the aliens are lurking somewhere in those shadows. You don't know where, but you know they're there.


If nothing else, the unnerving screeches and guttural animal sounds before the alien's turn tells you they're waiting for you. That enemy that's bioengineering abominations, that enemy that's kidnapping humans and using them for god knows what, that enemy that can bring the dead back to life...that enemy is waiting for you.

It almost feels like they're waiting for you to accidentally put yourself in a compromising position, and the inability to see ahead thanks to the fog of war doesn't help that. If you happen to cross into the enemy's vision, they are immediately granted a turn that they can use to better position themselves.


It's difficult not to feel like you're screwed for just coming into contact with your enemy, even though you're there to eliminate the alien threat. This is especially true if you discover the aliens on your final soldier's turn, because it's like the aliens are granted two turns in a row—one for discovery, and one their actual turn. It kind of doesn't feel fair.

So I play the game as if paranoia was my guardian angel. I gotta make sure I don't let any one soldier stray too far from the group. Stay close, stay safe. I overwatch like crazy, on the lookout for whatever is sifting through the shadows. I almost feel like that crazy person in horror movies that nobody believes when they start talking about the dangers of that thing out there. But I just want to keep myself alive, man.