XCOM: Enemy Unknown PC features revealed: prettier and more tactical than on consoles

XCOM: Enemy Unknown's release date is rapidly bearing down upon us, but while its console siblings stew in the limbo of certification, the PC version of Firaxis' turnbased remake is being lavished with attention. According to lead designer Jake Solomon, it's got a fresh new HUD, displaying loads more data and allowing for a speed of interaction that changes how players approach tactical decisions.

It also looks damned pretty. Or, as pretty as a disembowelled marine sprouting alien tendrils can look.

“At the end of the console lifecycle, the PC is just superior hardware,” says Solomon. “So the textures are higher res, the zoom levels are much further. You can see much more of the ant-farm [Solomon's term for the human HQ].”

But the PC version ain't just a looker - it's got smarts too.

“There's more upfront information,” says Solomon. “The game isn't tile based, but when you're playing it [with a] mouse and keyboard it's just irritating as hell to play a tactical game without a grid. We actually ended up overlaying a grid on the PC version of the game. And we have something called the tactical view. It's really minor, but when you hold down the right mouse button it'll lay a grid over the entire world, which is kind of nice for flanking and determining line of sight and things like that. And in the PC version you can mouse over the alien heads and the camera will scroll to them, but it'll also tell you everybody's two hit percentages just right there on that first screen.”

The rectangular 3D cursor from the original game (which Solomon calls the “phone booth”) will also be making an exclusive appearance on the PC. “I have these weird flashback moments,” says Solomon. “It just looks a lot more like the original game.”

But the real surprise is how differently players approach the game on PC thanks to its bespoke HUD.

“I don't want to draw too much of a line between the versions,” prefaces Solomon, “but it does feel a little more tactical in the information it gives you in terms of the underlying grid, and the two hit percentages. And we do have some tooltip text for all the abilities and perks on screen. I'm a hardcore guy with the original game, so for me it just feels really natural.

“Because of the nature of the interfaces, I think it's a little more of a sedate pace [on PC],” Solomon continues. “You can look at the map and look at the grid and weigh your options a little clearer; as opposed to the console, where you sort of steer around and it just feels different. With console it's a little more hectic because you're going in, and you're cycling between all your targets, and you're bumpering around, and the camera swoops around, whereas with PC you can see more information on that main stage. You sort of spend a little more time thinking about it before you perform an action. And the other thing is that, in the strategy layer, obviously the mouse and keyboard is nice for navigating the menu. Right-clicking is cancelling; it cancels out of a lot of our menus, and we've got all these nested menus. So you can really fly. It's minor things, but it definitely has a different feel to it.”

Of course, if you like the sound of the bolshy attitude offered by a gamepad, you can just plug one in, even on PC. In either case, it's good to see a dev tailoring its game so carefully to the control scheme in question.

For more details on Firaxis' remake, here's everything you need to know about XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Well, everything except our multiplayer hands on that is. Stay peeled for more XCOM: Enemy Unknown news in the coming days.