How do you know that a video game is science fiction? When it portrays Saudi Arabian and Egyptian soldiers fighting side-by-side with Israeli troops.
Such camaraderie seems as fanciful as warp drive and time travel. But if you can accept that Israelis and Arabs would rather kill aliens than each other, then you will discover that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of the best strategy games ever made.
Alien invasion is an old mainstay of science fiction, and so is XCOM, which first debuted in 1994, and went on to become a cult classic. While the 2012 remake features better graphics and smoother gameplay, it still retains that same innovative mixture of nasty aliens, high technology, and impending doom.
The game's premise is that extraterrestrials have arrived with high-tech weapons in their tentacles and murder in their hearts (or equivalent organs). At first they come in raiding parties to abduct or terrorize humans, but it gradually becomes evident that they have a more terrifying goal in mind.
The nations of Earth respond by forming XCOM (with you the player as XCOM commander). The organization is governed by the shadowy and vaguely sinister XCOM Council, consisting of 16 nations, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Nigeria, and China. Each nation contributes a certain level of funding each month that enables the military arm of the organization to battle the extraterrestrial invaders. If XCOM fails to stop alien raids against a Council member, that nation will withdraw itself and its funds from the alliance.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a textbook of classic SF and horror creatures. There are the frail Sectoids, who look like your classic 1950s Roswell aliens; the spider-like Chrysalids, whose bite turns humans into zombies; Cyberdiscs that resemble floating marshmallow pies (if snack cakes were armed with directed energy weapons); and Muton, warriors who suggest the aliens successfully bred psychotic gorillas with NFL linebackers. It turns out that an advanced alien race genetically engineered these creatures for various functions and even embedded mechanical devices in their bodies (perhaps they intercepted old broadcasts of The Six Million Dollar Man?). My own gruesome favorites are the Floaters, who have rocket motors in their torsos instead of legs. Who needs the V-22 Osprey? Now this is tactical mobility!
It is a rule that all alien defense organizations must have an underground base, and XCOM is no exception. The XCOM commander's first decision is to choose a location, with different continents offering various bonuses. North America has cheaper aircraft maintenance costs, Europe cheaper infrastructure, and in a macabre twist South America offers faster interrogation of captured aliens. By the time those old Argentinean and Chilean generals are done, even ET will confess to being a communist.
Once a site is chosen, the player can build various facilities there such as labs, workshops and containment facilities for captured aliens. The base is also a barracks, with soldiers recruited from a smorgasbord of countries, including South Africa, Japan, and Middle Eastern nations such as Egypt and Israel. The most important aspect of the strategic game is research. Humanity begins the game outgunned; strangely for an advanced military force, XCOM troopers go into battle armed with 1990s-style light infantry gear (rifles, machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers, and body armor). They must confront aliens armed with plasma beam weapons, biogenetically armored skin, and exotic capabilities such as psionic attacks. The moral of the story is that you don't bring an assault rifle to a death-ray fight, but XCOM must soldier on until better weapons are developed.