XCOM is back and better!

XCOMIf you had a PC back in the 90’s you may have played the addictive XCOM series of alien-hunting games. Me and my brother would play UFO Enemy Unknown (the first XCOM game) for hours, for the simple reasons it was a fun yet very hard strategic game.

Commanding a squad of little pixelated units deep into darkened American streets strewn with the urban signs of chaos, or trying to out smart extraterrestrial intelligence on where they’d place their units for the best killing shots.

Seeing movement and not knowing if it’s an alien preparing a lazer rifle or a civilian simply trying to stay alive.

Choosing whether to assault in through the front doors and possible into a lethal ambush where red pixels would certainly flow… or rip the back from a building with a rocket…

These were the decisions me and my brother faced on what seemed like a daily basis.

Most games back then, and probably still to this day, are easy to do well in. Of course they now need to be, who’s going to spend hours being frustrated by a computer game when there’s so many other game fixes available these days. But strangely this was probably the allure of this game; if you made a mistake, and you could easily, you’d usually be punished for it. Clicking a few centimetres wide on the screen would move one of your units from his cover and into full view of the enemy; there was no undo, no cancel, just the time to pray to the XCOM gods of random dice percentiles. Were you going to lose a large proportion of your team simply because your mouse hand got a bit twitchy. This play-well-or-die-trying allure has stayed with me to this day, still conjuring up exciting memories, some 18 years later.

So there was a lot of childhood regression going on in my head when I saw that XCOM was launching a new game this year. If you spent your 90s doing more ‘productive’ things, although I can’t think what they’d be, I’d recommend checking out the latest version that has just hit our shelves; XCOM Enemy Unknown. (Strikingly similar name there marketing departments!)

This game thankfully pays close humage to the original UFO Enemy Unknown game, in fact it’s unbelievably close. The turn-based XCOM series followed UFO Enemy Unknown with five, yes FIVE, sequels. However they degraded quite quickly, never surpasing the original.

However in the new XCOM Enemy Unknown game, you still have base management, research and engineering tasks, as well as a world-wide view of countries. The real missions handle almost exactly the same, albeit with a much cleaner GUI to handle the action. If you sent this game and a PS3 back to my 8 year self, I reckon I’d been able to easily pick up the controller and play it. You’re still torn between slow movement and over-watch (a XCOM god-send!), reloading while its calm and ‘safe’, running for hard cover, blind spots, destructive terrain and elevation.

I believe they’ve pulled a classic out of the past and polished it up, releasing it as another classic. Yet there’s still easily enough magic to call for the £40 price tag.

3 things I like about the new XCOM Enemy Unknown title:

  • The GUI, overall graphics and handling is wonderful. It feels like it was made to be played on the console.
  • Tactics actually work! More importantly though, they accurately change the future of the mission too. There feels like there’s a lot less randomness to this game than the original 1994 title, however that could simply be put down to the difference in a 8 and a 26 year olds’ brain.
  • Base management, of which I never particularly enjoyed in the original, has been made an enjoyable experience that again taxes your brain for a strategy. The beautiful 3D ‘live’ cross-sections of day-to-day life in the base really distracts from the fact you’re trying to balance work load of scientists, or power management for a base the size of a small city.

3 things I’m not so keen on:

  • Fast Game Progression. The first 5 missions probably saw their fair share of 5 new aliens, and I’ve only come across about 8 or 9 different aliens in the game so far. These new aliens could easily have been drip fed into the missions over a greater time span, increasing the longevity of the ‘ooooooo new alien’ experience.
  • Unit Promotions. Although I really like the idea of unit promotions, they just happened too quickly. Most of the early missions it seemed that 75% of the units got promoted every time, assuming they survived. Within a short time they had maxed out. Like the introduction of new aliens, this should have been spaced out over time to actually make promotion a rare experience.
  • Unit Classes. The class that gets auto assigned to each unit is a touch-and-go kind of thing, I’m still sat on the fense about this. I like the idea that you have support, snipers, heavies and assault; but not entirely sure I approve of the auto-assigned nature that you receive them. Also apart from the main weapon, is there much difference to them?

I haven’t finished the game yet, although I feel like when I have I’ll simply restart it on the hardest setting. Hopefully it’s replayability will stick with it, separating it from many other newish games. It also has a downloadable content section, so it’d be great if they pushed out (free) content in the future, extending the games life without just milking the alien-cash-cow.

If you liked the original XCOM then I’d definitely recommend getting this.

If you like turn based strategy games, not specifically just alien/military ones, then I’d also recommend this.

All in all, a great XCOM product, thanks guys!

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