What's The Big Deal About A New XCOM?

Yesterday, 2K jumped out from behind a bush, wearing a bloody clown suit, and surprised the crap out of us with a press release revealing a new X-Com game was in development. I was happy! Many of you, however, are not.

It's not the game's seemingly retro aesthetic that has people upset. Nor is it the subtle change to its spelling, from X-Com to XCOM. No, the trepidation comes from the fact this new XCOM is going to be a first-person shooter.

The original game, for those who haven't played it, was not a first-person shooter. It was a two-headed beast of a thing, half of it spent on a global campaign map planning the human resistance to an alien invasion from a strategic level, the other half spent in tactical, turn-based battlegrounds. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, if you will. Only with aliens.

And it was amazing. The strategic stuff was compelling and perfectly integrated into the combat, the combat was tense and perfectly integrated with the strategic sections, and it had one of the best intro sequences of the 1990's. Quite simply, there hadn't been a game like it, and 16 years on, there hasn't really been one since (its own sequels aside, of course).

From what we've heard so far about XCOM, the new game, the strategic stuff is still in. The press release reads "true to the roots of the franchise, players will be placed in charge of overcoming high-stake odds through risky strategic gambits coupled with heart-stopping combat experiences that pit human ingenuity – and frailty – against a foe beyond comprehension."

So it's the first-person stuff that has people angry. There are accusations that 2K has somehow sold out. That the X-Com franchise is being dumbed down. That making a new XCOM game that's not like the old X-Com game is defeating the purpose of making a new X-Com game.

I think those people need to take a deep breath, go have a lie down, then get back to us. Here's why.

- Turn-based strategy games are a complex genre. They're for the hardcore! In case you've been asleep the past 2-3 years, games of this scale (big publisher, big developers) can't afford to appeal just to the hardcore anymore. See games like Metroid, Fallout 3 and even the latest Splinter Cell for examples.

- They're a niche. That's why you only really see them released on handhelds these days. When Valkyria Chronciles - probably the most polished and enjoyable turn-based strategy game in a decade - can't even sell a million on the PS3, you know it's a limited sell.

- You want to play the old X-Com so bad? Go play the old X-Com! You can get it on Steam. It still looks, and plays, great, as does its oft-overlooked sequel, Terror From The Deep. If you want something a little more modern, try UFO: Aftermath, the game's 2003 spiritual successor. If you want something a little more portable, try Rebelstar Tactical Command, for the Game Boy Advance. Point is, a new X-Com game needed to be just that, new, because the old ones are just fine, and are still available.

- These developers have worked on Tribes and BioShock. They know how to make a good first-person shooter. You may not be getting a turn-based strategy game, but you'll probably get a great shooter, and one that retains the strategic element to boot.

I don't want to sound like I'm somehow sticking up for 2K or this new XCOM game for the sake of it. After all, for all we know, the game might suck! I'm simply trying to point out that getting angry at the game's partial change of genre, on principal (since we know so little about it!), as though this were still 1994, isn't going to get us anywhere.

I think our memories of the original X-Com, at least where they're involved in affecting our expectations for a modern remake, are like the old saying: if you really love them, you have to let them go.


Comments

    The X-Com series was great, but Luke is right, they need to make a game that will appeal to the wider market.

    Fingers crossed they will do the series proud!

    Don't forget that X-COM Interceptor replaced the turn based parts with a space flight sim. I thought that worked pretty well.

    It'll be a good game; or at least a a competent one. But it's a waste of potential for everyone involved. There's nothing non-generic about XCOM except for its strategic elements (as the various iterations between X-COM 2 and now have shown) and the 2K Marin guys could make a half-decent game from just about anything.

    It's like James Cameron spending four years and 3 billion dollars making a half-hour live action episode of The Snorks; it's probably going to be a thing worth seeing but it's really hard to say that it's the natural next step for James Cameron or The Snorks.

    Hmmm, is this the Fallout worries all over again or more like StarCraft Ghost?

      Dunno but Fallout proved that a shift into a new genre can indeed work for a property. I can easily see XCom working as a team based tactical shooter.

      Something along the lines of Ghost Recon (older ghost recon) would work.

    Ok we get it, they are appealing to a new generation of gamer.....one that doesn't know what XCOM is! use a different name for this game and pass the old IP on to an indie developer that will make the game we want.

    I dont think the argument of going FPS to cater for a bigger audience is sound..

    X-com games were awesome turn based games where u would multi-task and strategize winning.. FPS means u are most likely playing the roll of one person going around and pew pewing targets.

    Now why bring back the franchise if it isnt going to be strategic turn based game it used to be.

    All it seems to me is that 2K have the rights to an old franchise that ppl loved and thought they could make some extra money from them and also cater to this ridiculous overcrowded FPS market.

    If future games are all going to be made FPS just so companies can cater for this bigger market, then that market isnt going to try anything new like a turn based strategy game.

    I loved the original games and i would love them to make them like they used too.

    Sorry, what?

    I don't quite comprehend the gist of this article... Is there more to it than this quick bit of interpretive paraphrasing?

    'I think those people need to take a deep breath, go have a lie down, then get back to us. Here’s why;

    - suck
    - it
    - up
    - bitches'

    XCOM is widely acknowledged as the seminal TBS title and also one of the best games ever made. So, why change the winning formula? It's moving from a sandbox strategy game (with great random environments) to a narrative-driver shooter.

    What's next, a Total Annihilation FPS?

    And how come the fans are crying yet the press widely gushing? What do you guys know that we don't? What kind of bad marketing manoeuvre is this?

    If this was announced as an XCOM spin-off then it would be acceptable. In fact, the XCOM universe lends itself to this superbly well. A tactical squad based approach to missions could easily be catered for.

    I think you're misunderstanding the situation greatly. It's not anger towards the move to an FPS 'on principle'; it's that 'FPS' can't handle XCOM's gameplay elements as well as the isometric grid-based view can.

    If it has none of the alluring factors of the original then why bring back the name? It'll just turn the original name in to muck. It'd be safer to start a new IP rather than risk tarnishing the game's reception before its even launched.

    XCOMs gameplay doesn't need to updated. It's fundamentally rock-solid. 2K had a license to print money here and decided to waste the opportunity straight away! All it needs is a modern day port...

    Where are my slippers? I need a lie down.

    hellllllllllll no

    the original x-com games were the biggest time holes ever to exist.

    I spent 15 hours playing once thinking it had been 4.

    D=

    The thing I find interesting about the whole XCOM as an FPS debate is that I have only seen XCOM: Enforcer mentioned in one or two comments. I've only played a little of it (As part of the XCOM Steam pack) before I got bored but it's XCOM, as a third person shooter. Not quite FPS, but similar shifting of genre, so this kind of move isn't entirely new.

    I have been a huge XCOM fan since playing Terror From the Deep and then Apocalypse and I'm morbidly curious to see where this goes. I would love to be in the shoes of my squad members, hunting through the playfield for the aliens. If they can recapture the tension as you move forward slowly, waiting for that little flashing number in the bottom of the screen to appear, hoping you don't suddenly get hit by opportunity fire, then I'm sold on it.

    I can see why they are reluctant to continue the x-com series in the same style, it's true that the gameplay is rather niche and not very accessible to the wider market.. I'm just baffled as to what 2k think they're gaining by basing a new game on old IP that is mainly recognized by a niche market of hardcore(ish) long-time gamers.

    I'm guessing that there's some IP/trademark mechanics going on behind the scenes that make it a good decision, but it makes little sense from a gamer's perspective.

    By all means, continue. Could be interesting.

    So... how about a new Jagged Alliance then? Turn-based, please.

    1. Turn-based strategy isn't necessarily for the hardcore. I'm willing to bet that with the state of the art in gaming development today, a studio with the right mindset and the right people could make a really awesome remake of X-COM. Remember Final Fantasy Advance on the DS sold like hotcakes. It's a lazy argument, it really is.

    2. The previous spin-offs of X-COM blew. I'm sure 2K will do a good job of pulling off their vision of X-COM, but it's really not the heart of what X-COM is [See pt. 1 and Greg Tannahill's comment].

    3. It's not a "partial" change of genre. It's either a turn-based strategy/RPG or a first-person shooter.

    4. You meant "principle."

    basically I just hope they keep some minor sandbox elements from the originals. Taking the global campaign part of the original and having tactical fps battles would basically make a perfect game for me. Linear FPS; not really a great setting for it.

    I'm certainly willing to wait before giving formal condemnation but I can't help but be pessimistic. The tendency to remake things usually results in a poor product (rather paraxodically since they have more resources spare from not needing to design a new world) and shifting genres is a challenge at best but even more so when moving from slow, thinking gameplay to a genre famed for being twitchy and reactive (Hello C&C Renegade, no you're not forgiven, back in the basement!).

    When you say: "You want to play the old X-Com so bad? Go play the old X-Com!", we could just reply with: "You want to play an FPS so bad? Load up COD4" (or failing that: "How appropriate, you fight like a cow!")

    You mentioned the issue of being unable to develop just for the hardcore which implies a streamlined mechanic and a lot fewer decisions which has much greater potential to be bad than it does to be good.

    I also think that saying TBS games are just for the hardcore is a fallacy, there's a major turn based strategy game thats massively successful and appeals to way more than the hardcore: Civilization (there's also loads of board games).

    All they'd need to do is get xcom pretty, exciting and fluid enough so impatient people aren't bored with waiting for units to move, thinking that things are ugly or being frustrated by clunky controls, nothing that can't be solved by good design. It can control like a turn based strategy game and when you tell the characters to move, they move with the fluidity and intensity of soldiers in gears of war.

    Now combine that with difficulty levels that increase the amount you have to manage rather than (or in addition to) increasing the actual difficulty. Easy just has set action points and automatic research, medium has variable action points with the amount of equipment carried by your troops (so you have to decide if the plasma cannon is worth slowing down your squad) with selectable research and hard is proper xcom where you have to manage everything down to unit stamina and has research where you need to manage staff and resources & facilities.

    There's also the undeniable fact that WE HAVE ENOUGH BLOODY FPS GAMES! By the divine carbohydrates of the flying spaghetti monster, give us OTHER styles of game! And I don't just mean gears of war or god of war ripoffs. I like FPS', 3rd person shooters and action beat em ups but there's a limit to my tolerance for sameness. A modern remake of xcom is exactly the kind of thing we need to spark interest in something beyond the 3 'holy' game types. Variety is the spice of life but at the moment we only have salt, pepper and basil, lovely and all but sometimes you just want a curry!

    THAT is why I'm feeling a bit negative, I'm seeing enormous potential to not only live up to the gameplay legacy of the franchise but potentially spur interest in other varieties of game in people who've never tried a TBS, potentially even reviving a commercially endangered genre and it seems likely that its all going to go waste. The worst part is that it's probably based on the assumption that console gamers don't want slow thinky games but are in love with instant gratification and pretty explosions but unless someone releases something different, there's no way of knowing.

      Woah, quite the wall of text, wonder if anyone will read it all

        So you haven't been following how Civilisation has been dumbed down since part 2 eh dude?

    "In case you’ve been asleep the past 2-3 years, games of this scale (big publisher, big developers) can’t afford to appeal just to the hardcore anymore."

    Monster Hunter Tri, Developed and Published by Capcom, unquestionably not a game for the more casual audience, currently boasting an 87 on metacritic and seemingly with alot of interest surrounding the release. In fact I question this whole premise, if anyone can afford to put out a hardcore game, it seems it is the big publishers and developers who are simultaneously stuffing their pockets with "my pony adventure: unicorn farm" on DS.

    "They’re a niche. That’s why you only really see them released on handhelds these days."

    What about games like civilization and the total war series, mainstays of turn-based strategy on the PC, unless you meant to reference the Turn-Based tactics of the actual deployments, in which case admittedly they are a dying breed, and the most recent PC example I can recall is a spiritual successor to the X-Com games whose name escapes me.

    "You want to play the old X-Com so bad? Go play the old X-Com!"

    To me this is a pretty awful justification, would it not also be acceptable to make that claim of any game? If you wan't to play Bioshock as a FPS so bad, play Bioshock, but Bioshock 2 should have been a Sims style game, just for the sake of changing genre. The thing is, you reach a point where you don't just want to experience the same old stuff, this is why modding is so popular, and why a sequel in the same genre can be a great game, because it offers something new, even if the basic gameplay is the same thing you know and love.

    The bigger problem is 2k has the rights to do this now and they have chosen to make FPS games from the IP, which means any hope of getting a true X-Com successor goes down the drain, if we could be getting both at once it's another story altogether, that's why people don't like it, unless 2k suddenly decide to try and make a game more true to the originals as a sequel to their FPS (and a genre change like that doesn't make much sense does it...) we will only have FPS games for the forseeable future.

    "- These developers have worked on Tribes and BioShock. They know how to make a good first-person shooter."

    Not if those two games are any indication.

    You know how I see this working.

    Possibly one way - You get a Globe view and the research factors and build your base. Alien strike comes in and then you shoot it down. Then when you land the mission is FPS squad based.

    I am looking forward to this - While I would like to see the X-Com franchise with improved graphics I got the newer version from Steam and didn't find it all that appealing.

    I think our rose tinted glasses will not allow any re-imagining of the turn based style because it will always look too different. Any changes made to the gameplay or additions may not be appreciated. So they go in this direction where they have little to compare to and all the history to plumb

    Im not sure what all the fuss is about.
    I love the original X-Com fantastic game, And its still on my windows 7 computer. I play it every now and then but i dont have the time i did in my younger days.
    I can easily say THERE HAS NOT BEEN A GAME TO MATCH IT AND THERE NEVER WILL. Look at all the spiritual sequals that have come along, they just weren't up to scratch. Fun games but no xcom.

    I also really liked Space Hulk though. Managing a group of space marines in an alien infested hulk in real time. Needing to use each soldier to cover the others as we move down corridors. Managing overheating weapons and the horror when a weapon jams. Squad based strategy in a first person perspective can work and be challenging.

    Was there this kind of outcry when Terror from the deep came out?
    OH NO they are switching the setting to underwater.
    Or when Apocolypse came out?
    OH NO they are switching the setting to a CITY and adding REAL TIME options for those who want it.
    What about interceptor?
    Not really my cup of tea so i didn't play it.
    Outcry for xcom enforcer was and is completely justified and the less said about that the better.

    Instead of viewing this as 2K screwing you out of a remake where you will bitch if it isn't exactly the same (go back and play the original again), why not view it as a chance to get another view of the franchise. To open up other people to the game, Some kids might play this new game and go "Hey i saw that old x-com on steam for cheap, i liked the new game, i might grab it and see what its like"

      Jones for president.

        Jones: There was a massive outcry from magazines and fans with XCom Apocalypse (just not as vocal due to the internet giving every asshole a voice) changing its graphic style, its locale and adding in real time. Many fans refuse to acknowledge its existance due to how shoddily it plays.

          Oh and just to clarify: I welcome a new spin on Xcom.

          I remember people saying Mario in 3d wouldn't work, COULDNT work...

          I remember people saying Fallout 3 would never work...

          I also remember people saying "Metroid as a fps??? BULLSHIT! That's ruining it!"

          Yeh, sure, they only ended up producing some of the finest games ever with those three...

            Actually, I do remember poor reviews for the game. I gave it a go, finished it once or twice but always went back to terror from the deep and enemy unknown. Nothing quite like having a trooper go berserk in realtime with a HE loaded autocannon.

            If you want an update from the original i can suggest UFO: Alien Invasion
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UFO:_Alien_Invasion
            They have gone leaps and bounds since i first played them years ago, and although its not quite there yet and not finished, Oh and lacks destructable terrain. Its not half bad.

            I like to see developers take games in new directions and try different things with them, I understand with an FPS it could be just another generic shoot the alien in tight corridors but i give them alittle more credit than that. the last thing i would want is to see Xcom become the MADDEN of turn based strategy.

    Luke, what time is 2K picking you up for dinner? I mean honestly, if we are going to applaud the whoring out of some great IP to the marketing and finance department then why not make XCOM:Bejewelled? You have to match jewels of the same colour to save the world from aliens. I mean these casual jewel games make billions and will be an instant hit. What about XCOM Fit? You have to jiggle along with your Mii to save the world from aliens and your arse from cellulite? There's an instant stock mover right there. Honestly, my opinion of Kotaku just doesn't want to pull up from this nosedive with articles like this.

      This.

      That is a shockingly bad logical argument, Luke. Yeah, FPSs sell. There's also a million of them already. Why should we care about another one just because it uses the X-Com name? If 2K don't want to make a strategy game, why use the X-Com IP at all? It's a very strange decision. Like Kato says, they might as well be make X-Bejeweled or X-FarmVille or something if the idea is to just slap the X-Com name onto a generic game they were going to make anyway.

    I hate the notion from gamers constantly that this is what "we" want and do this or else... don't like it don't buy it - If you like the original go play it - why does there have to be an update for everything - these'll be the same people bemoaning hollywood for rebooting franchises or remaking movies, but then cry out for game remakes all the time?

    As long as they maintain the hallmarks of the series like squad based strategy, global base/resource management, team training, ability to control multiple characters, and aquire and research alien tech, then what is everyone complaining about?
    Yes, the originals were classics, tht's why they're available on steam.
    You want another x-com game with better graphics?
    Look what happened with Doom 3. I seem to remember them trying that a couple of years ago, with a different name. A spiritual sequel. It died laregly unrecognised partly because it only saw pc release and partly because of balance issues and people unwilling to spend time on it.
    Give a new generation of gamers a chance to appreciate the spirit of the game without forcing them to run a gauntlet and maybe they'll thank you.

      Personally, I'm hoping to see a first person shooter in the same vein as Rainbow 6 Rogue Spear, with XCOM elements like base management and random area generation.

    I think the issue is NOT that the game is in 3d or first person, but in fact that they are changing the gameplay from a thinking mans game to a twitch-based game. This "may" not be the case and 2K might just have worded their announcement poorly, but if in fact the game is a twitch based action game than it fails as a successor to x-com. If it's a strategic simulation in 3d, THEN and only then can you compare it to Metroid or Mario. The point being that 3d Metroid kept the core gameplay of the original, that is, action focused shooting of aliens, exploring vast worlds, gaining powerups that affect your weapons and movement. The only change was the perspective. What, and I will be honest this is just from limited information, it sounds like they're doing with x-com is completely changing the game to something that no longer resembles the original, except in flavour alone.

    I'm sorry, you make a good argument, but you have it backwards. If XCOM is going to come back then it has to come back as, if not the same game, then at least in the same genre- otherwise it simply ISN'T XCOM. You say the game has to evolve- I say sure, let it evolve, but not mutate into something completely different. If they want to make an FPS inspired by XCOM then they can go ahead- but they shouldn't call it XCOM just to exploit name recognition for a totally unconnected game. It's intellectually dishonest.

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