XCOM By Any Other Name Could Be Great

The reason I love XCOM so much, why I'm so worried about its future has likely more to do with a stolen car and an obscene amount of hoagie sandwiches then it does the Sci-Fi strategy game.

You see, in the summer of 1994 I was between jobs. Having been fired from the arcade I ran and busy wrapping up my two degrees at University of Maryland - College Park, I decided not to find work and just float through my last year at school writing for the college paper, the Diamondback.

But right when the Summer of Brian was about to kick off a model friend of mine managed to leave my new car parked in her questionable neighbourhood with the keys in the ignition.

The next day I woke up blissfully car-free and with oodles of time to wile away in my Brooklyn, Maryland row house.

I spent that entire summer playing PC games, but none more than X-Com. I even had a routine. I'd wake in the morning. Eat a bowl of cereal. Play X-Com until the evening. Go downstairs and make an enormous hoagie sandwich, eat it and drink beer until I passed out. And then repeat.

So it's probably not fair for me to expect this new XCOM, this reboot of a series that I don't think really needed rebooting, to live up to the fond memories of the Summer of Brian.

I pointed this out to Martin Slater, studio director at developer 2K Canberra, in a roundabout way.

XCOM, the XCOM being shown at E3 that looks and plays like a shooter, seems like a pretty great game, but it doesn't seem like an X-Com game. X-Com, pre dash omission and pre-reboot, was a game played floating above the action, looking down at your field agents. It was a game of pacing, of tactics, of turns.

If you're going to change the game so completely, I asked Slater, why bother using the name XCOM anymore, even if you remove that dash?

Slater talked about how his team and 2K Marin, which is also developing the title, looked at the core experiences of the original X-Com games, how they plucked from those games the notion of fear and terror, of surprise and going up against the unknown.

Yes, yes, I got that, but I still don't get the name. It's a solid looking game, I tell Slater, but not an X-Com looking game. Finally, seemingly exasperated with the repetitive nature of my questions, Slater snaps back.

"We believe this is an XCOM game," he says. "That's the bottom line.

"We hope the old school gamers who love the original are going to understand this is XCOM."

And that's what I wanted to hear, I think, deep down, that Slater wasn't just echoing what others had told him, that he understands that this XCOM was tapping into an all together different sort of fear of the unknown among a certain set of gamers.

While I'm not completely ready to accept that my X-Com, the X-Com of a long summer punctuated by hoagies and beer, bears more than a passing resemblance to the new XCOM, I am willing to wait and see.

I have to admit, some of what I saw at E3 did recall those days of gaming in the '90s. The game certainly looks new and improved. The command centre of the original X-Com games, shown as a series of charts and graphs floating over a rotating Earth, is now a place with a physical presence. You can walk around in this command centre, visit the guy who makes the weapons, talk to a lady with an armful of manila folders, each representing a mission.

And that works, not just because it's more visually pleasing, or because it adds character and personality to the game, but because it seems easier to navigate.

The missions see the biggest change of course. As with the original X-Com titles, you have to decide which missions you want to take on. There is a unspoken tension behind your decisions. In the world of XCOM, you are part of the government but don't have much of a budget. Money, instead, comes from those missions and you ability to collect new technology and resources.

The mission itself plays as a first-person shooter. There are some elements of the original X-Com hinted at in the gameplay. You do, for instance, have some agents along with you. Though it looked as if you don't have any direct control over them.

Slater said that the agents can progress and that they are "critical to your success in the misson". But he declined to elaborate.

The mission I watched started in a typical 1950s suburban neighbourhood. The agents arrived to a suspiciously quiet street, a car stopped in the middle of the road, door ajar.

The player-controlled agent, William Carter, opened a paper map to show the surrounding area and where the 911 call, which triggered the mission, came from.

Walking down the street toward the home, the agents spotted a trail of what appeared to be tar. Carter pulls out a camera to take pictures of the trail for research back at the lab.

Following the trail up a grassy hill next to a house, a few black blobs jump out and then disappear around the home, dodging fire from the two other agents.

Inside the home the agents are attacked by these giant tar-like blogs. While blasting them with a shotgun can eventually take one out, make-shift bombs which set them on fire, do a much better job of killing them.

Carter also has a lightning gun with him that can quickly kill off a blog.

One of the neat things about the battle is that the blobs don't just look different, they behave differently as well. Instead of hopping around on the ground and moving between rooms, these blobs attach to the ceiling, bounce off walls, seep through the floors and even going into the pipe of the house through the sink.

Eventually, though, they're taken out.

Outside of the house a portal forms in the sky, and a pillar slowly appears out of it. The pillar then falls apart and reforms to become a spaceship. The ship shoots beams of white light at the agents. When it finally connects with one the agent breaks apart into hundreds of little bits of light and dissipate. It's an uncanny, spectacular site.

The original X-Com delivered its suspense and scares by only allowing you to see the enemies on the map that were in the line of sight of your agents. This XCOM, it seems, delivers that fear through spectacular effects, surprising creatures and unnerving attacks.

So in that sense the game makes good on its promise to live up the X-Com name. What I didn't see, and what still worries me, is any real use of tactics in this game.

Slater says that XCOM will give gamers strategic and fast-paced gameplay, but I only saw the second and the first is the thing that will really help set this title apart from the glut of top-shelf first-person shooters all headed to consoles next year.


Comments

    I think people need to be happy that there's an XCOM anything after Interceptor and Enforcer.

    After those two titles your fond memories of the franchise have already been ruined, on the bright side a developer with talent and a budget have gotten behind it.

    I heard all the angst about fallout 3 long before it came out, the same fanboys failed to accept that interplay and its management had driven the series into the ground and canceled van buren (the planned fallout 3) with quick cash in tripe like FO:Brotherhood of Steel long before Bethesda elevated it back to Game of the Year pedigree.

    I liked the originals, If I want to play them again I can, If I'm going to spend money on something new I want it to feel new.

    It's not the same. I sick and tired of people trying to defend these choices. Fallout 3 had the same angst thrown at it yet they still continued and made a game that was distinctly not fallout.
    These people fail to understand the true essence of the original games. I don't want to walk around the base and talk to the guy making the weapons, I want to command the base by drop down menus with decent management options. I want stats and other data displayed in charts and graphs. I want to customize my squads with the best gear for the mission and play out said mission by controlling the battlefield from an isometric/top down perspective and rely on the skills of my men and my guidance to complete the mission.

    Take a leaf out of Blizzards book and make a sequel the way the fans want it like the move from starcraft 1 to 2. True dedication to the fans.

    This game will most likely be a solid game, but just fluffing call it something else because this game is not X-com.

      That makes sense assuming companies that develop and publish games work solely for the art of it, with unlimited resources and don't care if it sells or finds a market as long as they keep the vocal minority happy.

      Times have changed, if fallout 3 was still a top down isometric game released now, I'm sure it would have a cult following and the fan seal of approval.
      But would I be anticipating further games in the series to be made?
      Probably not.

      Again if you want the same game that was released 15 years ago with a fresh lick of paint you are better off with the mods community or replaying the original.

      Siting Blizzard as giving the fans what they want is akin to creating a machine that will beat the dead horse and while causing it to shoot money out of its flayed corpse.
      Sure they will if it makes them a boat load of money!

      Back to the original point, how much did XCOM interceptor and XCOM Enforcer have to do with the original in gameplay context?

      Whatever the result it will be better executed and will be able to stand on its own merits.

      Maybe the sentiment is right and the XCOM IP should be left to the the nostalgia of fandom that it can never appease.

    “We believe this is an XCOM game,” he says. “That’s the bottom line. “We hope the old school gamers who love the original are going to understand this is XCOM.”

    Well, here's what we say: BULLSHIT. You can say the sky is green if you like, but that doesn't make it any more true.

    You want to know why they insist this is XCOM? Because XCOM (or X-com) is rightfully famous and beloved and the developers believe they can plug their FPS through name association alone. It MAY turn out to be a good game, but the blatant dishonestly of the developers is leaving a REALLY bad taste in my mouth which is negatively colouring all my perceptions of it.

    I think people who bitch about this sort of thing should shut up. It's the same as the fallout thing. "OH THEY"VE CHANGED THINGS!!!" So what? Things change all the time. Your old games are still on the shelf. Go play them.

    Soooo... another game where you shoot stuff with bullets?

    is no one going to mention the awesomeness that is ufo alien invasion?!?!!!

    http://ufoai.ninex.info/wiki/index.php/News

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