XCOM Isn't A Horror Game, But It Sure Does Feel Like One

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn based strategy game...or is it? While I acknowledge that I am a grade-A wuss in all things frightening, XCOM can still feel scary -- almost like a horror game.

You're incredibly vulnerable, for starters. Regardless of how much I upgrade, the alien threat is always capable of destroying me. So I urgently seek out cover -- but even behind full cover, I can feel myself tensing up whenever it's the alien's turn. I don't feel safe, how could I? Cover doesn't guarantee anything, and my soldiers -- modelled after people I care about! -- aren't coming back if they die.

Unless the Chryssalids get to them. Then your soldiers might be screwed. The spider-like creature doesn't just kill its victims. It impregnates them with a Chryssalid egg, which can then take over the host. That host might be your best friend or something, but guess what: you have to put the poor sod down now. Because if you don't? A Chryssalid hatchling will burst out of your soldier's body. Gruesome. Some fates are worse than death indeed.

But that's not as bad as the hair-raising Cyberdisk unravelling its simple saucer to reveal an elaborate mechanical creature, now looming menacingly above your soldier. Suddenly your soldier feels tiny. Suddenly you feel tiny. And that thing hasn't even blasted its high-powered weapons yet.

But the back and forth of a firefight isn't as terrifying as everything that happens before it. You start off matches with locales that once held people, but are now haunted by a dark navy fog of war haze. Sometimes you're navigating those empty, eerie streets for entire minutes -- but you know that the aliens are lurking somewhere in those shadows. You don't know where, but you know they're there.

If nothing else, the unnerving screeches and guttural animal sounds before the alien's turn tells you they're waiting for you. That enemy that's bioengineering abominations, that enemy that's kidnapping humans and using them for god knows what, that enemy that can bring the dead back to life...that enemy is waiting for you.

It almost feels like they're waiting for you to accidentally put yourself in a compromising position, and the inability to see ahead thanks to the fog of war doesn't help that. If you happen to cross into the enemy's vision, they are immediately granted a turn that they can use to better position themselves.

It's difficult not to feel like you're screwed for just coming into contact with your enemy, even though you're there to eliminate the alien threat. This is especially true if you discover the aliens on your final soldier's turn, because it's like the aliens are granted two turns in a row -- one for discovery, and one their actual turn. It kind of doesn't feel fair.

So I play the game as if paranoia was my guardian angel. I gotta make sure I don't let any one soldier stray too far from the group. Stay close, stay safe. I overwatch like crazy, on the lookout for whatever is sifting through the shadows. I almost feel like that crazy person in horror movies that nobody believes when they start talking about the dangers of that thing out there. But I just want to keep myself alive, man.


Comments

    Bizarrely I've only faced Chryssalids in a single mission in my second runthrough (Classic Ironman), just for one terror mission. All the other terror missions have been filled with Mutons. I do indeed fill my britches when Cyberdiscs show up... they just don't die aaaargh! And I just met my first Sectopod... if my snipers can't see it (I love you double tap!), then it's time to run like the wind...

      Agreed, Sectopods are class-A bastards.

        Heh, the first thing I thought when she was mentioning Chryssalids & Cyberdiscs was that she'd clearly not met the walking murder machine that is the sectopod

    Yep. Two snipers with double tap and seeing through other peoples sights saves my ass constantly. And sectopods suck so hard.

    It's kind of interesting that the author assumes that because it's a turn-based strategy game, that rules it out from being a horror game. TBS is just a mode of play, horror is a genre and XCOM is one of the better examples of survival horror. TFTD was my first introduction to the series and playing it as a kid, there were quite a lot of times when I would really get into it and literally jump when an alien suddenly appeared during my turn or theirs. Then I started encountering Lobstermen and Tentaculats and fear took on a whole new meaning.

    I recently learned that mutons throw grenades - when two of my guys were a little bunched up. THE HORROR!

      Yeah, I just found that out the hard way a few days back, too.

      What's killing me is that I think I'm going to have to shitcan my game and start over. Just can't get enough engineers to build any of the better tech I've researched. Losing all the hours I've put in is one thing, but losing all my guys and starting over with a new bunch... I just can't bring myself to do it yet :-(

        Not enough space to build more workshops? I was stuck for engineers until I discovered that the main way you get more

          Not enough engineers to build another workshop :( Seriously... I've got like 13 engineers, need 15 to build that second workshop. Don't know why I've got so few... just never seem to get any as rewards for missions. Tend to get either money or scientists. I've got scientists coming out of my ****, but can't get a bloody engineer to save my life.

        Gotta link those workshops, friend.

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