XCOM Isn't Dumbed Down For Consoles, It's Smartened Up

Every time a classic PC game is moved over to consoles, we tend to hear the same worries: It's been dumbed down; it's oversimplifed, rendered toothless and worthless. When XCOM: Enemy Unknown was released on both PC and consoles, it would have been easy to jump to the same conclusions.

And in many ways, XCOM has indeed been greatly simplified when compared to its PC predecessor. You'll only have one base, only a few mission variants, and most crucially, action points have been removed. But the end result isn't a dumber, casual-friendly version of the X-Com we all know and love. From top to bottom, it's a smarter, more economical and gripping game. Firaxis somehow managed to keep the essence of XCOM while still making it simple enough to be managed with a controller.

When I first started up the preview code of Enemy Unknown, I just thought of it as a PC game. I didn't really think through how a controller would work, or think much about the console versions at all. However, I'd moved my PC over to the TV to play that game's super good PC version on the big screen. I wanted to play XCOM, so I figured I'd try it with a controller. I was amazed.

This game works just fine with a controller, which makes me happy to recommend it to anyone, regardless of platform. (This is good, because I like recommending XCOM to everyone I possibly can.) In fact, some aspects of the game work better with a controller, particularly the finicky grenade-throwing and level-switching.

The key is that the most complicated machinations take place in your brain and aren't represented by on-screen nomenclature. In what order should I move my team? Can I damage this enemy enough that an un-covered attack will kill it? Shall I heal first, then move, or move, then heal? When should my team reload?

In this smart, spot-on article at Gamespy, Rob Zacny breaks down the way XCOM's strategy works, and how, in his words, "Granularity isn't greatness." Zacny points out that as much as he likes the moves granular systems let him pull in games like X-Com: UFO Defense and Jagged Alliance 2, there's actually a point of diminishing returns for granularity. In reality, he tends to think in broader strokes like the ones represented in Enemy Unknown.

XCOM:EU may be simpler, but the problems I'm using its tools to solve are as thorny as those I've encountered in more hardcore wargames. You can move and take an action, or you can move far and take no action. This is pretty much the same choice I face 95% of the time in a wargame. The difference is that XCOM:EU expresses it simply as a "run, or take a smaller move and shoot." A more "serious" game expresses the same dilemma as "use 13 points for movement and crouch for 1, or use 6 points for movement and take a shot for 8." XCOM:EU never wants you to spend your time worrying about those numbers and counting spaces; it just wants you to move from tradeoff to tradeoff. That might give you less freedom and fine control over your troops, but it also means that XCOM:EU moves along as a great pace, as opposed to the occasional tedium that could mire Jagged Alliance and old X-COM.

I'm right there with Zacny — I'm amazed at how complex and smart XCOM is, whether I've got a mouse and keyboard in my hand, or a controller.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the Alleged "Dumbing Down" of Strategy Games [GameSpy]


Comments

    The only thing that i don't like is the enemy could be more aggressive. Don't often chase you, have to find them first.

      I think that depends on some sort of variable, my first play through was like that, my current one I am constantly being assaulted. I just wish I knew what kind of map before squad selection

    and it plays similar to tabletop games like Warmachine! :D

    Besides, X-COM is a turn based game. "Dumbing down" for consoles doesn't make sense since there's no precision or twitch movements you would need a mouse to achieve. It's not about aiming at him first, it's about wondering whether I can take out that enemy and how much at risk I am at a counter attack or if I should let him go, which might give him a chance to regroup and fight back stronger then before but allow me to buckle down for the counter attack.

      Except the enemy almost never regroups which is probably my biggest gripe with the AI, they will almost always take insurmountable odds over retreat

        It is strange that you say that. For me I quite often will kill one or two enemies to have the others fall back and ambush me as I push forward. My troops even comment that the enemy is retreating.

          Not saying they dont retreat, I just find it very rare, and often it is to no avail, they will retreat maybe 3 squares to become fodder for my next phase.

            What difficulty are you playing on? I'm wondering if the AI gets any smarter on the higher levels? I'm still on my first play through on normal so I haven't had a chance to compare it with the harder difficulty settings.

    Actually the game is quite dumbed down. Playing through on the hardest mode on my first try... Apart from a small period at the beginning when I thought I was about to lose 3 countries (didnt understand how Satellites worked straight away) I've had little to no trouble through my play through. At first I thought they had done a fantastic job of bringing X-Com into the modern generation of gaming. Then small things started to nag me - The aliens in missions only become active when you come across them. If you just take each mission slowly, you should never have more than 3 aliens (unless you accidentally activate more than one group). This totally kills the suspense of the original game where aliens could (and did) move around like you did in the alien activity phase. Another thing that totally ruins the game for me, is the % thing means jack all. It became apparent to me in one mission where I saved before my shot, that everything was pre-determined. I had this shot on an alien that was 85% chance to hit. I must've saved and loaded over 100 times, and no matter where i moved, etc I could not hit this alien. After looking into it, i found online that Firaxis admitted that everything is pre dertemined prior to the battle. I get why they did it (to prevent people save/loading through the game, which is what I do lol) but it totally takes out the feeling that it's actually down to chance.. Hard to express what I'm trying to say but yeah, it ruins it a bit for me. Also the story of the game seems to hold your hand. In the original when you found out stuff like getting to their final base etc, that was through your own research randomly, not through someone going OMG RESEARCH THIS... Also I hate how the game holds you back,, in the originals if you were researching and ontop of things, you could be owning shit up with super weps and armor while still very early on. Due to the way you get engineers in the game (you cant get more engineers + workshops... without getting more engineers lol), you're literally held back by the game from getting to far ahead with your equipment... YARGH!! Meh.. Im still enjoying it... but id give it. 7/10 maybe? I'm keen on a sequel thats for sure. THis one has no replayability for me though sadly.. But oh well :)

      Shame on you for trying to save/load through the game. Are you talking about where they use a seed value to prevent that? It doesn't mean that things are predetermined, it means that spot in the random table they are using is recorded to specifically stop save/load before each action.

      Your points about the way aliens activate are valid, but save/load... try iron man next time.

      it has been quite transparent that accuracy is seeded at the start of a turn, not when the shot is taken and not when the game starts, it is still quite random. The only way to change the seed is with another ability (using suppression on a target will change the seed for every other member).

      Ruddaga , seeds don't quite that way. It means that the random numbers are predetermined not your actions. Instead of trying to shoot 100 times why not try hunkering down ?
      BTW save / loading is lame (unless you wipe completely )

        Yes I know Save / Loading is lame. This particular case I'm referring to the soldier in question was the one named after myself and my highest soldier. Tell me none of you re load your game if your main soldier dies lol And how i know it's pre dertermined prior to the whole match, is I did this same scenario 100 times, in which I had 3 soldiers trying to kill the Sectoid commander at the end of the first base mission, and each time the result was always the same, and this wasn't just one shot, this battle went for about 4-5. Ignoring that, I made some other points as well apart from the save / load one that you guys didnt comment on :P

          Every single one of my original soldiers is dead. And most of the second-wave replacements. Ironman is where it's at!

            lol..... true that. my point is it doesnt have the replayability as the originals... this makes me sad

              I think it's replayability is what you make of it. I got a lot of "replay" in the original trying to beat it. When I finally did, I played again and again because it was fun.

              This version is maybe a bit easier, but that's only because they've taken out the clunky rubbish that could trip you up for no good reason - not because the spirit of the gameplay itself is different.

                Like stamina, DAMN I hated stamina in the original, it was wonky as all hell and had no clear mechanism for replenishment.

                Had I been designing the new one, I'd have added stamina but I'd have made it simple so it only went down when you were hit or dashed & you could replenish it by sitting still for a turn

                  I think you regained stamina at a set number of points per turn, faster if you crouched. Buggered if I remember now.

          The results of the battle are not predetermined at the start and neither is your hit percentage (the % value you see IS still the determining factor for whether you will hit or not).

          The way random numbers work in software is this: The current system time is taken and converted into a number, this is known as the "seed". When you want a random number, the seed is run through a calculation and the result is the random number. The random number then becomes the NEW seed, and the next random number is calculated off that. What this means is that if you start with the same seed, you will always get the same sequence of numbers, in the exact same order.

          The only thing determined at the start of battle is the seed number, not the results. For instance, the seed chosen may end up giving you the following sequence of numbers:

          25, 84, 11, 52, 70

          I'm a programmer, and to me the simplest way to code it would be so that if the random number (out of 100) is higher than the displayed hit percentage, then it's a miss. So, if you started the battle and by the 5th turn you'd only moved close enough to the enemy so that the hit chance was 60%, you'd miss. If you reloaded to just before you shot it would continue to miss every time (the seed is stored in the save). If you reloaded and moved CLOSER though, bringing the hit chance up to 80%, it would hit.

          Sorry for the long winded explanation but I've seen a lot of people on the net complaining and claiming that the random number generator is bugged, but it's simply not true. It's just that the seed doesn't get refreshed when you load the game, so that people can't exploit by saving/loading constantly.

      Sounds like you're playing with the tutorial activated. Also if you look into the predetermined side of it, it isn't that the % to hit is meaningless.

      The original game is one of my all time favourites and I played that and Terror from the deep over and over, in fact I still run emulations of them on my macbook and I think Firaxis have done well with this reboot.

      My main problem is the texture loading on the 360 and the strange bugs I seem to experience. I am keen for an update and also to see what DLC will become available :)

      I lost Germany before I realised how the satellited worked too! Glad I'm not the only one who missed it.

    The ability of the aliens to see and shoot through walls/shipping containers/trains is charming too. A pre-determined move I came across was where I moved one of my guys behind a boulder - one of the energy guys in the crashed UFO managed to see him looking sideways through the UFO wall from the door through the boulder and get a fatal shot in. I thought it was a glitch, so re-loaded - happened every time I moved that unit to that square. Bunch of arse. The X-COM-esque game done by that independent studio that was released on Steam last year (can't remember the name) was much better - those guys did a great job of faithfully modernising the original game.

    leave it to kotaku to pander to the lowest common denominator

    Definitely is a dumber game. Kind of bored of it already. The music doesn't do Xcom justice. Its too heroic and happy.

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