I own a heck of a lot of games, and as a result I tend to play only a very short amount of any random one before the next one comes along. While I would like to get over this and finish more of the games I own, in the meantime I have started Snap Judgement to make use of the impressions I get from the start of a game. I do believe that the start of a game is one of it’s most important parts, and if it doesn’t catch you, then even if the end of it is awesome, you’re not likely to continue on. Hopefully my comments and opinions will help someone on the fence about trying a game!
Amount Played for Review: ~6 hours
Platform: PC (Steam)
Among the countless game franchises that exist in the industry, there are few that have the same level of fan love (and nostalgia) as X-Com. Notorious for being brutally hard, even with a bug that locked the game on Easy, X-Com has earned a place in the hearts of many gamers. People who make it clear how they feel about any use of the brand (I wonder where they were for Enforcer and Interceptor, though…). So, it comes to no surprise that there was quite the outcry about 2K’s other XCOM reboot (exasperated by the fact that their PR teams entirely bungled presenting what that game even IS), and why there was tempered relief about news from Firaxis that they were also making a new XCOM strategy game.
To put it simply, Firaxis did a great job at taking what made the original X-Com tick, and then modernizing it for today’s audiences. Soldiers are SLIGHTLY sturdier (though not by much; a good comparison would be to the default armour soldiers got in Apocalypse), they can take cover on the battlefield for defense bonuses, Action Points have been simplified into discrete actions, equipment management has been streamlined, and more. It lets you get down to the business of killing aliens without distractions.
Distractions you can’t afford to have. You need all these improvements because otherwise your soldiers will be coming home in a bag. Right from the start, the game throws your mostly untrained soldiers against vicious aliens who have way more firepower then you. And before you can get your research up to bring you on par with that, the game has already stepped up the stakes, sending much more powerful aliens, more often. It’s always a game of catching up.
It’s also a game of trade-offs. Everything from the powers you can choose when a soldier levels up to what missions you can take are a matter of managing trade-offs. The most up-front is the typical alien abduction missions. When these trigger, you get a choice of 3 locations that are under attack, and you can only save one. Each location offers various rewards for taking that mission, but the most important one is that the panic level of the country to choose to help will go down, but the panic of the other countries will go up. And if a country’s panic level gets too high, they’ll choose to leave the XCOM program entirely. If half of the countries in the XCOM program pull out, the operation shuts down entirely, and it’s game over.
Even your base is a sequence of trade-offs. You only have one base in XCOM, unlike previous games (though you can house your interceptors in generic hangars all over the world), and so space is limited. As well, the game provides incentives to build the base in certain ways, as like facilities put next to each other give an increased effect.
Now, one trade-off that Firaxis made is that your squad starts off at only 4 soldiers, and can be upgraded to a maximum of 6 soldiers, well under the maximum size of a team from X-Com. But with the higher average survivbility and firepower of your team in XCOM, it evens out. Speaking of your soldiers, at the start of the game you get your typical rookie, but when they get promoted to Squaddie, they get assigned one of 4 classes: Heavy (LMG and rockets), Assault (shotguns, rifles and front-line fighting), Sniper (sniper rifles and long-range fighting) and Support (buff and healing). Each class has their own set of talents, typically a choice of two at any given rank.
For example, an Assault can choose to either take bonus defense for each enemy they can see, or take bonus critical chance for each enemy they can see. Or a Sniper can choose to have the ability to move and shoot with their rifles (they can’t normally), or have the ability to take advantage of any ally’s line of sight in order to engage an enemy. The abilities trade off of each other at each rank very well, and generally make for an interesting choice.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an X-Com game without research. And there’s a good amount of it, all of which having great writeups to go alongside. Typically things that involve “We could have studied this for years, but we don’t have the time, so, uh… here!” And of course, once you research stuff, you also have the ability to produce it as well. In XCOM, they streamlined the resources a fair bit, having things generally require only alien alloys, fragments from their weapons, or Elerium (though some special things may need intact UFO power sources or nav computers). Most of these only come from alien UFOs, making those missions a high priority, and also introducing even more trade-offs. Do you want to spend your limited number of alloys on making new laser weapons, or on making the new armour? Thankfully the game gives you back all of a soldier’s gear should they perish (at least, if you’re not playing on Impossible), but it still means you have to work with limited gear.
And as mentioned, even with improved gear, your forces are fragile. It’s tough to go out there on a mission and have that soldier you spent so many missions building up get eviscerated by a chryssalid, or blasted by some Muton’s plasma rifle. Especially if it was because you stretched yourself a little too far. And to help drive the point home, they even have a memorial board (complete with bagpipe music) set up in the barracks so you can see all your soldiers who died during the war.
All in all, XCOM is a worthy entry into this long line of games. If you have a hankering for saving the Earth from the hordes of brutal aliens, then XCOM is certainly a game for you. I’ve also been hearing that, as the game was also developed for consoles, that handling the game using a 360 controller also works very well, and in fact makes some of the controls a little less awkward. I’ve found a few times that the game gets confused about where exactly I’m pointing my cursor at, though it usually fixes itself if you scroll up or down the layers.
The story is a little thin, but that’s only in comparison to modern strategy games. And not even in comparison to past Firaxis titles. It’s far more then you got from X-Com in the past, and works perfectly well enough to let it be YOUR story. The tale of how you and a rag-tag group of soldiers saved the planet from impossible odds… or died trying.
Giant Bomb – Quick Look