At Long Last; a Worthy X-COM Title

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At Long Last; a Worthy X-COM Title

X-COM over the Years

Nearly two decades ago, I became addicted, terrified and completely transfixed by my first video game. I spent countless hours cooped up in the computer room trying to find a way to triumph over the game. It is the first time that I can remember that I was so focused on the video game that a rather innocuous in-game event startled and proceeded to scare the utter bejeezus out of me. This game was X-COM: UFO Defense which came out in 1994 and was purchased by myself probably within the first year it was released.If I recall correctly, it was a pretty casual purchase. I saw the game at my local computer store and plopped down my hard-earned money from one of my restaurant-industry minimum wage jobs thinking, What the heck, this sounds fun. I could not have been more correct. What followed was hours upon hours of challenging, thoughtful and entertaining gameplay. Over the years, I played X-COM: UFO Defense well beyond the point it was obsolete.

Over the years I have contemplated on what I think the best video games of all time are. Between types of games and the amazing advances made possible by constant hardware advancement, it has always been difficult to compare these games and list them. However, I cannot imagine that X-COM: UFO Defense is likely to be topped by many games at all. It was and still is a tremendous blend of strategy, action, suspense and difficulty.

This made the following years pretty difficult. There was a pretty disappointing sequel, XCOM: Terror from the Deep shortly after XCOM, which was not received as well and quickly gathered dust on bookshelves to be disregarded for other titles. As I churned through different video games, I hoped that another game would grab hold of me like X-COM: UFO Defense. From time to time, I would hear or read rumors about the next X-COM game, but those always wound up being a massive let-down when those plans were either cancelled or the game released really was not comparable to the original title.

Screenshots from the Original X-COM: UFO Defense



Imagine my delight and surprise when I signed into Steam a month or so ago to see a XCOM: Enemy Unknown as a featured game recommendation for me. After reading a few encouraging reviews but not too many, I picked up a copy for myself.

What is XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

In my own words, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not really a sequel, but more of a new take on the original title. The basic concept of the game is the same: aliens are waging the beginning of an invasion on Earth. Governments band together to fight the invasion; your funding depends on how well you respond to the invasion. If you have poor results, countries drop out and take their funding with them. At the same time you are recovering, researching, duplicating and using alien technologies to fight back the invasion.

Combat against the aliens takes place as a turn-based strategy. You control a squad of soldiers whose responsibility involves eradicating the invaders. A soldier can only perform so many moves in a single turn, plus there are a number of between-turn actions such as Overwatch that you may want to use to protect your squad during the alien’s turn. The soldiers under your command improve as they gain experience, learning new skills and specialties along the way.

The ultimate goal of the game is to turn the tide and take the fight to source of the aliens invasion. This is opened up as you progress through the missions and research goals laid out for you.

What is Different and New about XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

Since it is a re-imagination, there are some wrinkles to the new title that I wanted to mention specifically. These are tweaks that are different between the original version and this new version. For almost each of these changes I understand the concept behind the change; if I were a purist I might be a bit disappointed, but in general these changes are things that I wound up liking.

  • Smaller Battles: The size of the various battles seems to have shrunk by a bit. The maximum size of your squad has been reduced, the amount of territory that needed to be covered has shrunk, and the number of aliens needing eradicating has dropped. In the original game, I cannot tell you how many hours I wound up spending hunting down that one last alien who seemed to have way more movement ability than my soldiers did. Often times, when chasing these aliens down, I lost soldiers along the way, which was always frustrating. I am not sure how I felt about this change. While I appreciated not having to waste a bunch of times exploring an expansive terrain sometimes I also felt that I would have preferred a more expansive scene to conquer.
  • No more Ammunition: One of the things that frustrated the heck out of me in the original game was the fact that you not only had to research and build the weapons, but also ammunition. Whenever I had weapons powerful enough to fight the aliens, I did not have enough materials to keep those weapons in play. The fact that I did not have enough materials to make the ammunition is probably a reflection of my poor game-play but I always felt that it was a little too much of micro-managing. I do not mind taking a turn to reload the soldier’s weapon, but I always minded having to make sure each soldier has enough spare clips in their inventory to make it to the end of the battle.
  • Psi-linkage of Aliens to their Weapons: In the original X-COM, you recovered weapons from the dead corpses of aliens. Your soldiers could then use those weapons, even if you had not yet researched that particular weapons technology. I remember many times picking up weapons off of dead aliens and using them immediately against the aliens. Sure, I could not manufacture the ammo (see above), but they helped even things out early on when my poor little rookie soldiers were getting massacred by the advanced weaponry. To fix this in the latest X-COM game, weapons are linked to their owners and self-destruct if the owner is killed. This was rough in two regards; you can’t even out the playing field when the aliens have a massive weaponry advantage early on, and secondly, if you want to research that technology you had to capture and keep the aliens alive. Capturing a live alien is no small feat, and requires a bit of risk and luck on your point. It took me a few missions before I captured my first alien and I wound up losing one or two decent soldiers along the way.
  • Only One Base: In the first rendition, you provided coverage to additional countries by building bases on different continents. Each of those bases was a huge drain on your budget because you had to build a big enough base to house the hangars and whatever ancillary facilities were needed. In the latest game, you build up your coverage by basically purchasing hangar space from different countries and launching satellites to cover the region. Of the two approaches I am not sure which I prefer. It seemed to be easier to cover the globe and reduce panic in the latest X-COM game than it ever was in the original.

Videos

There are a few great videos and tons of screenshots available on the Steam, YouTube and across the Internet. I hunted down the trailer and some game play videos. Please feel to provide links to your X-COM: Enemy Unknown material down in the comments section.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown Trailer

X-COM: Enemy Unknown Game Play Video

Conclusion

I was very excited to buy, download and play X-COM: Enemy Unknown. I have racked up over a hundred hours of game play. And unlike the original, I did something in X-COM: Enemy Unknown that I was never capable of doing in the original: I completed the final mission. As with all sequels, there were some aspects of the new game that did not quite measure up to the first game, but there were many areas in which X-COM: Enemy Unknown surpassed the original. If you were a fan of the first, I am pretty confident that you will enjoy the second. If you had not heard of X-COM before its release, I think you will ease right in and enjoy X-COM: Enemy Unknown much to the same extent that I enjoyed X-COM: UFO Defense back in the day. All in all, this is a worthy reboot of a game that was practically perfect in the first place.

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