gamescom 2012: XCOM: Enemy Unknown Preview
Re-hashing a cult classic is something of an oddity these days. Sure, games like Tomb Raider are being given a rather necessary re-boot but these are not historic franchises that have been laying dormant for over a decade. The art of creating something fresh and unique whilst simultaneously appeasing an older-aged fan base set in their ways is a challenging task, which can potentially murder a studio’s creditably… *cough*Duke Nukem*cough*.
When the first screens of 2K’s first-person adaptation of XCOM showed up on the interwebs it was met with a collective gasp and sigh from some of the franchises’ core fanbase. It was understandable, due to the lack of traditional enemies, core gameplay and removed setting. While I was more than willing to give the game a fair crack of the whip some mastermind, locked away somewhere in 2K towers, thought of the genius idea of appeasing the older fans by letting their mates Firaxis create an up to date downloadable re-imaging, based on the original games.
For those of you who have never played the first iteration of XCOM, the premise for this isometricly viewed turn-based strategy game revolves around an alien invasion of earth. You are placed in charge of the XCOM unit; the planet’s last line of defence who must defeat the enemy by managing resources, building up your base and researching advanced alien technologies. Each mission starts with your team of mercenaries being dropped into a combat area, shrouded by “fog of war”: a black out of the surrounding area akin to a Command and Conquer map. The player must then navigate the location, clearing the zone of enemies or completing objectives. You and your enemies progress around the map, utilising two action points per turn; these allow a singular zonal movement and smaller weapon fire or one large movement, and this includes moving your character large distances or firing a heavy weapon. The game actively encourages the use of cover (most items have a health bar) and you can also climb buildings, giving you a better vantage point and tactical positioning.
Your headquarters essentially double as the hub of the in-game menu; from here you can customise your soldiers, apply research goals and select your next mission. You are also given a chance to help various countries across the globe by adhering to their requests and accepting missions. Ignore certain countries too much and their population will begin to panic and thus refuse to fund you – ultimately you must spread yourselves as evenly as possible to gain the most benefits.
One unfortunate nugget of information I managed to prise away from developers is that this version of the game will not have random base attacks on your many satellite bases; in fact it doesn’t even have multiple bases, just one. This may be sad news for fans of the series but after a bit of thought the older battles took place on a very Space Invader-esq battle screen. To appealingly pull this forward to today’s generation would be incredibly taxing, especially for a downloadable game.
Still, with greater technology comes improved functionality and Firaxis have exploited this by incorporating an online multiplayer mode. You are given a set amount of points to spend on weapons, powers and armour across your split team of alien and humans. This can equate to having a large team of close combat, weak skilled swam characters or two to three double hard bastards doled up to the nines with mind control abilities, sniper rifles and jet packs. Choosing a well balanced team is a must and strategy is the name of the game. The only problem I had with this great addition is timing; on each turn you are given 120 seconds to make all of your moves. This can be boring for the quick-fix console generation and it probably is just me being an impatient git but still, this could put some people off. Regardless, be it creating traps or out-flanking the enemy, Firaxis have shaped something which utilises a bucket of cunning and skill, whilst being entertaining and utterly addictive. The best way I can describe it is chess… chess with explosions.
I am genuinely excited about getting my grubby little mits on this game when it comes out later this year. I’m sure fans of old will be pleasantly surprised – hopefully other people who may normally be put off by the game’s style and genre will also want to give it a go.