Genre: Strategy Developer: Firaxis Games Publisher: 2K Games Classification: MA15+ Release Date: 11th Oct 2012 Platforms:
Average of 5 Ratings
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When I first began playing XCOM I knew people would die, but I wasn't particularly bothered. I thought it would be fun to name people after my close friends and family. You can customise every single soldier you get - their sex and nationality is final, but you can change their race, hair style and color, face structure and armour design however you please. It's up to you. So I spent a good five minutes on each of my soldiers, making them look like myself, my friends and my family. Naturally, I was the first to die.
I was prepared for people to die, but I wasn't prepared at all for the impact their deaths would have. Not on the game - recruits are cheap and plentiful - but on me. I laughed when I died, but when my sister died in the following mission, I felt awful. I just got my sister killed. When my mum, dad and brothers and friends followed in the next couple of missions, I was stunned.
I guess I could have nannied them through with liberal use of quick save, but apart from being cheap, it wasn't in the spirit of the game. People die in XCOM - that might as well be written on the front of the box. It's the message you learn from the beginning, during the game's heavily scripted tutorial - everyone dies. I'm not saying you should give it to toddlers before Grandma passes on, but they'd get the point pretty quickly if you did.
That emotional impact didnít disappear when I stopped making my soldiers resemble my family and friends and just changed their name either, nor did it change when I named them after fellow writers here at GameArena or characters from Arrested Development. While working hard on personalising my troops did have a greater impact when they died, I also found myself attached to the units themselves - so when I sent them through the door of an office block to their doom, I knew I had let them - and potentially Earth - down.
The premise of XCOM is simple - Aliens have invaded Earth and the international community has formed a special task force to combat the extraterrestrial menace. XCOM gets funding from across the world and in return must chase down alien lifeforms wherever they appear and take them out.
There are two different Ďmodesí to the game - management and combat. During the management phase, you take care of your XCOM base. At the beginning of the game, you choose a continent to operate from, gaining different bonuses depending on your choice. Australia isnít its own continent unfortunately - instead itís a part of Asia - but thatís just as well really - if you are trying to operate within a global community, it's usually a bad idea to go with the country that operates in the opposite timezone to everyone else.
The XCOM base is located underground and itís limited when you first move in, but by putting your engineers to work excavating you begin to increase its size. You also begin with limited expansion options, but as you play and your scientists research the alien technology your soldiers bring back from missions, your base slowly builds into something more grand and high tech.
You can build foundries to create advanced weaponry, containment cells to capture aliens alive and learn their secrets, advanced power stations capable of tremendous output and Psi labs to find soldiers with psychic abilities. Placement in your base involves strategy too, with different facilities gaining bonuses when placed together.
While research and engineering are the most important aspects of your base, itís important to pay attention to the Situation Room, where you manage your relationships with the outside world. Your alien adversaries rarely hit just one place at a time and when you choose to go to Argentina, China and Germany will not be happy. The panic level of their citizens rises and if you ignore a country too long they will pull their funding, reducing the amount of money coming into XCOM and making your job more difficult.
Every now and then you are tasked with something more than just wiping out the aliens in an area. Terror missions make a return, in which you have to rescue as many citizens as possible before the aliens kill them, along with missions to rescue important officials and army personnel. In these missions, wiping out the enemy is not enough - if you fail to rescue enough people you will increase the panic that country. This can make the somewhat random elements of combat incredibly frustrating, when you make it to the last turn of the mission only to watch your diplomat keel over from poisoning.
And so we come to combat. XCOM looks like a third person cover shooter, but it is a pure turn based strategy game. Each soldier begins life as a rookie - with no aptitude whatsoever, but once they level up they fit into one of the four available classes - Assault, Support, Sniper and Heavy - and you can probably guess how each of them works.
Assault are the best at general combat, with a moderate movement grid, able to carry either a shotgun or an assault rifle and, once up a few ranks, capable of some fancy shooting tricks. Support trade combat effectiveness for a larger movement grid and a skill set focused on using items like medkits and grenades.
Snipers have a small movement grid, but are - of course - capable of taking down enemies from great distance, beginning with limited options, but able to take down two or three enemies per turn once they hit the Colonel rank. Heavies are heavies, they carry around big machine guns and rocket launchers and use their massive firepower to suppress the enemy - and take them out.
Every shot you take has a percentage to hit depending on various factors. How close are you? Is there any cover obstructing your line of fire? Are you being suppressed at the moment? As you would expect, itís often not worthwhile taking a shot unless you have around a 70% chance to hit, although anything below a 100% chance naturally has a chance to miss. The aliens generally outnumber you and will often attempt to surround you however, so waiting for a 70% chance is not a luxury you tend to have. When a new enemy appears on the exposed flank of your only surviving medic, youíll start shooting whether you have a 71% chance or a 28% chance.
The aliens in XCOM range from the Ďlittle green mení of the Sectoids, through the Agent Smith style Thin Men and onto the tiny UFO Cyberdiscs and brutal Mutons and Berserkers. All have their strengths and weaknesses, although most of them lack the terrifying nature of aliens in the old X-Com games. I say most of them because of the Chryssalids - body horror style abominations equipped with four pincers for legs and capable of killing - and then raising - your team members in a single bite.
Where the original X-Com games saw you using rookies as meat shields for your better trained soldiers, doing so in XCOM is significantly less effective - and some old school X-Com fans may see that as a detriment. Instead of relying on the monsters to build tension however, XCOM relies on your attachment to your troops - with personalisation options increasing the sense of alarm when one of your troops comes close to death.
Certain other elements of XCOM increase the tension by several orders of magnitude, but ideally they wouldnít. The UI is... finicky, particularly with the mouse. Options sometimes take several clicks before registering your actions, or will decide you arenít quite positioned far enough over the exact center of the button - and there is a massive issue with multi-leveled environments.
Due to bugs which will hopefully be removed soon, you might attempt to send a soldier to the top floor of a building or some scaffolding, only to have the game decide you meant to send them into the completely uncovered area beneath. Sometimes it triggers the change when you choose where to move and at other times it flicks back and forth between the two options at the speed of sound. Either way, I canít imagine how I will explain it to Joab ĎGeormieí Gilroyís grieving family.
That said, if you enjoy strategy games you are bound to have a good time with XCOM. Itís a different beast to its predecessors, but itís incredibly addictive and easy to start playing at 4:00 and only realise you havenít moved since at 11:00. The way Firaxis have used personalisation to give you a sense of attachment to what are otherwise personality free characters is excellent and makes XCOM an excellent addition to any gamerís library.
Sad but true the PC variant of this thing has more bugs than an ant farm, with the mouse interaction being the worst. I'm convinced the action menu was done by a work experience guy it is plain awful.
Plays well the first few goes at getting it right which is when you realize that having OCD is an advantage, basically very repetitive game play. Move go "overwatch", repeat and aliens die. The only thing really complicated is maintaining a full compliment of countries and cash.