Sunday, November 18, 2012

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I bring great and dire news! First, the good news. XCOM is freaking awesome. Last, the bad news. The world's fate is in my hands, so you best all start fearing for your lives.

For those who don't know, XCOM is a reboot(that's what I'm calling it at least) of the old UFO: Enemy Unknown/X-Com:UFO Defense. And until recently, I had never really heard about this older series, which I've heard some say is the pinnical of PC gaming. My mind went into "caustiously optomistic" mode when I read a few reviews and saw gameplay videos of XCOM, with the niggling doubts consisting of "turn based strategy game".

Personally I've never been too big on turn based games. I see it as an odd way that people would fight, seeing as how if I were being mauled by rabid early RPG rats, there's no way I'm waiting in line to fight back. But I was gifted with it, so, might as well give it a go. Below is my playing experience.

8:00-ish AM

The sun is coming up, and I pop out of bed realizing my download must finally be finished. I boot up the game, and decide to start on normal, with the tutorial, and without Ironman mode turned on. Ironman mode apparently prevents you from ever loading a previous save for the game you are currently playing, committing you to every choice, move, and decision.

Now, the simple version of the game is this, you control a squad of people, sweeping through a small area, a city block or two, searching for the aliens you've been sent to defeat. You'll engage them in combat, where you can either move your people twice a piece, or move them once, and then have them attack. Once you've killed all the ETs, you'll head back to your base with whatever you've collected. You'll use these collected resources to research new items, train your soldiers, grow your base, launch satillites to keep an eye on other nations, and try to keep all the nations of the world happy.

Wait, what was that last part? Oh yes, what you're running is XCOM. XCOM is the collective forces of the nations of the world come together to prevent alien attacks. So you'll have to balance keeping all the world in check, else nations will begin to pull out of the Council of Nations, seeing as how you seem to care about them as much as you do the person with mildly annoying hiccups. This comes to a head during abduction missions, where you're given three different missions, in three different areas of the world of varying difficulty, and with different rewards. The thing is you can only do one of the three. So you'll be helping one nation, making them like you, while two others start to question you. Do this to a nation enough, and they'll pull out. I understand the reason for the choice, making you balance who you're assisting, but I feel it's very forced. Moving on.

11:00 AM

With my morning things done, I can now really get into the game. I tend to judge a game by how long I can play it before I realise I've lost a few hours. XCOM does this rather well. I start playing around 11, I look at a clock at about 2, thinking it can't be right, and by the time I look back at the clock again, it's 3:30. XCOM, if you can get into it, will keep you busy.

Part of it is the "one more mission" mentality. Missions for the most part take about ten to twenty minutes, some going for longer, if you do them right. You're constantly seeing new things, whether it be new aliens, new squad abilities, new strategies opening up, or a new squad member because the last one is either dead, or in the infirmary recovering from alien wounds. For some reason, I got really attached to my squad. You can customize them a tad, changing their names, nicknames, armor appearance and color, and so on. Name them after your closest friends and family members and we'll see just how good you feel when you send them to an Very Difficult mission. The members of your squad will slowly rank up as you go, gaining a class, which you don't seem to get to choose, and new abilities. You'll also be able to kit them out in better gear, and weapons.

What makes these characters so easy to care for, is the fact that if they die, you're going to know how big of a loss it is, especially later in the game. If you lose one of your heavy hitters, one of your better squads, you know who you get to replace them with? A new rookie. You've replaced your combat veteran with a rookie, who will likely make his pants very warm the first time he or she sees a sectoid.

This leads me into talking about the game's difficulty. I'm playing on normal, and it's honestly not too bad, so long as you think about what you're doing. If you lose a person, it's likely because you were caught by surprise, or you left them out in the open to die.

A few things that have bugged me while playing the game is the animations, and the voice acting. The combat animations do really spice things up, making each battle feel epic and such, but it just feels weird when my soldiers take aim at an enemy, and then shoot at a wall, or both the enemy and my soldiers shoot at each other while clipping through either each other, walls, or their cover.  The voice acting on the other hand is across the board fairly decent, which would be fine, except for one problem. Your squad will be made up of people from varying nations, meaning they should all probably speak different languages, right? I can understand them all speaking English, though, you'll want your squad to actually understand each other. But all men share the same set of voices, and all women share the same set of voices. And they all sound American. I had a soldier from Brazil, who was obviously Hispanic, and they sounded like someone I would meet on the street.

But that's really all there is for me to complain about. If you'll excuse me...There's more XCOM to be played.

Also for later on in the week, be watching for my thoughts on The Walking Dead, with the release of its final episode on Tuesday. Here's a preview: IT'S FREAKING GREAT!

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