Following the release of the ill-fated X-Com: Enforcer in 2001, many believed that the X-Com franchise may never surface again, at least not in an official capacity. There were a few unofficial games which used the UFO name, but they were nothing but spiritual successors like UFO: Alien Invasion. This all changed following the acquisition of the IP by 2K Games as X-Com is now being re-born and re-branded as XCOM under the watchful eye of 2K Marin. And in this preview, we'll take a look at what 2K Marin are doing from the perspective of a fan of the original three, Enemy Unknown, Terror from the Deep and Apocalypse.
When XCOM was announced as a first-person shooter, it made perfect sense from a commercial perspective. The genre is booming right now and BioShock proved that a more thought-provoking shooter could enjoy success amongst the non-stop shooters like Modern Warfare. 2K Marin were also the perfect studio to undertake this project, as they have plenty of experience following their work on BioShock 2. But from a fan's perspective, the decision to make it a first-person shooter was a worrying one. The two previous games to use the X-Com brand, Interceptor and Enforcer, both strayed away from the tactical approach, instead opting for a real-time approach. Interceptor went for real-time space combat while attempting to keep the business management side, Enforcer went for third-person shooter and ditched everything else. Both bombed.
2K Marin are attempting to stay true to the franchise's roots, but with the first-person shooter genre prevalent, it will be interesting to see how well they manage this. One of the aspects that made the original games so great, was that you built your own team and they fought for you. It wasn't about a single person. By giving you direct control over one person, it automatically devalues everyone else. Yes, it is possible to recruit team mates, all of whom have their special abilities, but ultimately, they will be superfluous. Your actions will decide the outcome of any skirmish, not theirs.
You can also, from what was shown, only take two people along with you. In the original games you could take huge squads. And their abilities would improve based on their experiences. Now it seems as though their abilities improve by assigning stat points.
This isn't to say that the mechanics don't work or that the guys at 2K Marin don't know their source material. Quite the opposite really, almost every aspect of XCOM showed that the developers knew the source material. But instead of sticking to what made the originals great, they've decided to adapt it to the present market - as if they think people in this era of gaming just wouldn't understand.
For example, the original titles were very much non-linear adventures. You could pretty much do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. Now, you have a bunch of missions to choose from and you can pick which order you want to undertake them in. From what I could gather, these missions will always be the same too. The order you perform the missions may affect what happens in the story, but if you start the game again, the same missions will be there, or at least the same key missions will be.
As a fan of the original titles, it's a shame to see. But 2K Marin do deserve credit. They could have taken XCOM down the non-stop shooter route, and they haven't. They've tried to include as much of X-Com as they can, and they should at least be given a chance because of this.
There's even the clichÃ© story about alien invasions, a government agency that's set up to counteract a new alien threat and the reverse engineering of alien technology to turn the tide in the war. To their credit, the option to capture some alien technology during missions is also available "“ you can even whip some of it out and instantly use it against your enemies for some serious destruction. But doing so will render it useless for research purposes.
The gameplay does look quite solid, and there are the options to create some rather wacky weapons with the alien-technology arch. XCOM agents will also possess powers which will make combat much more tactical than your standard first-person shooter and a radial menu will give you access to their abilities during combat, allowing them to become more useful.
Destruction is also present too, which is nice. There's nothing better than being able to whip out a UFO and blow up some structures while taking a few aliens out too.
It will certainly be interesting to see what the final version of XCOM looks like. From what 2K Marin have shown so far, it looks as though it's a game that's attempting to really capture the imaginations of a new breed of psychological shooter fans, not a game that's trying to cater to the original fanbase. They have tried to include as much from the originals as they can, but without doing anything too risky in the modern climate of video games. 2K Marin even stated that they were worried about having the complete "game over" scenario, which was a key part of the original titles, because it might not fit well with today's gamers. You will still be able to fail missions, but you will be able to retry them with no consequences.
XCOM is due out on the 6th of March, 2012 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for more information in the months to come, as even though XCOM might not be what fans of the original expect from the franchise, it could still shape up to be a very solid entry into the first-person shooter genre.
Be sure to check back to the site soon to hear views on XCOM from the perspective of someone who has never played any of the previous games.