E3 2011: XCOM Preview, From A Newcomer's Perspective

By Colin Tan on June 15, 2011, 4:04PM EDT

There are aliens are among us. They hide within our ranks, studying our very way of life just so that they can take it all away when we least expect it. Their technology is far superior and the only way to beat them is to use it against them. Enter XCOM and Special Agent William Carter. Only the best of the best will be able to take on the invasion.

Skeptical doesn't begin to describe first impressions. Another first person shooter with squad-based mechanics? Another alien invasion? Thankfully, the demo did well to convert any doubts into excited hope. As the boys at 2K Marin showcased bits and bobs of the game, it was clear that XCOM is going to be anything but just another shooter. Purists may argue the lack of the original's random encounters in an open world setting, but you'll be hard-pressed to say that XCOM doesn't at least incorporate many of its strategic elements. And incorporate it well, it does.

The first thing to note is that while the game is played through the first person perspective, it's not at all a game about one super soldier taking on invading aliens. You'll have to find and recruit agents throughout the game, forming your own elite squad of field agents, as well as administrative officers, to take on said aliens. Each agent will have their own specializations, making squad selection key to success in any operation.

XCOM - Energy shield

On the battleground, you have access to many of their abilities through a skills window not unlike the one in Mass Effect. You can issue squad commands like flanking, charging, and more. Harnessing your squadmates' skills and other such technological prowess will ease your encounter with aliens as well. As the demo went on, the one man responsible for capturing alien technology had fallen under a hail of lightning. Stepping out from under your shelter meant imminent death, but wait, he can also fart out an energy shield even when immobilized! Creating a much-needed shelter for you to rescue him.

On that note, a major part of XCOM is to capture and harness alien technology. Players can opt to outright destroy alien tech like turrets, shields and other such beefs. However, to better your chances, it's best to capture them, bring them back to homebase and conduct research on the artifacts. That supposedly yields more benefits like new weaponry and gear.

You can also capture a piece of alien technology and use it straight away on the field. Deploying captured alien tech on the battlefield can turn the tides of a firefight at eye-blinking speeds. However, you can't recapture them. It's a decision 2K Marin made in an attempt to make players think twice about deploying captured tech willy-nilly on the field. In addition, if the aliens overwhelm an area, the battleground itself will change. A little terraforming 2K Marin likes to call the Corruption. This may or may not work in your favour, possibly giving you more cover to hide behind.

XCOM - Operations

The demo itself was surprisingly impressive. Special Agent William Carter, recently assigned to XCOM, finds himself in its underground base, taking on his first set of missions. The commanding officer recommended finding Dr. Weir, a key scientist, but players can choose which mission to do whenever and completing each one will unlock even more. Not to mention, playing in a different order will unravel the story in different ways.

While the visuals had a nice noir flare, the character models, especially facial animations, were eerily rigid. I couldn't help but wonder if the aliens had already invaded our operations. Then again, the demo was still in alpha code, something a lot of developers were saying about their games. In any case, XCOM surprised me. It's definitely a game to watch.

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