22 Oct 2012

Monday Media Fun – the XCOM project

Welcome Commander

The Earth is under siege, you have been selected to lead the multinational organization XCOM in the defence against the extra terrestrial attackers.

We will be watching

Yeah this is happening.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I did not play much of XCOM. Instead I played Syndicate. To me both games were about tactically moving a team of agents to complete mission goals in an Isometric view. When not leading your agents, players control the organization’s direction of research and fabrication. You managed resources, personnel, equipment, and which missions to undertake.

I preferred Syndicate because of two things: Cyberpunk and destructible environments. I still recognize that XCOM was awesome but I played something else that was different but just as awesome.

Syndicate was re-done recently and to my frustration, not as well as I had hopped.

Lucky for me I have XCOM.

You are in charge of a team of customisable soldiers; characters that live and die based on your choices. You pick how they grow and what gear to give. You can customise their name, nick name and look. You can’t change their country of origin, this is a small detail. Upon earning enough experience you discover the soldier speciality which determines the sets of skills and abilities made available to them.

The Assaulter is about traversing over ground and engaging the enemy. The Heavy carries heavy support weapons and can dish out some excellent fire support. The Support is able to ‘pop smoke’ while being able to carry more ancillary equipment and keep your team working. The Sniper is an expert long shot working with the rest of the team to shoot at their targets or moving up and being able to snap shoot enemies. Of course later in the game you can develop the ability to test of Psionic abilities, allowing for even more character development by unlocking another three ranks of abilities. Some classes really like the Psi abilities, others don’t use them much since they are too busy doing their job.

Moving and using the characters in combat is easy. The in game tutorial takes the control out of your hands but really shows you how to play. The system is easy to move and select you troops even with controller. Fields of movement and clearly displayed, alien icons pop up with a tone when one of the characters has ‘eye’s on’ an alien, and picking targets to fire at is simple toggle of the bumpers. The environment falls to pieces to the firefights that break out on the tactical map. Cover gets blown away and firing a rocket into a gas station with a slew of parked cars is awesome when you think about the half dozen aliens taking cover and the future of their day.

I would have liked to have seen a lone cabin to use when alien craft crashed in the woods. Different architecture depending on the location of the mission is noticed when you’ve been to some of those places. Less generic would have broken up the monotony of the missions significantly. Maybe some more mission types added on. I only had this mission once where I had to disarm an alien bomb early in my game. I never saw it again. Maybe missions in an office building or a movie drive through. The possibilities are more then what they give you in the game.

Choices also litter the strategic element of the game. You have a base of operations to manage. You decide what gets built depending on power, money and acquired resources. As the base gets bigger you need to dig deeper which is more expensive in time and money. While working in the base you decide where to allocate SAT coverage to detect alien movement, and where to put inceptor craft to shoot down alien vessels. You decide on research projects that will unlock new technologies, base areas, weapons and equipment. Lastly you decide what to make. Picking how much of what to build within the limits of cash and confiscated resources really can change the way your characters play when they hit the ground.

The ant-farm style base is awesome, you can move the camera and look at various sections of your base and watch the troopers move around. You’ll find and recognise your Characters off duty working out and enjoying some R&R. I don’t feel that the base aesthetic is well used. Unless I explore the sections that I decide to build the camera always shows off the new section once then never goes back to it. Also the inability to reference the special benefit from covering a whole continent in satellites would also be nice.

The last strategic element is the most important as you decide on what missions to send your troops out on. Outside of downed alien craft, the council asking for direct intervention and terror attacks you find yourself deciding on which location to defend reducing the general panic in one place and letting it spike in two other places. Keeping your allies happy is important and they provide cash and other incentives.

My issues with XCOM are few and far between. Some times the graphics take a kick to the teeth and things fail when in mission. You see your soldiers shoot through buildings without damaging them, fields of movement don’t come up and if a character animation froze you’ll not be able to use that character for the rest of the mission. The base interface is easy to navigate but it’s not as efficient as I’d like but that may be a style issue for me or a limit of the consol. The sounds are good enough and the visual style of the game is friendly enough while keeping a military vibe.

I've not yet played the table top styled multy player but man does it look good. Also that feeling of a table top game is prevelant through the whole experience. If you like a table top war game you'll love what XCOM bring to the party.

XCOM is a 5, it’s not perfect it’s close. You can only see the difference when you compare it to something greater then it. It has it’s moments when the lines blur but it’s a solid experience. Using Character animations of your own troops is always a plus. I love the in game cut scenes when my customised soldiers are being used. The touch is nice and just what the game needs. I named each of my team after friends and family and keeping them alive through the experience as at times harrowing.

The council is impressed and does not say so lightly. Keep up the good work and remember we are watching.