|System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360|
|Dev: Firaxis Games|
|Pub: 2K Games|
|Release: October 9, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence|
by Josh Engen
Judging from the archeological evidence, our parents' generation was pretty darn nervous about an alien invasion. Of course they're not going to admit it publicly, just like we're obviously not going to fess up to our zombie anxiety, but they've left behind about 20 year's worth of television shows, movies, and video games that betray their preoccupation.
Now, I'm not pointing this out as a criticism. Without our neurotic progenitors, we wouldn't have been able to enjoy films like Alien, video games like Doom, and TV shows like Alf.
Fine. Not all of them were exceptional.
However, one piece of alien memorabilia that actually was exceptional was X-COM: Enemy Unknown. When it hit the shelves in 1994, Enemy Unknown was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews, and it's still considered to be one of the best PC games ever released. But the industry has changed pretty drastically since the mid 90s, and although X-COM is good for a nostalgic romp, it certainly doesn't have enough juice to pull me away from cat videos on the Internet. So, when I heard that Firaxis had a new X-COM title in the works, I was understandably skeptical about their plans.
See, when a studio revamps a classical franchise, they have far more weight on their shoulders than those who simply undertake a brand new IP. Not only do they have to contend with the obsessive retro gamer who's been playing the original title for the last 15 years, they also have to think about the fans who have moved away from the franchise but time and nostalgia have allowed them to deify the game in such a way that no future titles will ever measure up. Unfortunately, all of these qualifications can make for an unfocused game.
But the more I learn about XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the more it becomes clear that Firaxis has a handle on the situation. The result of their hard work is something that should finally allow many old school gamers to retire their Amiga CD32. (If you have no idea what this is, ask your dad. He'll know. But even if he doesn't, it's good that you guys are talking again.)
Before we go any further, we should probably get onto the same page here. XCOM: Enemy Unknown should not be confused with XCOM. Both are upcoming titles from 2K, but the former is a reimagining of the original X-COM: Enemy Unknown title, and the later is a brand new FPS set in the XCOM universe. Got it? Now that we have that straightened out, we can talk about the gameplay.
The first major difference that classical X-COM players will probably notice is the significantly reduced squad size. In the past, it was possible to level up your forces and eventually just overwhelm the enemy with sheer power (in the same way you'd use Australia in Risk). But these days, players will have to be significantly more thoughtful about their soldier selections.
Actually, this is one thing that made the original X-COM titles so interesting. Players weren't just controlling an army of drones; they had to pick and choose each individual member, and every decision was an important one. Well, Firaxis has managed to turn up the volume on this particular mechanic. In fact, it'd probably be helpful for you to think of Enemy Unknown more like an MMORPG and less like a turn-based strategy title. Each mission will probably rely on some combination of a tank, ranged character, support unit, etc, etc. Just remember, your squad members are fragile and when they die, it's permanent.
I'm being serious here. In the world of XCOM, units don't respawn. This means that if you've been spending 20 rounds leveling a character and equipping him with all of your favorite death-dealing gadgets, getting him killed means losing a vital piece of your arsenal—not to mention a BFF. Sure, you can recruit more soldiers, but then you have to train them, equip them, and avoid telling them that you liked the last guy better. You'll grow genuinely attached to each member of your squad and, at some point, you'll have to watch some of them die. Actually, a couple of them kick the bucket before the opening tutorial is even over. 2K Games should include a box of tissues with the retail release. I know I'm going to need one.