Will Preston

Possibly the best sci fi squad shooter management sim of all time!

by on Jul.12, 2010, under Remake This!

XCOM1-1

In the future, purple will be a manly colour...

Back in my college days, I thought of being a games designer. My experience with programming was minimal. I had no real experience with creative projects. To be honest, I didn’t have much direction. But every time I thought about making a perfect game to unleash wildly at the next generation would always end up being a slightly improved copy of one of the few games to steal my heart as well as my time.

XCOM1-2

Picture "Out of the barn fire and into the heavily guarded ship" so goes the old metaphor...

Sadly, the company that produced this, if slightly flawed masterpiece has faded away and ended up next to the Neo Geo and Virtual Boy in video game limbo. RIP MicroProse and all chances of their being another Transport Tycoon. Anyway, I best be on about the game itself. In 1994, the company brought the public UFO: Enemy Unkown (UFO Defense in America); a turn based squad combat saga where you have direct control over a team of soldiers as well as the company of XCOM. One half of the game sees you directing your team in an on Earth location, which is surprisingly detailed for an early nineties isometric-fest. Walls and scenery are totally destructible, civilians scamper about in alien terrorist attacks and all levels are randomized, with each mission never being repeated.

If tactics aren't your thing; spam the enemy with infantry until they drown in your men's blood!

It’s set a high standard for me, to be frank. The controls and the interface will take a little while to get used to however. Oh sure, you point the mouse at where you want you man to go and he toddles off anyway he can like an eager ant, but there are other factors like changing inventory slots, learning the correct way to engage the enemy. Speaking of which, it’s very unforgiving at first when you’re pushed into combat with the little grey bastards. Ok, not all of them are little grey. Some are floaty purple, others are snakey orange whilst the hardest race are bloody stupid green. Despite being the best of the best of the best (etc.), your team are poorly trained, poorly equipped and suffer from moments of dropping the ball. You will be starting the game over and over again.

But that’s the thing; you’ll start it over again instead of quitting for good. It draws you back in like a bad gambler. This time, you say, this time I’ll do it right. You learn from your mistakes, sharpen your skills and learn everything about the aliens. Once you’ve trained your troops, enabled equipment and decided what the best manoeuvre is for a 3 man sweep of a space craft, you’ll get addicted even more. This level of addiction, however, is to be taken as caution; and that’s only one half of the game. When you’re not clicking your fingers at your squad, you’re clicking your fingers and tutting at your bases. You ARE the CEO of XCOM. Remember playing Syndicate where you controlled your assassins and ran your companies progress? Well this game beats it hands down. You start with the one base. Bases have a grid where you can build extra facilities alongside the existing ones and manage the personnel and equipment.

To begin explaining what all of this means would hurt us all!

In terms of company progression, you have your science department who research into how a a little grey bastard works, new weapons and equipment. Once you’ve figured out how to build a space age laser rifle with iPhone apps built in, you have your techies, your builders, if you will, who sweat in the work shops creating your new products. Even if the bouncy alien ball of death grenade that you’ve just created through research isn’t needed, you can always sell it on. Where it goes, I do not know. Same applies to spoils of war and…erm…alien corpses. Seriously. What actually happens to them is never explained. Fill in the blanks as you would. This combination of aspects never makes the game dull, just like a good film knows when to flick between a good set piece and a compelling bit of dialogue. The game spawned a carbon copy sequel as well as other loose sequels and imitators.

Remake?

I have no idea what's happening, but my only guess is it's not a fair fight...

At the recent E3, it was announced that a new XCOM game was going to be released in 2011. It’s set in the Fifties and has you fighting blobs, blocks and circles. It’s like the industry has done a full circle back to Space Invaders. It bears little resemblance apart from destructible scenery and the option to run away to home base. I’m not holding my breath until I see some base management involved in the game play.

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