Saturday, December 1, 2012

XCOM: Enemy Unknown [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: One play through the campaign. 

Story: XCOM is the officially branded remake of the critically acclaimed strategy game created in the mid 1990s. The basic story is that UFOs have started to appear and major nations are funding your group to protect the planet from whatever comes up. The plot is like the original game in that you begin by knowing little of the aliens but through research and numerous battles learn more and more about what is going on. Non-spoiler: the aliens are not coming to earth in peace. Along the way if you fail to protect nations they will stop funding your group making things a bit more difficult. There are also some comical (well intended to be) interactions between the head of the scientists and the head of the engineers. The additional characters with a bit more depth felt appropriate but they play little role in the game itself. Instead of making things feel any more creepy or mysterious both characters come across as cheesy stereotypes and sometimes detract from the original game's dark/serious tone.

Art: I was not overly impressed with the art of the game. The characters were passable but up close felt very plain and lacking in detail. The cutscenes were alright but they had to use a lot of video files which were blatantly obvious in contrast to the in-game footage. I guess with the art quality they are going to have an easier time porting it to the PS2 and keeping up the framerate.

Sound: The music became stuck in my head. Just about every song. The music was very well implemented. I cannot say the songs are awesome and I want to hear them outside of the game... but they do work very well in the context of playing the game.  The sound effects were fine and did not detract.

Gameplay: The game consisted of three basic game modes: base management, combat, and air combat. The progression of the storyline appears to be static with a few key plot points occurring along the way.

Base management differs from the original game in that you only have one base. You have to invest your funds and resources carefully to maximize your capabilities in combat and progression in the storyline. You'll also need to plan for how long manufacturing and researching technologies can take. Without a clear picture of what is actually further out the planning is very haphazard. As with the previous game your first play through is really just a matter of learning about what is to come. To pass time you can actively scan for ships. This is how research and manufacturing is completed. You will also be interrupted with plenty of UFOs and missions of various types. After battles you can sell off the random resources you gathered in the "grey market" for much needed cash. If you're careful (as in know what actually matters) you can really empty your inventory of junk you won't ever use and rack up cash.

The combat for the game is turn based between the two sides. The only way to act on your opponent's turn is to use the overwatch functionality to catch your opponent's movements and take a shot. This makes the battles feel one-sided on the given teams turn. This is exactly as it was in the original game and it still is a lot of fun. The combat also employs a cinematic camera to attempt to add a bit of excitement to combat. I found the cinematics to add very little as I watched a lot of scenes of my team running from cover to other cover with nothing of interest along the way. I think the cinematic camera could be made much more exciting. Combat in general could be much more visually exciting without changing the actual functionality with a bit better direction. Another oddity with combat is whenever you first spot the aliens (always in packs apparently) they "roar" and run for cover. The cutscene introducing them comes across as cheesy and doesn't really make much sense... were the aliens just hanging out drinking forties waiting for soldiers to show up? The cover system is a very welcome change as the original functioned best when your character walked around a corner and stood out in the open to see/shoot enemies.

The air combat is even simpler than in the original XCOM. Your ship approaches the enemy ship and they proceed to blast weapons at one another. If you have researched and/or purchased interesting things you can make the battle go slightly better... Unfortunately it is still not all that interesting. Visually the air combat is almost worse than the original. Plus the extra abilities they offer to improve your chances seem to cost a lot resource wise. It seems more like an alternative resource dumping ground so you don't just sell off the resources. The air combat really needs to be made a lot more exciting and I dare say turn based like the ground combat.

Remakes Comment: Before this game came out numerous unofficial remakes attempted to recreate the experience of XCOM. One in particular that had great potential was UFO: Aftermath. The main appeal for me was the pause-time combat. This made for a lot more interesting and exciting sequences whereas XCOM is based around turns taken between the two entire sides interrupted only by overwatch (generally). Unfortunately the rest of the game was rough...

Gut: XCOM is a lot of fun! It is very easy to play but takes some time to get an idea of how to best proceed. While not perfect I think it is a worthy remake. It's a blast to play and I look forward to more games like it.

Bonus! Meet the Squad
This is the squad I used for most of the play through. The nicknames were applied to the characters by the game. I created the actual names either based on other media or my own insane naming scheme.

Rico Norte - Heavy - "Nova" - The Squad Leader. He's a heavy that after 22 missions still has a weapon hit success rate of zero. He's good with a grenade and knows the infirmary well.
Alexis Shepard - Support - "Scotch" - The stunner. She runs and stuns when she can. A very good friend with everyone in the infirmary. When aliens see her they know that the only weapon she can hit them with will result in their captivity. She knows the "Mass Effect" of an alien menace.
Ellen Ripley - Assault - "Double Down" - A survivor of four nearly solo alien attacks. She runs and guns with ease. Her favorite alien to kill is the thin men because she finds them cheesy and feels no remorse for killing such corniness.

John Vallins - Support - "Bishop" - The old soul of the group. He smoked a lot of dope years ago and claims to have psionic powers which makes the stereotypical crazy German scientist happy. We made him some special armor so he could interface with some glowing disco ball so we could fly out to some "not-exactly-hidden" ship. Don't disrespect your elders.

Ole Dorimi - Sniper - "Zero" - Like Vallins, Dorimi claims to have psionic powers. On occasion we saw him hold out his hand at an alien and its head would burst. I figure it was a ruse setup with the other sniper Sesay.
Sefu Sesay - Sniper - "Stalker" - Sesay is a no nonsense sniper. He never moves from his original position on the battlefield and can somehow fire at every target that anyone else can see. He and Dorimi have an ongoing "double tap" competition where they try to rack up the most kills.