By Alec Meer on June 16th, 2010 at 7:00 am.
I could have gone for “Why I think XCOM will disappoint me” or “What I thought about the demo I saw in March”, but when in Rome… That said, it being or not being shit isn’t the issue here, is it? Not being the same genre is why people are heartbroken. Oh, I’m just asking for trouble with this post. I’m also being totally fucking honest with you.
I think a lot of things.
It may turn out okay. It may turn out great. It may evoke X-COM in ways we haven’t imagined, or it may just be a decent FPS in its own right. You’ll see why I think that in the post above this. But, as a long-standing and true-blue fan of the original X-COM, here’s why I’m very worried, and even a little upset.
- It’s a first-person shooter. It doesn’t matter how scary, how tense, how methodical or even how smart it is. It’s abandoning the one thing that really makes X-COM X-COM: a beautiful mish-mash of strategy, management and roleplaying that gaming as a whole has almost abandoned. It abandoned it because it couldn’t do it better. That XCOM isn’t even trying to do it, that it thinks being a first-person shooter is the only way to get people’s attention, is pathetic. That X-COM was about aliens and Cydonia and whatnot was always academic – this was a game that walked tall thanks to its mechanics, not thanks to its lore. Without those mechanics, it’s simply not X-COM.
This isn’t just about the misappropriation of a name. It’s about being denied our last-best hope of someone throwing serious money at a game that plays anything like X-COM. Strategy is diminishing – guarded, certainly, by the likes of Stardock, Paradox and Firaxis, but the genre has not been accorded due respect by most major publishers. Every link to the past – and to a future we deserve – we lose hurts. Hurts like hell.
- It’s not squad-based. At least, the developers won’t say that it is, and the backup Agents on show so far appear to be mute robo-men. There’s an enormous difference between preventing the end of the world by pulling the strings, and preventing the end of the world by pulling a trigger. It’s the same old lone superhero fantasy we’ve played a thousand times.
- The setting’s inappropriate. Key to X-COM was that humanity was technologically evolved enough that it had a hope of fending off an alien invasion, and that it was already prepared. 50s shotguns and homemade incendiary grenades just seem pitiful, and could be incredibly incongruous when the made-up tech lands in your hands. Having a plasma-death-mega-rifle all of a sudden will feel like coincidence, not like science.
- There’s a base, but it looks to be fixed and static, and about having conversations with NPCs rather than orchestrating the human resistance via business, strategy, military might and floor-planning. If it’s just a glorified mission selector and exposition spouter, it’s going to be deeply unsatisfying.
- It seems to have been made to attract the interest of fans, rather than to please the fans. There’s no real reason why it had to be called XCOM. Bioshock wasn’t called SystemShock, after all.
- The developers are making bold promises without providing detail, and refusing to be drawn on most important topics. Perhaps this is intended to inspire curiosity and excitement, but giving so little to back up their claims scarely inspires the confidence of people who want a game that feels like X-COM.
- C’mon, those Blob things! They’re just shapeless nothings. They’re not iconic, they’re not very threatening, and they look like a graphical glitch.
- It’s from the makers of Bioshock, a game that, despite doing some interesting things, involved a whole lot of compromises and unfulfilled promises. There may have been a lot of hysteria in the backlash, but it was for good reason – the game wasn’t what we were told it was going to be. While they’re doubtless very talented individuals, these guys have a history of taking revered PC games – i.e. System Shock – and ripping out half their guts in the name of making a mainstream hit. Almost any other developer would have upset X-COM fans less.
- I haven’t played it, or seen anywhere near enough to know for anything like sure that it will live up to X-COM.