XCOM XChat: Jim And Adam In Turn-Based Conversation

By Jim Rossignol on September 14th, 2012 at 7:00 pm.

He just wanted to play XCOM but the poor little blighter was locked in a containment chamber and forced to listen to Jim and Adam enthusing about the game forever instead

We’ve been getting stuck into a preview version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown this week, and that turn-based tactical taste is fresh in our minds. Jim and Adam sat down to have a bit of a chat about it, following on from Mr Smith’s excited hands-on preview. What on earth would they make of it all?

Jim: I think I had no real expectations from XCOM, because I felt sure – unfairly – that the time of me being gripped by turn-based tactics was gone. The last time I can really remember it was with Laser Squad Nemesis, which was by the Gollops themselves. But this has really knocked me over. I can’t stop playing it.

Adam: I’d already played a little before this preview code came along, but had really only seen the tutorial. I was worried the whole game might be quite directed, no real freedom of choice. And the way that the cutscenes and dialogue build up a narrative does suggest that, but it’s not the case at all. As my words yesterday probably gave away, I’m in the same state as you. I really can’t stop playing. I’m one of those people who installs X-COM on a computer before just about anything else, so I instinctively want to tell everyone who liked the original – ‘hey, be happy, it’s OK, this is a very good thing.’ Of course, it won’t please everyone but I really can’t think of a better turn-based tactical game of recent times. And the strategic side is no slouch either.

Jim: People will definitely react to things like the little animations in combat. I enjoy them, but I can definitely see the “what’s this cutscene stuff!” response being widespread, which is a shame because it will unfairly pollinate negative opinions. I think what surprised me most, though, was the weightiness of the tactical combat. It’s really been well made. It’s really tense.

Adam: It demands intelligence and made me realise how rare that is.

Jim: I was thinking about this as I played it: I think i value tense videogames more than others. It must be something to do with the level of risk you take in them, how much you can lose. I’ve been playing on classic difficulty and it’s excruciating. I haven’t cleared a level without a casualty, and lost the entire squad more than once.

Adam: Absolutely. It’s the reason I think survival sims, where every item can be the difference between life and death, appeal so much to me. I’m on classic too – I’ve actually just had a run of three missions without losing a soldier. It’s made me more tense. They’re getting good at this. I’m getting more attached to them.

Jim: Usually I find that in PvP, but here it didn’t seem to matter that I was playing vs AI.

Adam: The AI is impressive. It reacts to every movement, possibly a symptom of the limited number of options that are usually available on any given turn for any particular unit, but it works.
It certainly gives the impression that it is countering, reacting and, frighteningly often, out-thinking.

Jim: I am finding classic too hard, to be honest, but “normal” is far too easy, which is frustrating.

Adam: I thought the same at first – there seems too much of a gap, but I’m much better at the game than I was four days ago. Classic isn’t just punishing, there are ways to succeed…at least most of the time. Longish story here – I had a mission recently where I hadn’t seen any aliens for about ten turns, which was making me clench my brain in a sort of nervous anxiety. Then I heard noises inside a grocery store. I sent a sniper up a drainpipe and onto the roof opposite, an assault guy with a grenade to the back door and two support troops went through the front door. There were six sectoids inside and they were all dead before they could take a shot. Three down when we entered, then they ran for cover and we finished them off. That is a hell of a good feeling. I love my sniper. And I am done talking about how good I am.

Jim: I am not very good.

Adam: Tell a story about not being very good. They are always good stories.

Jim: I don’t think any of them are very interesting, they all involve me doing completely idiotic things like sending my sniper to take cover behind an burning (and about to explode) car. I’ve done a lot of that sort of thing. I should mention, actually, how much I have enjoyed the general destructibility of everything. Knocking a wall down to make your way inside a structure has a certain robust satisfaction to it.

Adam: The sound design is strong in that aspect as well – when a building is burning it will creak and make shuddering sounds. Have you met mutons?

Jim: Yes, I just encountered them.

Adam: They quite regularly level entire buildings just to get at one half dead XCOM member who is limping back to the Skyranger.

Jim: They certainly killed me up. You know, combat aside, actually, the thing that made me coo most sincerely was the base screen. I am a sucker for cut-aways and cross sections of things, ever since I was a small child, so that base screen… Well, it did psychic things to me, ensuring my adoration for all time.

Adam: I used to draw shit like that in my maths books at school, anything with graph paper in that I could get a sense of scale with.

Jim: I got my love of architect from a children’s book in which a mouse created modernist homes for other animals, all illustrated in a cross-section cut-away style.

Adam: This sounds like the greatest book.

Jim: It’s a lost classic. But yeah: in XCOM that base screen is just a marvel.

Adam: I can’t wait to fill it up.

Jim: I spent a bit of time just zooming between areas of the base, and I LOVE how it tantalises you with the areas that remain unbuilt in. You can see them, but nothing is yet filled with whirring technology.

Adam For me, well, it was my first UFO crash site was the thing that gave me the shivers. The darkness and just this thing burning in the woods, all the trees around it aflame. Scars on the ground. It looks like nothing should be walking away from that.

Jim: Yeah, they’ve managed to get the atmosphere just right. It’s oddly cartoony, faithful to the original AND deeply sinister all at the same time. I do snigger at “floater” though, I’m afraid.

Adam: It is only natural to snigger at ‘floater’. I think there are ‘heavy floaters’ later on, which innuendoes verging on paradox. There’s a whole debate cutting through the narrative about the purpose of technology, the limits of it, augmentation, all this awesome sci-fi stuff. I want to see how far that goes.

Jim: Yes, i found myself speculating about reasons they could be on Earth, doing what they are doing. Which is almost absurd – it’s just pulp sci-fi, but that’s the sort of thing that captures your imagination nonetheless… Do you think they needed to include the interceptor bit? I always found that a bit superfluous in the past, and it still feels a bit of a side-show? (I realise I could be shot down by swooping squads of XCOM fans, here.)

Adam: I like that it’s there. I’m not convinced by the little boosts that can be manufactured – helping aim, dodge, stuff like that. They seem a bit unnecessary. But I like shooting UFOs down and even though those scenes are short, having to pull an Interceptor out feels like quite a weighty decision. Did you know UFOs can shoot down your satellites?

Jim: I didn’t! But that sounds horrendous. I worked so hard on the satellite network.

Adam: It makes me wonder how much else it’s going to surprise me with. I’d launched satellites all across Europe and a large UFO was drifting about. I intercepted, got my fuselage kicked and retreated. The UFO just made a beeline for one of my satellites and BOOM, static, coverage gone. Scary.

Jim: Yikes. Does the research woman occasionally have an English accent? I couldn’t be quite sure.

Adam: I think of her as having done a couple of years of postgrad in England.

Jim: Heh. That would explain it. Anyway, I think there’s a wider thing going on with XCOM, which is big studio faith in turn-based combat. That should, and has to, sell a bucketload. A 2K boss was saying how turn-based combat was over, just a couple of years ago, and this has to prove him completely wrong.

Adam: I can’t see it not being huge, on PC at least. I have no idea if it’s even on people’s radar in console land. I worried that it might be a moderate success that didn’t deserve to be taking the position it was, not just as XCOM but as the big turn-based game of OUR TIME

Jim: Communications from consoleland have become increasingly vague over the past couple of years.

Adam: Almost as if… the satellites were down.

Jim: I think I will chase people with a rotary lawn mower if sales are poor. Perhaps even my hedge-trimmer. Because it really would be unacceptable.

Adam: The worst kind of horrible. I don’t think it will happen. I have faith in the people.

Jim: That said, I hope people can look past the Unreal-powered wonder of XCOM and look at Xenonauts, too. Goldhawk are a tiny operation and have made a superb xcom-like. Although after the spectacular Kickstarter I suspect that project is just fine.

Adam: Indeed. Anyone who finds the chunky marines of XCOM distracting and clamours for squads of sixteen lithe isometric gentlethings will surely find what they want in Xenonauts. But this is how bad my XCOM craving is: I don’t just want the full game, I want confirmation that there is a sequel in development. That’s why we might need the hedge-trimmer, to scare up some real demand.

Jim: Yes! I was having the same thought. I want this to be the start of a trend, a thing, a new turn-based horizon. The real question, though, is whether XCOM will reach beyond old men like us, who have already been hard-wired by turn-based combat games, and actually forge that new and larger audience. God, I hope so, because I can’t imagine that anyone (apart from John) wouldn’t enjoy this on quite a fundamental level

Adam: I think I could happily sit somebody who has never played a turn-based game in their life down in front of it and within a few minutes they’d be engaged.

Jim: Yeah, I believe that, too.

Adam: Partly because I’d be standing over them and grinning like a lunatic, so they’d be forced to at least feign interest, but it is an appealing game.

Jim: But it’s funny that just the idea of that form will dissuade people from trying it. I pray for a demo, so that the masses can be dragged in. They need to see this.

Adam: I already know people will take this next point as me saying that the loss of time units is an intentional move to make the game appeal to a wider audience rather than tactical types, but it is a fundamental shift that makes giving commands more sensible and understandable.

Jim: Yes, I think that was a necessary thing. It’s perhaps more like a boardgame because of it. Does that make sense?

Adam: Oh yeah, definitely. It makes a huge difference, gives tighter control and really forces the player to think of the soldiers as a squad, all their movements and actions more interlinked

Jim: Yes, making the work as a squad – a fireteam – is so critical. All the missions where I’ve fucked up have been ones where I sent some dude to his death because he wasn’t part of the group strategy.

Adam: I think that’s central to why ‘classic’ doesn’t remain ‘too hard’. The main learning process involves reacting to deaths and filling the gaps left by a lost soldier and his/her skills.

Jim: Agreed, but the loss of an experienced soldier… oof. What a loss.

Adam: It’s awful. Partly because you’re thinking about the poor schmuck who’s stepping into the Skyranger next time out as much as mourning the one who is dead. They have real value. I love the nicknames too. I think I mentioned that in the preview.

Jim: One of the ones I had was called Dara O’Brien. Although I think it was a lady.

Adam: The UK gave me a highly trained heavy weapons soldier as a reward for helping them out. I called him Rob Florence. Chrysalids ate him.

Jim: And in the game. And on that note: back to the game, I think.

Adam: It seems the sensible thing to do with a Friday.

Jim: (And that’s the sound of half the internet tutting in disgust.)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is out October 9th in North American and October 12th in rest of creation.

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52 Comments »

  1. AmateurScience says:

    I was just thinking we haven’t had a hivemind judge-o-chat for ages. Jolly good!

  2. pkt-zer0 says:

    I’ve been wondering for a while now: Is the X-COM intro theme in the game somewhere? The one that played during the intro (obviously) and in a remixed form during interceptions. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMFIziZRKuk)

    No sign of it in the trailers.

  3. Splynter says:

    Turn based conversations are nice and all, but I’d rather see them move towards a Frozen Synapse-like system wherein both parties plan their next sentences and then blurt them out at the same time.

  4. Totally heterosexual says:

    Unfortunately due to whoring not going so well I dont have the money to bring my PC up for this game. Gonna have to go with console version myself. Sure hope it’s not much better then supreme golden pc master race etc etc version.

    Love all this coverage of the game! Next month cant come faster :D

    • AmateurScience says:

      I’ve seen a few videos of the xbox version being played and it looks pretty similar, UI is different but by all accounts the pad controls are pretty good.

      This: http://youtu.be/5KPGHW1A2hI

      is a good video of one of the chaps from OXM playing.

    • MiniMatt says:

      What are the spec requirements? Can’t imagine they’re particulary taxing, that and turning graphics down to “low” hardly as detrimental to the experience as it might be in something like Skyrim etc?

      Meanwhile, I have photos of members of the RPS team topless*. Gief preview codes or I’ll unleash such horror upon the world.

      Failing that, I guess I’ll just have to buy it :o(

      *disclaimer: not really

    • The_invalid says:

      It’s running on Unreal Engine 3, which seems to run surprisingly well on low-end systems. Mass Effect 2 and 3 run pretty acceptably on my netbook, which is a 1ghz AMD C-50 board with only a gig of RAM. So unless your system is *totally* obsolete, I’d say it’s worth a try :)

      • drewski says:

        Yeah, there’s a difference between “I can’t run this” and “I can’t run this with everything maxxed”.

        My crappy laptop will hopefully shudder through it on min settings.

  5. Squirly says:

    Now you’re just rubbing it in.

  6. Belsameth says:

    Can get a job with you guys, RPS? I really need this game *NOW* :D

  7. Highstorm says:

    I’m going to step into my freezer with an egg timer and emerge tomorrow, on the 9th. This will work because… because it has to.

    • MiniMatt says:

      If your egg timer is set for 3 weeks can I suggest buying a new one? That or avoiding a diet of hard boiled eggs lest you die of starvation.

  8. sonofsanta says:

    Sounds like we’re due the first ever RPS week-off, then.

    At least, I hope it’s only a week.

  9. JB says:

    Tut!

  10. Jimmy Jazz says:

    I don’t think you guys need to worry all that much. i am a fifteen year old boy who is currently playing though the original X-COM and loving it. and i am so hyped for this game, simply because i have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy my time with UFO Enemy unknown.

    • Haphaz77 says:

      Excellent – good for you. Get past the UI and its brilliant. I am slightly scared to think this came out in 1994 and I’ve played it each year since then.

  11. Jerakal says:

    I can tell you, as a young man who just purchased the original X-com a few days ago. A young man who has played NOTHING ELSE AND IS COUNTING THE SECONDS UNTIL THIS LAUNCH. That it is most certainly reaching past you old codgers.

  12. MiniMatt says:

    QUESTION: In my Friday evening vodka addled haze I can’t recall if this has ben covered before, but is there multiplayer? As in humies v. alien overlords?

    I feel the overwhelming urge to command a squad of chrysalids against the human scum. Ever since that first anal probe…

    Would this not make the bestest play by email game?

    • Haphaz77 says:

      There is multiplayer – its a strange all against all abstraction (not like the in-game theme mass effect one). It looks pretty good / customisable. Can’t imagine spending much time on it, but then I thought that about mass effect 3 mp. See the 2K youtube feed for footage.

    • 2late2die says:

      Yep, there’s gonna be multiplayer. You can assemble a team made of both humans and aliens, any mix you want as long as you’re within your points allowance budget. Of course the more advanced/stronger units cost more points so you gotta balance that out. And then you go head to head against another player.

  13. bokater says:

    Regarding the mouse architect book Jim mentioned, I had to google it, guessing it’s this one?
    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/816462.Need_A_House_Call_Ms_Mouse
    Based on the comments and prices mentioned there, it really is a lost classic.

    • Lowbrow says:

      Really thought it was a weirdly specific memory of Richard Scary.

  14. Morlock says:

    Oh my God guys. If this game does not turn out to be good I will never visit this site again.

  15. Sidewinder says:

    Actually, this brings up an interesting point- have the Gollops commented on this at any point yet?

  16. GrandSirThebus says:

    I never heard of Rock, Paper, Shotgun until a friend told me there was an article on Xcom. Xcom is the reason why I came to this site. I’m wondering if I’ll stick around after it’s released. I do like the vibe i get from the site though.

    • JoeGuy says:

      You can’t really beat self aware, witty British humor laced throughout your articles.
      Its always an enjoyable read and I get the impression everyone is very calm and enthusiastic in the comments sections too.

    • phuzz says:

      RPS is one of the few large sites where the majority of the commenters are really nice.
      JOIN US!

  17. Farsearcher says:

    “Jim: I got my love of architect from a children’s book in which a mouse created modernist homes for other animals, all illustrated in a cross-section cut-away style.”

    What was that book?

  18. Laurentius says:

    Oh I want this game to succeed as well and to turn out to be a good at its own merit (as XCOM it is lost cause for me though). Just as I wanted Elemental or Endless Space to be good. So I hope that success of this game will bring forth a day of true modern reboot of UFO game not this “turn base” for consoles.

    • Haphaz77 says:

      Turn-based seems pretty popular on Apple IOS – maybe they should aim at that market with the ads to lure them in?

    • Asurmen says:

      As much as you like to complain about this repeatedly, this IS the reboot, and consoles have nothing to do with it.

      • Laurentius says:

        Oh yeah ? Streamlined combat that is tailored for a tucked on multiplayer mode, most of the game mechanics chnaged completly to simplified them ? OK, this is a reboot as was Syndicate.

        • Asurmen says:

          Comparing this, a turn based tactical and strategic game with research, squad and base management which as a reboot of a turn based tactical and strategic game with research, squad and base management to a reboot which changed an isomestric tactical game with research into a completely different genre with completely different mechanics is a pretty fail argument.

          And by simplified you mean removed annoying little mechanics that didn’t improve the gameplay to the 10 year old me when the original was released and still do nothing for me now. We get it, you’re butt hurt that it’s not precisely the same as a game from 1994, but to claim that this isn’t a proper reboot is just silly. My I suggest you simply stick to Xenonauts and stop clogging up X-Com comments with your unfounded and pointless complaints?

  19. Bobtree says:

    I always got frustrated with the difficulty and management tedium in the original X-COM and expired around the level of plasma weapons and missile droids. That was almost 20 years ago though, and I have the feeling I’m really going to enjoy the remake, changes and all.

  20. Torgen says:

    I think that the fear that console peoples have no knowledge of turn-based combat is unfounded. Look at all the JRPGs! Hell, even Pokemon! Turn-based combat thrives on consoles, it’s only on PC that it died.

    • Dominic White says:

      Slightly more the case during the PS2 era – there were a TON of SRPGs and turn-based tactics games on consoles then – but there’s still a respectable number even on modern systems.

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        Yeah, turn based tactical combat has many more games on console than PC. Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Battle are probably the main reason for that. And all those mech games.

  21. Phinor says:

    Reaching the end of this article just reminds me another benefit of Kickstarter. No more publishers, no more bullshit release dates for rest of the world FOR NO REASON AT ALL (different release dates might have had a reason behind them twenty years ago but that reason does not exist in 2012 as proven by few publishers every once in a while.)

    • JoeGuy says:

      From what I have read, the delay can often be just down to the fact that in America there is an optimal release day that week and in Europe a different day is the best one for sales.

  22. Lambchops says:

    I love it when RPS gets all excited over something. This is going to be good methinks.,

  23. Lemming says:

    I want this to do well because I would love, LOVE them to go full Terror from the Deep with the sequel. We don’t see enough scary underwater games, let alone turn-based tactical ones. TFTD was my first XCOM experience and has a special place in my heart.

  24. cspkg says:

    I. Want. This. So. Bad.

    I haven’t played the original but thanks to RPS am drooling over this beauty. In a way, I’m glad that I don’t have the hang up of having to compare it to the original.

    This just looks like a fun game to play. And yes, I’m already thinking of the names of my squad members. I reckon that our new Olympians will feature heavily. Apart from Addlington. :)

  25. varangian says:

    @Jim I think I will chase people with a rotary lawn mower if sales are poor.

    I read and obey. Breaking my usual pattern of not ordering a game until it’s been out at least a month or two, and preferably has a few quid knocked off the price, I shall throw caution to the winds and pre-order this. Though it is less lawnmower fear – it is my believe that I can outrun anyone pushing a lawnmower (or were you planning to wield it Braindead style, in which case easily outrun) – than the fact that I’m genuinely fired up by this.

  26. aircool says:

    Just awesome…

  27. RegisteredUser says:

    I still think not including Silent Storm like physics – which the guy has acknowledged missing and thus knows of – was a huge opportunity squandered.

    What an epic dream combo it would have been.

    Oh well, maybe in the next 10 years someone else will realize that that concept is insanely intriguing to play TBS in.

    But, and I will say this, the blowing your way into/out of stuff thing may just be enough to make me a happy camper as is.

    I am one of those in the “very eager to see if this is really going to be awesome” camp.