Firaxis making a new, true X-COM remake is the best gaming news of the year, and I fairly much expect to still be saying that on December 31 2012. Of course, it isn’t that simple. There are things this game needs to do, to get right, if it is to be both a successful homage and a successful modern strategy game in its own right. Here’s what I want from it.
Higher resolutions. That’s it.
No, I’m kidding. Well, sort of. Just being able to play the original at 1920×1200 would keep me happy forever, probably. But there is more I’d like to see from Firaxis’ UFO: Enemy Unknown remake, both in terms of correcting the age-related problems of the original and expanding upon its formula. Here’s what I want. (I’m not going to say ‘keep it turn-based’ because they’ve already said it is, so hooray.)
1) Higher resolutions, yes. As in, a whole raft of them, not just 480p and 720p for the console version. I want to play this game on any PC I lay my hands on, from throbbing ultra-beast to lousy netbook.
2) A completely overhauled interface. This one’s a given, of course, but I want all features kept but with less on-screen buttons. If lesser-used features such as ducking and grenades could be consigned to a secondary toolbar that only pops up when you want it to, that’d be grand. I just don’t want 25% of the screen taken up by big Windows-style buttons, please.
3) Moderate system requirements. I don’t want a super-spangly Just Because orgasm of pixel shaders, but instead a decent-looking strategy game that benefits from modern interface design that I can realistically play on a laptop: X-COM is ideal for train journeys.
4) 3D but not. I’m thinking something along the lines of Civ 4 and 5 – 3D models but a fairly fixed perspective. Maybe a bit of zoom and rotate, but not a free camera. I don’t say this from a nostalgia-obsessed purist motive, but just in terms of retaining the commander’s eye view that’s so much a part of X-COM’s atmosphere. If you can peer into buildings and angle the camera to look around darkened corners, a lot of the creeping menace and paranoia could well be lost.
5) Destructible environments, but more so. It’s something the unofficial sequels never pulled off, but it’s an essential part of X-COM. Not just as a feature, but also as part of building the sense that X-COM are a taskforce with free rein – respect for civilian property doesn’t stand in the way of hunting aliens. I wouldn’t seeing property damage contribute to funding level assessments, though: international funding’s an aspect of the game that could stand to be fleshed out.
6) The original aliens, somewhat modernised. X-COM’s foes largely stem from b-movie stereotypes, and that’s just the way I like it. I’m quite intrigued by the transforming oblongs of the XCOM shooter, but they don’t strike me as being fun to hunt down in a slow-burn strategy game. I want iconic shapes, with faces to shoot at. I would like my Sectoids and Floaters and Ethereals to be proper scary though – not the comic booky 1994 look.
7) Chrysalids should be the most frightening thing in the game. But the bulk of the scares should come from the tension of not knowing whether or not you’re going to get shot in the head/infected by horror-eggs when you round that corner. Yes, part of X-COM’s charm is the bright, comic book look, but as with Doom, it seemed scary rather than day-glo at the time. Recapture the sense of loneliness and vulnerability inherent in playing hide and seek with intergalactic murderers, please.
8) Include the thing from the original UFO: Enemy Unknown box art:
Always a tragedy it never appeared in-game. That sucker’s got spaceships for arms!
9) We must still be able to rename our squaddies, even if that does allow us to have soldiers called “Dick Dickless.”
And I’d love a way to upload my team roster online, for posterity and willy-waving. I would kill to have a permanent record of my squad from my first playthrough of the original game.
10) And make sure the soldiers don’t all look the same. I want individuals, guys and girls I can recognise on sight from the squad management screen. Ditch the Guile from Street Fighter haircuts though, please.
11) Line of sight to remain vital, and perhaps even be expanded. I want the likes of height and crouching to have more of an effect; I want to be able to creep up on an enemy if I’ve been smart enough to work out where he almost certainly is before he’s seen me.
12) Civilian casualties by the shedload, please. This is an invasion, not two teams playing foot-to-ball on a neatly cordoned-off pitch.
13) Minimal story and exposition. Everything that needs to be told can come from Researching alien items and lifeforms to study and act upon at my leisure. I don’t need a big cutscene explaining what and where Cydonia is, I just want a brief message saying that flying there is now possible.
14) I do want to see the planet, when I visit it in missions, slowly but visibly get into a worse and worse state though, thus making the need to attack the invaders at the source feel all the more pressing.
15) An improved final fight. Shooting static cubes off a giant eyeball was a little underwhelming, after all.
16) I’d love to be able to explore my own base, and outside of alien invasions. That’s one idea I really like from the XCOM shooter – wandering around your HQ and seeing your scientists and engineers at work, taking pride in your constructions. Imagine wandering past captured aliens in holding cells, being able to stare at them and their ‘orrible faces in close, safe detail.
17) I’d like to see base invasions return though, and for there to be major consequences to a sloppy defence. It’ll encourage more art in base construction – Dungeon Keeper-style layouts intended to slow down invaders from reaching crucial rooms.
18) Can we actually see the air battles and interceptions, instead of a just a radar screen with a couple of buttons? It’d be amazing to see the UFOs visibly taking damage before crashing to Earth. The original game’s interceptions do the job, but it’s perhaps the aspect of it that most needs expanding.
19) Similarly, I’d love to be able to zoom in on the globe screen and see my bases’ constructions – defence systems and radars and whatnot – at work, with a visible radius of effect, rather than the simple little cubes-on-a-map shtick of the original game.
20) OK, I know console versions have been announced, but can we please have the PC version on a separate development track? A hobbled, gamepad-centric interface would just be the saddest thing. We need full keyboard and mouse support, mods, the lot.
21) Real-time replays. Look to Frozen Synapse – watching the battle as it would have happened, without turn pauses would be epic. It’s seeing your own self-made story from a new perspective. I could spend days on Youtube watching little XCOM action-horror movies – missions gone horribly wrong, Aliens-style, or slick, smooth, SWAT 4-style takedowns.
22) Hire the Gollops. Consult with the Gollops. Beg the Gollops’ permission. Write their names on the intro screen in massive letters. Anything, so long as due respect is paid. And for the love of all that’s good, do not call it ‘Sid Meier’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown.’
23) Multiplayer. Humans vs aliens. Let us play with Crysalids’ spawning powers and Ethereals’ mind control. That’d be amazing.
24. I know there’s probably a strong need to stay true to the original, after the hullabaloo around XCOM, but please don’t make this new Enemy Unknown just the same as the original, a straight retread with modern tech. I want surprises. I want new monsters, new gadgets, new locations, new strategies, new anecdotes to bore people with.
And I want it now.