Wot I Think – XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Singleplayer)

Oh dear, it turns out it’s a first-person shooter with quick-time events and checkpoints after all. Move along, nothing to see here.

No, no, rest assured Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown is, like its 1993 predecessor X-COM: UFO Defense aka UFO: Enemy Unknown, a rich brew of turn-based strategy, base management, a sort of roleplaying and the sudden, frequent, horrible death of people you’ve developed an unhealthy fixation with, as you and your changing squad of soldiers struggle to save the Earth from alien invasion. This remake, until fairly recently, seemed like an impossibility – large publishers had lost faith that big-budget strategy games could pay for their yachts, iPads and watches heavy enough to beat a donkey to death with, and the X-COM name was sullied by spin-offs that had about as much in common with it as Hulk Hogan has with Stephen Hawking. X-COM was over, surely.

X-COM is back. I’ve waited 15 years for this, and now I can wait no more. Here’s what I think. (Note – this write-up covers singleplayer only. Thoughts on multiplayer will follow at a later date).

I imagine you have three questions right now:

1) How faithful is Firaxis’ remake to the original X-COM?
2) Does it work as its own game, not just piece of nostalgia?
3) Hey, is Shakira single?

1) It’s complicated 2) Yes indeed 3) I’m afraid you’ll need to battle footballer Gerard Piqué for her affections.

This statement is probably a little too navel-gazing, but right now I’m circling around this write-up trying to find a way in. I’m acutely aware of the need to balance any commentary on XCOM between addressing the questions and concerns of long-time X-COM fans and treating it as a brand new 2012 videogame aimed at at least as many people who don’t know the original well or at all. This must be what an ideologically entrenched politician like Mitt Romney feels like when he tries to find words that will somehow appeal to two groups of people with fundamentally different attitudes towards society. Jim recently described XCOM as ‘the critical challenge of the year’, which only made me more fearful, damn his eyes.

So here’s the thing: were one to make a list of X-COM’s features and compare XCOM against them, it could only come up short. On paper, it would look like a disservice. I expect reams and reams of commentary from The Faithful about why this isn’t here or why does this happen or why does this not happen. Some of those gripes I share, but most I do not.

If you are inclined to feel that there is simply no good reason to not replicate all that made X-COM great, I am inclined to believe that you simply will not abide XCOM, with all its alterations, omissions and new explorations.

I am even more inclined to believe that you’d be denying yourself a perfectly good time and what is for me comfortably the most absorbing and thrilling strategy game I’ve played in years. (I do not use that silly word ‘thrilling’ lightly, but I’ll come back to that later.) I’ve been desperately worried about the game right up until the point that I played it. When I played it, I played it for some 50 hours and counting. I regret none of that time, I have missed showers, meals and Quality Time with girlfriend, cat and Dishonored in order to obtain it and I want to spend even more of it in XCOM instead of writing these damnable words.

Circling. XCOM is more like X-COM than any game save Terror For the Deep has ever been. It unashamedly wears an enormous, pulsing heart for its predecessor and inspiration on its kevlar sleeve: the tech tree, the rogue’s gallery of alien species, the amorality, the accumulating devastation of its environments, the knuckle-chewing tension inherent in each and every gunshot fired. At the same time, it’s a wildly different game – a new take on the same essential concept rather than a straight retread. In these confusing times where nostalgia threatens to overcome the desire for new experiences, I’m entirely glad of that. XCOM is a true 2012 game, not a 1993 game awkwardly wearing 2012 clothing.

There are numerous changes, but the essential one is not one likely to appear on that theoretical comparison list. Where X-COM’s turn-based ground missions were hide and seek, an often frightening hunt for murderous lurkers concealing themselves across dense environments, XCOM’s are more like a war. Unlike those desperate, chilling hunts across cornfields and through barns in X-COM, in XCOM where the aliens are is rarely in question. Their precise location is unknown and of course ever-changing, but their approximate position tends to be self-evident. They’re either already heading towards you, are clearly where the screaming and explosions are, or are turned up in the natural passage of your soldiers moving forwards, making the issue of the day how to get close enough to them to take them out without getting turned into thin red paste wearing a shocked expression.

It’s a game about slowly moving your frontline forwards, meticulously ordering a squad of six1 from cover to cover and making a stream of tactical decisions in order to overcome an enemy that always, always outnumbers them. You’re directing a SWAT team that needs to stick relatively close together (not too close mind, unless watching a grenade liquidate four people at once turns you on), carefully clean out an area and move on, not the spread-out search and destroy agents of 1993. It’s faster and more furious than its 90s ancestor, but it is no less strategic for it.

It works. It better than works. XCOM is muscular, tense, thoughtful, mutable turn-based strategy with the dramatic, explosive presentation of a contemporary all-action game. Also, the environments get unavoidably trashed on a grand-scale, in a fashion all too rarely seen in either strategy or action games: these are true battlegrounds. No matter how well you do in a mission, you’ll leave a bombsite behind you. Frankly, you’re probably doing more harm than good to the world.

Each bombsite begins as a place peppered with places of safety, but slowly turns into one filled with terrifyingly open, rubble-strewn spaces that you’ll struggle to cross in one turn, let alone be able to fire off a shot or go into overwatch after moving. A soldier not in cover is a dead soldier, unless he’s wearing the late-game stealth armour. Everything hinges on cover, a great deal of which is eroded or destroyed when pummelled by gunfire2 or targeted with explosives, and in addition to that the AI is pretty hot on flanking and flushing, so you need to move rather than camp at all times.

Any skirmish is a matter of man-management, tough decisions about whether to take the shots more likely hit to but less likely to kill, or to focus riskier fire on the most dangerous enemy, to creep closer to increase accuracy but putting your guy at greater risk, to try and save a downed colleague under a hail of green fire before they bleed out3, maybe to walk right up to an alien in the hope they can be stunned and captured alive4. Every move is a gamble. Every decision is critical. Your soldiers will miss more than they hit5, because they are merely frail, weak, terrified humans in a world whose technology and danger has suddenly increased a thousandfold, and each time they miss feels like the end of the world. Someone’s probably going to die now, and it’s entirely your fault (even though that soldier was the idiot who couldn’t shoot straight at something not 10 feet away).

It isn’t the end of the world, of course. The end of the world is very much on the horizon and approaching fast, but you have a great many tools to try and keep it at bay with. Foremost amongst those tools are your soldiers, who occupy a strange hybrid status of utterly disposable and incomparably precious. Ordering new/replacement soldiers is cheap, fast and easy, but a half-dozen rookies put together are no substitute for one lost Colonel or Major. For they are priceless. They matter more than your children ever could.

Where, in X-COM, a high-ranking soldier largely meant simply better stats, here it also6 means more Abilities – abilities which drastically alter the shape of the battle. Assault’s run and gun, which allows shooting or going into overwatch after two moves rather than one, is essential for getting a shot in before the enemy does, a Support that carries three medkits rather than one is pretty much the most important unit in the field, a Sniper’s crit-causing headshot will often one-shot armoured enemies and a Heavy who can take two shots per turn is often the only way to take out a Bezerker before it bearhugs one of your guys to death.

Despite the abilities, I did find that the ground missions can feel a little homongeous at times, with some similar-looking and somewhat confined settings, not a huge amount of verticality7, the more-or-less sure knowledge of where the enemies are and the constant requirement to hop methodically from cover to cover making a few feel like something to endure during the long wait for new types of equipment to be developed. But as new equipment, enemies and abilities are put on the table, new strategies blossom out of them.

A Support soldier’s area of effect-upgraded smoke grenades become a way to more safely move a group of soldiers in closer to a deadly Cyberdisc or Sectopod, an Assault soldier’s ability to take a free reaction shot whenever an enemy closes within four tiles becomes a reason to knowingly put him in danger so you can exploit it and, most of all, the late-game psychic abilities provide the foundation for new combinations of attack. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises there, but suffice to say any Professor Xes you have on staff are game-changers. As are the Professor Xes the enemy increasingly fields. What were your most effective, most treasured soldiers suddenly become huge risk factors.

I don’t miss time units, which had been perhaps my greatest source of concern before I played the thing, as there’s a flow and a greater opportunity to devise a multi-turn masterplan with the new one move, one action system. It means tough decisions rather than coin-counting, rather than basically spamming your guys in various directions to see what you turn up. I see it as different rather than a replacement – as a result, the original X-COM can and will still serve a purpose in my life in addition to this new exploration of its themes.

I do, though, really miss free aim, which seems to me to be a sacrifice made for a console-friendly, jump to target interface. It’s frustrating to not be able to get to an obscured alien even though you know full well the lizard-skinned bastard is crouching right behind a destructible bit of wall, or later on to not make your guys target an enemy you’ve mind-controlled, while the harsh8 limitations on grenades and rockets can leave me with the dull, intangible ache of a phantom limb. But these gripes are safely in the territory of “that’s a shame,” not “no sale”.

It looks great, too – not as openly cartoon as the original, but definitely a B-movie comicbook. The animations are dramatic and characterful, again the devastation feels extreme, the redesigned aliens do threaten to be as memorable as their predecessors and there’s a chunky, tangible solidity to environments and characters both. Again, that word ‘thrilling’ occurs: the look and the action-cam serve to accentuate, rather than replace, the tension/relief or distress cycle in each and every shot. Is it gonna hit is it gonna hit oh God it is hasn’t/OH GOD YES IT HAS. It’s a turn-based strategy game convincingly dressed as a third-person action game – but not a third-person action game pretending to be a turn-based strategy game. This is the real deal, but with presentation values the like of which TBS has never before seen.

My most serious reservations come up in reference to XCOM’s other game, the base mode. Again, it looks great – the much-hyped Ant Colony mode presenting what was formerly top-down squares as a buzzing cross-section of activity. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at that stuff after the first sight of it. Most of the rooms I went on to build I never even saw. There was no need to, but more damningly there was no sense of pride in construction at doing so. A base almost immediately sprawls beyond one screen, with a weirdly slow panning system to go see the rest of it, and almost none of the rooms do anything interactive. Once built, they add options to the crucial set of drop-down menus on the top of the screen, and in doing so shoot their own existence in the foot. There’s no need to ever look at them again. It seems like a waste of creation to me, and by contrast to X-COM I wasn’t imbued with the arrogant sense of being king of a private world built just for me.

Interception, meanwhile, is an almost bizarrely flat affair. While its radar-view simplicity was never X-COM’s strongest suit, here it’s reduced to even less. No choosing attack type or distance, just watching a 2D, side-on battle of shapes play out, with the option to click on one or some of the three buffs (attack, dodge, speed) you can research and build for weird costs (creating a dodge power-up requires Floater corpses, for instance). Interception also happens oddly infrequently, and most of your craft will be housed in never-seen hangars in other parts of the world. Never glimpsed, so never felt attached to. Interception feels incomplete, frankly, but it’s a critical part of the game, unless you want all the funding nations to walk out in a panicked huff.

However, the stuff in those drop-down menus on the base screen? That’s the good stuff. Oh baby, yes. There’s no skimping there, with the vast majority of the original game’s tech tree recreated, reimagined and then expanded still further. Big, generous handfuls of things to build, things to research and, newly, upgrades to existent gear and soldiers. With cash – gained from the increasingly untrusting nations who fund the XCOM project – and resources – collected from the battlefield – forever hard to get hold of in huge quantities, there’s a constant dilemma over what to do, buy or build.

You’ll always have long-term goals, but in the short-term your squad will field what you can afford, which of course hinges on how well you’ve played. Between not quite being able to build as many Plasma Rifles as you want and your best soldiers lying in the infirmary, recovering from grenades to the face and claws to the belly, you’re invariably making do with what’s available, hungering for something on the close horizon that might, finally, tip the odds in your favour.

That’s part of the glorious tension that underpins every aspect of XCOM. The world’s always against you – from the engineers who can’t get off their fat arses and build a new satellite in less than 20 days to the flighty countries that withdraw funding because the tiny amount of funding they did offer wasn’t enough to field an unstoppable defence, to the soldier who misses his shot and blows up a UFO flight computer you could have built vital kit with, to of course that implacable, infinite legion of fearless aliens. The defining moment of XCOM, one which I encountered all too regularly, is holding my head in my hands, muttering ‘Oh God no’ or more profane words to that effect.

Start on normal difficulty, just to learn the changed ropes. Then, for heaven’s sake, change to Classic and Iron Man mode. Yes, there’s joy to be had from gaining access to all the game’s many, many toys and having your most beloved soldiers go the distance to the oddly underwhelming conclusion (I won’t spoil, but there’s no Cydonia or giant eyeball – though more positively you do get to lionise your favourite unit in a new way), but if you want XCOM to squat in your brain like a dark parasite whispering terrible things to you, you need to experience loss and suffering. On Normal, the late game becomes something of a cakewalk. On Impossible, it’s basically a joke for masochists, though it will force you to use flanking in a whole new way. I tried it, failed the first mission four times, eventually made it to the second and then just laughed at the screen when it was all over by turn three. Some will love it, but I like a least a little pleasure with my pain.

Classic finds the Goldilocks balance, where the challenge is towering but eminently meetable. The optional Iron Man mode prevents reliance on savegames, so when someone dies that’s it. It’s horrible, to the extent that at one point I was exploring the game’s filesystem and using undelete tools to try and resurrect my best Heavy. Fortunately, I didn’t manage to, and as a result that devastating loss at the hand-like protrusions of a Cyberdisc becomes an enduring memory. Death and failure runs in X-COM’s blood, and XCOM does not flinch from doing the same.

I have a slew of smaller complaints which I feel a tad churlish in bringing up, but it is important not to let my barely-bridled excitement at having a true-blooded new X-COM game on my PC get the better of me. The PC UI and control systems feels a little off – not hugely, but a bit rough around the edges and caught between two stools. However, I felt a lot more comfortable with it than I did the more restrictive gamepad controls.

Then there’s the lack of setpiece events, compared to the original. Your base doesn’t get invaded, you only invade one alien base, you don’t go to Mars… Making up for this significantly is more variety in the general missions, such as bomb defusal and rescuing named NPCs, plus of course the Terror Missions that involve trying to evacuate as many civilians as possible even as the enemy aims its most fearsome beasties at your guys. I keep trying not to too constantly compare XCOM to X-COM, but it does follow so many of the same beats in terms of the event structure that these omissions were impossible not to notice, or indeed miss.

And there are bugs. It is not a buggy game as such, generally being a slick affair, but two big errors came up repeatedly in my many hours with the game. A camera issue in UFO missions that keeps seeing the view flick to the roof, sometimes meaning I couldn’t make soldiers go where I wanted them to go, while soldiers flying around in the late-game Archangel armour had a tendency to become stuck in place (again usually inside UFOs) forcing me to play with a reduced hand. I’m sure they’ll be patched in short order, but they did on occasion make things for difficult for me.

I’m also very disappointed that much of the soldier customisation – primarily armour colour, but a few more visual options too – has been partioned off into pre-order DLC (no doubt made available as an extra purchase later). This stuff doesn’t lend you any in-game advantage, but as your attachment to your soldiers is such a critical part of the experience, and the ability to tweak their appearance such a critical part of that, a copy of the game with that element missing will be so much lesser. It opens up a world of personal roleplaying and even a little strategic help – for instance, all my medics were given red armour so I’d know at a glance where they were in relation to the rest of the squad, rookies I’d dress in hot pink so I’d know not to freak out when they bought the farm, while any soldier that made it to Sergeant would be themed to look like the Transformer I’d nickname them after. I understand the commercial need behind pre-order incentives, but this particular element plays such a huge part in the personalisation of a game that’s all about personalisation. So I feel sort of bad about saying this, but do what you can to get a copy of the game with that stuff included, basically. Retail copies have it in there, so that might be the way to go even if it’s less convenient.

Oh yes, and that soldiers have American voices regardless of nationality is distracting. Especially as I believe localised voices were recorded for other territories anyway. Modders, to arms!

Those, then, are the grumbles, but they are not the story. The story is that I love XCOM, I’m so glad it was made and I expect to be playing it and replaying it for a long, long time to come. There are things, big and small, I would change or don’t see the reasoning for, but it all-told it does so much more than I ever thought possible, both in terms of resurrecting XCOM’s core values and making a turn-based strategy game with high-tech, 2012, thrilling presentation.

This isn’t a matter of a starving man grateful for the slimmest of pickings. XCOM is a bounteous strategy/roleplaying feast, and I’m not particularly dismayed that a couple of the side-dishes taste a bit suspect. It’s a triumph that XCOM even exists, so that it’s also bloody brilliant and thoroughly modern with it excites me to introverted core. X-COM’s tiny, precious world has seen many unwelcome invaders over the years, but trust me – this one comes in peace.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is out tomorrow in North America and on Friday on Europe, because retailers are asses.


1 You start with a squad of but four, but quickly can – and should – upgrade to five and then six if you have enough cash and a soldier of a suitably high rank. It is the most essential upgrade in the game.

2 Scenery destruction depends somewhat on the gun used. The entry-level, bullet-based weapons don’t do much damage to non-organic matter, but by the time you’re up to plasma weapons you can expect to see rocks and walls disintegrate. However, there is no free aim for weapons other than rocket launchers and grenades, so you cannot deliberately target specific parts of the environment in the hope of making a sheltering enemy more visible. As such, scenery destruction happens only when a shot misses, and even then only occasion. This does frustrate me, as I’d love to, say, have a Heavy remove a section of wall to open up a clear line of sight for a Sniper ally. I suspect free-aim will be the most called-for mod/patch, and I hope someone makes it happen. Between your guys and the aliens, however, rest assured that every mission will see loads of devastation.

3 Usually soldiers, and especially rookies, will flat-out die when wounded fatally, but there’s a chance they’ll go into a critical state from which they can be stabilised or revived if you can get someone with a medkit over to them within three turns. You can buy an upgrade in the Officer Training School which increases the odds of high-ranking soldiers going critical rather than perishing outright.

4 If an alien dies, its weapons explode and so can’t be taken back to be equipped. So Stuns aren’t there just to enable the interrogation of live aliens. With cash and components forever in short supply, capturing rather than killing thus becomes a vital, but forever risky, means of upgrading your soldiers’ equipment.

5 My preferred sniper would for some reason almost always miss a shot with 95% hit chance. This made me very cross indeed. But when, in the late game, with her plasma sniper rifle and upgraded SCOPE, she did hit with the sniper-standard Headshot ability, it would usually crit and thus insta-kill – activating her upgrade that then allowed her to take a second shot. Sometimes, this would roll to a third. She became incredible at thinning enemy ranks without having even left her starting position. Just so long as that first shot hit.

6 A smaller number of stats do remain, but don’t play an active role in things. A Sniper is always and only a Sniper; an Assault soldier can’t use a Sniper rifle no matter how good his/her stats; a higher-ranking soldier has better odds of hitting and more health points than a lower-ranking one does. You can add items that alter some of these, most pertinently the scope for accuracy and chitin under-armour vest made from downed Chrysalids for health, but other than that the stats self-manage. But there is one stat that does matter, and heavily so in the late game – Will. In the early game, this affects the likelihood of troops freaking out if they’re wounded, they spy a large pack of enemies or a comrade dies, but once psychic creatures enter the fray soldiers with low Will are prime for mind control and other mental attacks. Soldiers with high Will are more likely (but most certainly not guaranteed) to have the gift of psychic powers themselves.

7 Verticality is primarily of use to snipers, who gain bonuses if on higher terrain as well as often having a larger field of vision. Sniper-specific armour offers grappling hooks with which to reach different levels. Some maps – for instance, the forest setting used for assaulting crashed UFOs – have very little in the way of verticality, which can make using snipers a mildly frustrating matter of forever shuffling them forwards, while others positively depend on it. The larger scale UFOs have a second level which you’#ll want to get snipers up to asap, while Terror Missions often see aliens murdering civilians on the second floor, so you’ll need to hot foot it up there quickly. But, all told, there’s a lot less multi-height combat than in the original game. Again, this is about pushing a front-line forward more than it is scouring an environment.

8 Each soldier can carry one item in addition to their two weapons. So, it’s grenades or medkits or SCOPE or chitin or stungun or assorted other things, as apparently this internationally-funded military operation can’t afford belts or bags. On top of that, one grenade is the only and only grenade that soldier can carry, so use it wisely. However, an optional Support class ability lets them carry two items, and a Heavy one allows two grenades. The restrictions are frustrating and not a little illogical, but there are, I think, two good reasons for them. Firstly, there is terror in seeing an icon that could have saved someone’s arsed greyed out, forcing you to devise an emergency alternative tactic (or, y’know, die). Secondly, adding willy-nilly use of explosives to the aforementioned levels of inadvertent devastation would likely mean each level become a smoking wasteland within a couple of turns.


  1. makute says:

    And once again I found myself waiting for the modding community to finish an otherwise perfectly fine game.

  2. Joshua Northey says:

    Reasonably good review but I have never understood the following sentiment you also appear to buy into:

    “and the X-COM name was sullied by spin-offs that had about as much in common with it as Hulk Hogan has with Stephen Hawking. X-COM was over, surely. ”

    Unless you are referring to actual X-Com branded games (which were kind fo weak), I feel you are giving short shrift to the low budget titles out there which were not half bad. The UFO: A series of games was quite good in its own way and a nice substitute for people missing X-com and UFO extraterrestrials was also serviceable.

    I am a little sad this game diminished the geoscape instead of expanding it, that is where I wanted to see the game grow, but obviously those types of games have a smaller market. I also think the UI looks pretty bad, and I disagree with the decision to move away from free aiming (or more generally a more realistic combat simulation). That said it looks fun and I look forward to playing it.

    • jonfitt says:

      I agree, the UFO games were good. They got a lot of stuff right. But they didn’t quite hit the nail on the head and were in a way the Methadone to X-COM’s Heroine.

    • The_B says:

      I think in fairness as Alec refers to the XCOM name specifically, he means just those that carried the XCOM branding, such as the awful Enforcer spinoff. Given though that the original game is known under three different names alone (UFO: Enemy Unknown, X-COM UFO Defense and X-COM: Enemy Unknown) I can see where the confusion might lie as to what constitutes a “spin-off” as opposed to a “spiritual successor”.

  3. jonfitt says:

    YAY! an X(-)COM game that gets it right to a large degree! I am pleased by this news.

  4. wodin says:

    Funny enough IGN seem to have a decent review thats is less enthusiastic as many I’ve read. They still rate it highly.

    link to uk.ign.com

    “The lack of elbow room compounds that problem. Instead of letting players exercise their tactical muscle through maneuver and exploration, here the tactical decisions are heavily weighted towards just picking the right abilities and managing your cover. This tendency leaves you essentially playing an RPG that feels more like a cover-based shooter than a strategy game. To be fair, position matters and you can flank enemies and destroy their cover, but there’s never enough room to really get inventive with your tactical positioning.”

    “So far, this review has avoided direct comparisons between this game and the original 1994 Microprose classic, partly because the expectations of today’s gamers are slightly different, but mostly because this title deserves to be judged on its own merits. But for those of you who were fans of the original, you should know the remake shares many of the themes and mechanics of the original but it’s still not as deep, tactically speaking. The streamlining certainly makes for a more convenient overall experience, but some of the finer details and sense of control have been lost.2

    • JoeGuy says:

      IGN’s review is fairly empty of any information. You don’t even know about squad commands, class types, cover systems, multiplayer, why permadeath and customization are so key to the franchise. The guy phoned it in or was told to write a short review because its a more PC oriented game and IGN are not very good PC reviewers in my experience.

    • MrMud says:

      Having played the actual game for a few hours I 100% agree with that section of the IGN review. This feels like a Gears of War tactics game and not in a good way.

      • JoeGuy says:

        If you can take IGN serious about PC games and judge a game on an ‘optional’ camera feature then what hope do I have to change your mind :(

  5. Zenicetus says:

    Okay, the game is unlocked on this side of the pond and here are a few very quick impressions, since I’ve been critical of the UI in the demo.

    First off, the good news is that the release version doesn’t have some of the annoying inconsistencies in mouse clicks on icons that the demo had (you can one-click on Next Turn, etc.). The “ant hill” view of your base supports clicking directly on the room you want to view, with a right mouse button click to exit. There are still some console-ish aspects to the navigation, but it’s not as annoying as the demo.

    One remaining major annoyance is having the overhead camera locked to 4-point cardinal views instead of smooth rotation to any angle. Because the maps are small and fairly tight (at least in the first few missions), it’s critical to get a good view of what’s going on. I often found myself wanting some in-between view instead of what the camera rotation offered. I don’t know if this is moddable or not… I hope it is. I don’t see the point in locking rotation to just four views like this. The camera also feels clumsy when it bumps up against vertical surfaces and goes full overhead view, then back to a more isometric angle when you move it, but I guess I can get used to it.

    Eyeballing line of sight will take some getting used to, because everyone leaves cover to fire. You can’t easily tell shot angles from the cover position of your guys and the aliens (this was in the demo too). It feels odd to have to mouse over a “chance to hit,” or go into the VATS-alike view, instead of just looking at the screen. Some of the firing positions just don’t look like they would work from the overhead view, and it’s a nasty surprise when the game decides that it does work.

    The aiming of grenades is very twitchy… I don’t expect to use grenades much, but it’s like the mouse is suddenly 10 times more sensitive and the camera moves all over the place when I’m trying to aim a grenade. Probably a minor bug.

    I was a little surprised how abruptly the game throws you into combat without any backstory about the first signs of aliens landing. It’s just… “boom”, you’re fighting aliens. I know it’s all about the tactics, but I was just surprised there wasn’t more of an intro to the scenario and why you’re suddenly in command of this X-Com force. I wonder how that feels to someone who didn’t play the classic game.

    Overall, a pretty good impression so far, with a few reservations. No obvious bugs or crashes, and it runs smoothly on my machine (no change from the demo). Back to the game…

    • Zenicetus says:

      One more thing: The Steam version of the game has no manual. Nothing on the Steam library links, no PDF manual in the game folders that I could find. There is an in-game encyclopedia of sorts, but it’s very limited.

      This isn’t a terribly complicated game, but I did have some questions right away that couldn’t be answered with that in-game info. It’s disappointing to spend $50 on a game like this and have no manual at all. (grumpyface)

      • JoeGuy says:

        I’d be really disappointed if they gave you the manual tbh. Enemy Unknown is supposed to be played once just to get the swing of it and then again on Classic Iron Man when you are accustom to the research trees etc. It would be like reading a manual for Dark Souls.

        That actually plays into the “thrust you into the game with little information” style of game XCOM is. You shouldn’t ever have as much information or resources as you want. Its all about hanging the story on players actions and discovering everything for yourself.

        I hear the camera is quite twitchy if you stretch aiming reticules to the maximum because of buggy cursor/camera reactions. So I assume that will get fixed, hopefully before my fellow Europeans are playing it.

        • Zenicetus says:

          No, I agree that there should be a sense of discovery. I’m talking about more basic user interface and game mechanics; things that aren’t covered in the brief tutorial missions.

          For example, what does it mean when one of the alien head icons turns yellow instead of red? What’s the difference between Overwatch and Supressing Fire? Or in the barracks, looking at one of my soldiers, why can I change his name but I can’t give him a nickname? Does he need a certain rank before he gets a nickname? Just really basic stuff like that, which would normally be covered by a manual.

          I don’t think I’ve ever bought a strategy game that didn’t include a manual of one kind or another. Maybe this is just an old gamer’s perspective, but I like sitting back and reading game manuals to understand the controls and game mechanics before I dive in. Sure, let me figure out what tactics work (or don’t) through trial and error, but at least give the player enough information about the basic controls and mechanics.

          • JoeGuy says:

            Yeah I can see that might need explaining so. Did you do the tutorial? I already know that stuff from watching too much coverage but most of the stuff appears to have information beside it like in the ability screen or it pops-up at the bottom right of the screen. There is even a “more information” button in combat to explain in detail every one of your abilities and things like that. Yellow heads just means they are flanked and one of the soldiers/aliens cover isn’t giving a defense boost against certain enemies.

          • Zenicetus says:

            Update: 2K finally got the manual up on Steam, but it’s just a key command list and a single page with a bare outline of the game, no detailed info on controls or mechanics, and 2 pages of license legalese. Basically an Xbox insert card. A conspiracy-minded person might think the lack of a more complete manual was simply to reserve space for a strategy guide tie-in.

            The original game had a manual that was something like 120 pages (sigh). Well, I guess it’s back to puzzling it out, or hanging out on the 2K forums if I need more info.

  6. thebigJ_A says:

    Steam won’t let me buy it! I’m getting some stupid “There seems to have been an error initializing or updating your transaction. Please wait a minute and try again or contact support for assistance.” error.

    Dishonored works fine, as does any other game I’ve tried, but I don’t WAT Dishonored! Not today, anyway. Today I want XCOM!

  7. Saiko Kila says:

    Again, a game which makes it wrong and doesn’t know it.

  8. Nethlem says:

    Bleh why do we still have things like “regional release dates”? Stuff like that makes me pirate games..
    The Xbox360 version of Xcom:EU has been available to pirate for a couple of days now and i’m stuck with my digital 50€ Pre-order of the game that’s gonna unlock at Friday the soonest. But this weekend is busy with “non-gaming” stuff so i won’t have any time to actually play the game.

    Until then i’m bored out of my mind every evening, while people on the other side of the planet have fun playing a game i already paid money for, even more money than they did.

    There is just no logic to this, be a good customer and pay money so you get a worse experience -_-

    • JoeGuy says:

      Blame retail stores for saying they like launches on Friday’s because its payday, In America Tuesdays are super slow for retail and they like to make up the numbers with game launches mid-week.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      You sound like a 4 year old. Must you have everything you want the instant you want it or you will steal it?

      I hope someone steals something of yours.

  9. Joshua Northey says:

    I played for a couple hours last night and was pretty happy with it. It was sort of just what I was expecting.

    An A or A+ game in and of itself that is only say a B+ in the context of an Xcom remake. Not actually modeling the shooting and just reducing it to board game like arbitrary percentages is annoying (and the intimately related issue of no free aim). The soldiers have fewer stats, which I feel takes away a bit of their character, but the classes mostly make up for that.

    I find the smaller number of soldiers didn’t bother me at all. So far the AI has been a little lacklustre, and the similarity of the combat to other cover based shooters is a little sad. That said everything looks amazing (other than the soldier customization, which is kind of badly implemented imo).

  10. Damn Skippy says:

    I’m pretty annoyed at Amazon right now. I pre-ordered the boxed version last week, thinking with the $15 credit it puts it at the same price as the download, plus extras. I’m in the US, so it’s released today, but I won’t be getting my copy until Friday as they haven’t even shipped it yet (with 2-day shipping).

    Okay, not a huge deal, must have been more pre-orders than they expected, even though for much “bigger name” games I’ve gotten boxed copies on same day as release.

    The thing that’s pissing me off, though, is that I go look on Amazon right now (or when I checked a bit ago), I could order it now and get it delivered tomorrow or Thursday. THIS MAKES ME ANGRY I WANT TO BE PLAYING IT ALREADY BUT SOMEHOW I’M IN THE QUEUE AFTER THE PEOPLE WHO BUY IT AFTER RELEASE. I know I’m just whining into the ether here, but damn it I’m annoyed. Should have just gotten the steam code.

  11. early says:

    If no one has said it yet. There is free aim but only for certain weapons like the rocket or grenade. So if you want to blow a hole threw something you can ( limited ammo of course).

    Currently playing normal on ironman mode (classic ironman to hard 4 me on first playthrough) and having a blast! Recently lost my 2 most veteran units (captains) to chrysalids in the alien base assault. My “heavy” captain was caught off guard by 3 of them. He had 13 hp but was zombified (visually disheartening mind you) after the 3rd attack. The rest of my squad was able to clean off the aliens and my zombified capt. But not before he one shot my other capt. “sniper”

    Although I lost 2 valuable teammates they played an important role in the survival of the team based on the tactics I threw together in the given scenario. Rest in piece soldiers. There names now burnt into my memory and the memorial of course. :)

  12. three60mafia says:

    While I really like the game, I feel it is definitely lacking the scale and scope of the original. You can only have 1 base from what I could tell, and only 1 dropship, with only 6 people on ground at any given time. It feels like you’re fighting really small battles instead of global defensive effort. With only 1 dropship, you can not do as many missions as you want, back to back. Which means 2 out of 3 countries will get screwed every mission. And you were artificially unable to help them.

    And the fact that countries send you 100 credits instead of millions is also jarring. It feels like you’re getting NO funding whatsoever. Before, with each payday you can buy a whole bunch of stuff…, now I can afford like 1 plasma rifle a month.

    And from what I could tell so far, the design of your base does not matter as you are not going to get attacked at home.

    Additionally, the way combat works is also different from the first game. Apart from smaller scale, aliens generally do not do any actions unless discovered. The second you discover them, they get to take defensive positions. Unlike in the original, where aliens would stand still even upon discovery. This was dubbed “monster closet” by the community, because essentially, until you discover a group of aliens (and they always come in 2 – 3’s), there is nothing to fear. However, once you come upon them, they get to do a free move while you’re still moving around.

    Instead of having bases with radar dishes around the world to ensure optimal alien coverage, you now have to purchase satellites to hover over each XCOM-supporting country. The more satellites are up over each country, the higher the region-specific bonus.

    It seems that without satellites everywhere, you are not going to discover a lot of random UFO’s unless they are hovering over your home base. If you do not discover them, a lot of countries are going to pull out soon. Which means that most of the time you will probably try to build satellites, which are expensive; and you also need satellite uplink structure; which takes even more time.

    Oh and you can’t hire Engineers or Scientists anymore. They come in 4’s or 5’s with each Lab or Workshop, you get the rest from mission rewards. This really limits your research and manufacturing capabilities in a way that I feel is artificial and not natural.

    • seabass83 says:

      I think you’ve identified most of the key changes. Like you I am enjoying it very much, but I have a more positive take on the changes you highlight. I really don’t mind the 6 man squad limit, as, tbh I always felt a bit cheap using more than 8 elite(ish) types in the original. In addition I am a huge fan of the perks system which individualizes your soldiers more than the old stats.

      With regards the credits, just visualise an extra 6 0’s on all of them, $5,000,000 for a sectoid corpse seems more likely than $5!

      Base design is an interesting one, it is a real shame that base invasions have gone, but the base building is actually a bit trickier than i first realised and requires a little bit of coordination with your research+manufacturing capabilities. In my current classic game the tactical side is going swimmingly (for now) but the home base is a shambles with inefficiently located power plants crippling my cash balance and ability to place satellites, hence pissing off a good number of nations (UK was the first to jump ship – government austerity going a little too far there i think).

      The satellite+interceptor to protect them mechanic suits me as I only ever used to build a couple of proper bases in the old game, essentially the next 4 or 5 bases being remote listening posts with a radar and hangar, with 1 ethically dubious laser cannon sweatshop thrown in.

      I really like the way scientists/engineers are acquired, you really have to make some tough decisions when deciding what you want, and then have to earn them. I wish I’d realised that engineers>scientists though!

      My favourite change however is the economy, squad equipment (for me anyway) “feels” expensive and every new weapon/piece of armour is treasured, whereas in the original the economy was easily broken through a number of glaring manufacturing exploits that were hard to resist

    • bernlin2000 says:

      Well, as someone new to XCOM I certainly appreciate you highlighting the differences between the two version, but I don’t think you did a good job of making the case that those changes actually make the game worse, just different.

      The number of soldiers “thing” I would totally dismiss: I don’t see how ordering around 12-16 units necessarily is more interesting or deep than having 6. It just means you have more people to move around, which makes the maps longer. I think the lead designer made a good point about this (in some interview I don’t have the link for): they felt it was better to have a smaller crew because it meant each could be more defined and personal. Commanding an army is very different from managing a squad: it’s more impersonal. When people die in XCOM it really sucks (especially in Ironman…) and I actually get angry/sad. I don’t think that would be the case if I have 12 people: they’re far more expendable in that case.

      The currently thing was just a matter of simplification, probably: perhaps the currently is highly valuable? When you’re spending a couple hundred credits for an alien spaceship I’d say having a bunch of zeros in the price is purely cosmetic. This is completely a non-issue.

      The aliens moving when you discover them can actually be very useful, when you have the rest of your squad in overwatch. They’ll likely get annihilated in that case.

      The problems with a lack of additional bases and dropships I can’t understand, because I haven’t played the original. It doesn’t seem to cause problems in the game. I don’t particularly care for all the effort it takes just to build satellites (it’s at least a 34 days wait every time, and that’s assuming you have the resources, which won’t happen if you focus on gearing your soldiers), but I don’t see how integrating the function extra bases use to have into satellites makes the game worse. Also, why would you need additional drop ships? Apparently in the original they served purposes other than moving you from the base to the mission, but that’s all been stripped away. Fighter planes take their place (although I’m sure they were in the original too).

      I do think they did make a minor mistake, though, with have satellites be so super-important. The first game I played I didn’t prioritize them and I was utterly devastated strategically-speaking after a few in-game months: I simply didn’t have funds to do anything. I do wish there were more ways to get revenue and this is another point I agree with you: I wish they hadn’t gotten rid of the ability to hire researchers and engineers. I think engineers are partly moot, though, since you can build workshops, but I do wish we had a bit more flexibility in that regard: there’s few things more annoying than wanting to build an important upgrade only to learn you’re a couple engineers short of the requirements. Researchers aren’t that important though: as long as you’ve got good satellite coverage (which comes with good planning and time) you can simply wait out the research time necessary. If you feel you’re falling behind, stick to the missions that are less difficult or when your hand is forced (when a country has a very high panic level, for example) it’s simple: l2play:-P

      Also, there’s no point in worrying about UFOs you can’t catch without satellites: might as well pretend they don’t exist. From what I’ve seen, UFO captures are just icing on the cake anyhow: great missions to get tons of “loot”, but not critical to beating the game (again…it just takes longer to win since you’ll have less resources to build upgrades)

  13. early says:

    On the lighter side, I was in a convenience store for one mission and when I went to aim/shoot an alien I would hear your stereotypical music playing in the background :p

  14. ArrenDusk says:

    This game looks really good and I can’t wait to try it out, seeing as how it has a lot of elements that made the original X-COM be so great.

    I’m really annoyed about the fact of much of the basic soldier customization being relegated to pre-order status though. I mean, really? Is an extra special skin or some other cosmetic benefit not enough? When such a huge part of what makes the series great, being able to give the loyal soldiers you’ve grown attached to some kind of identity is suddenly stripped away, it just really is quite bad. Hoping they get that out as DLC soon but regardless, it should have been included in the game anyway.

  15. bernlin2000 says:

    It really is an incredible game, but I guess I shouldn’t have expected much different from Firaxis. Sure, Civ V was pretty lame, but Civ IV was great, and they have a strong history of great turn-based games: I don’t think there is a developer out there that could have done this better (perhaps short of the original developer himself…wish he hadn’t essentially disappeared from the series). There aren’t too many games I can think of (well, any) that I’ve completed then turned around and immediately played again at the next difficulty setting. There’s a replay value here that can’t quite be quantified…it’s the raw fun of tactical gameplay that so many games try to pull off (usually to a much weaker extent, intentionally) but oftentimes fail. XCOM is a total success, and there is only minor annoyances that I can’t even think of right now (well, maybe the RNG stuff, which always annoys me, but what can you do?).

    The only major problem I had was with some fairly annoying crashes, including one that stopped me from progressing in the game, full stop. Luckily I found the solution: buy the game instead of using a pirated copy :-P