Get your ass to Mars – the original X-COM is free

Oh sure, it’s basically been pennies for years, but nothing motivates the merely curious like free-free-free. For that is the case for X-COM: UFO Defense aka UFO: Enemy Unknown, the 1994 alien-bothering strategy game that kicked off a series now made something of a household name by Firaxis’ remakes. Only until tomorrow, though.

The Gollop brothers’ original X-COM is my favourite game of all time, and though I won’t pretend nostalgia doesn’t help me get past the barriers presented by so vintage a title, I am resolute that it still holds up beautifully today. Slower, less predictable, more involved and even more sinister than Firaxis’ streamlined successors, it is a titan of both ambition and execution.

If you’ve resisted because you are morally opposed to spending money on something that runs at a resolution of 640×480, you can now obtain a copy of this icon of PC gaming without spending a penny. The Humble Store is offering the whole thing up for free, in the form of a permanent Steam key, until Wednesday evening (UK time). This leaves one day and eight hours at the time of writing. Hurry, hurry, hurry.

There are no strings as such, it’s just that they’re using this to promote their Humble Monthly Bundle subscription service, which currently features last year’s XCOM 2. But frankly, Mr Shankly, I’m of the opinion that X-COM will keep you so entertained that you won’t need XCOM 2 any time soon.


  1. rustybroomhandle says:

    I woke up with Guile-hair this morning. I knew it must have been a sign.

  2. Premium User Badge

    buenaventura says:

    I already had this, but still, very nice! I guess any article about x-com should mention link to – you can play X-COM on linux! Also, RPS already reviewed with GREAT APPROVAL the X-Piratez mod, HERE

    • Bullfrog says:

      Open Xcom is great, it adds loads of really useful tweaks and options without changing the feel of the game.

      Still waiting for a mod that makes me not scared of Chrysalids though, the awful scuttling gits.

      • AimHere says:

        The standalone mod for nonscary Chrysalids also upgrades the graphics and simplifies the gameplay, and Firaxis sells it to you for 15 quid a throw these days.

        • Heimdall2061 says:

          I found the cloppy-cone-horses quite scary, though not as bad as the originals.

    • Ghostwise says:

      RPS already reviewed with GREAT APPROVAL the X-Piratez mod

      Thus crashing the poor guys’ web site for days, because clearly RPS is like a giant radioactive iguana of doom who cannot help but crush ordinary buildings as it fights giant… alien… mmm… space bats.

      If only giant radioactive iguanas of doom more often had an Uncle Ben, then more people would have a house.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        It’ll take more than rice to stop a giant radioactive space iguana.
        How about some kind of sauce? And a source of protein as well.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      X-Piratez has improved enormously since that review, too, with very frequent updates gradually taking it further and further away from x-com itself (which I also love to pieces, don’t get me wrong). You now have far more of a feeling of progression, starting with basically a few sharp sticks and spending the first year or so of gameplay surviving by using whatever weapons you can scrounge from your marks. Hell, you can’t even shoot down the various factions’ ships to begin with, instead having to tail them until they land.

      Then by the end-game you’ve got nuclear-powered gattling lasers, mobile artillery and destructive, eldritch powers, and you’re selling guns and even tanks to half the nations of the post-cataclysmic earth. It’s a slower-burning and more cautious game than x-com (you initially have no real penalty for taking your time), but the gradual build in scope and shift in strategies is very satisfying.

  3. pelwl says:

    Just an FYI – you need to redeem the key on Steam by Feb 15 or it’ll disappear from your Humble library.

    • Syrion says:

      From what I’ve heard it actually only needs to be redeemed on, which is an extra click after the “purchase” that reveals the key. After the date the key will not be shown anymore, though. So, as long as you write it down somewhere you could theoretically still activate it several years from now.

  4. Benratha says:

    Hi Alec. I wasn’t aware of your memoir-like musings on old software titles and the links to your childhood. Thanks for the link!

  5. Spongbo says:

    320×200, I think you’ll find… Classic VGA.

    • Sic says:

      Yeah, 640*480 is SVGA. Crisp as fuck.

      • CMaster says:

        No, 800 x 600 was SVGA. 320 x 200 was EGA/CGA

        • udat says:

          It was a whgile ago, but I think VGA resolution changed with the number of colours.

          320*200 with 256 colours, and maybe 640*480 with 16 colours?

          640*480 with more than 16 colours might have counted as Super VGA.

          Heh. Super.

  6. Kefren says:

    1. The image is a spoiler. It took me twelve hours to see that. :-)
    2. Needs “staring eyes” tag.
    3. I replay this game regularly. So much fun. I love TFTD too, but more games of TFTD end in slow disaster (probably because most missions are two stages, and chrysalids can now fly).

    • theblazeuk says:

      12 hours? I think I spent like an hour per mission paranoid that a muton was behind every barn door.

      • Kefren says:

        (Caught out: I made that figure up. UFO was the only game I played for a long time, so I can’t remember how long the first game was – a blur. I remember playing it on each difficulty, not cottoning on to the fact that the first release was broken, and after saving the game it reset to the lowest difficulty – I was playing the same game five times and thinking I was amazing. Years later I got the Internet and read about a patch to fix that bug. Doh.)

    • CMaster says:

      TFTD is proper hard.

      It was my fist experience of xcom, and I think that “proper hard” is the right way for the game to be. The aliens have the advantage. Losing is likely.

      • Kefren says:

        Every mission you survived felt exhausting, victory only just claimed whilst still pained about all the losses. To win that game without cheating felt amazing.

      • theblazeuk says:

        Yes BUT the Cruise ship missions were a lesson in torture even with motion sensors. Damn Sectoid hiding in a closet somewhere.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        TFTD was my first, too. From what I’ve observed in the years since, those who started with TFTD really quite like it, whereas those who started with Enemy Unknown never really got along with the sequel. I can understand it. TFTD was a terrible, awful sequel, but a fantastic game in its own right. I too have trouble enjoying an x-com or x-com-like if it isn’t rock hard.

    • Premium User Badge

      subdog says:

      The “Staring Eyes” tag has sadly fallen by the wayside here at RPS.

  7. KFee says:

    I don’t collect every garbage just because it is free. This was a great game back in the days but yea, back in the days…

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      Not like having this in your steam library actually takes up space.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Sheesh, way to be a buzzkill.

      Just because you can’t enjoy anything more than a few years old doesn’t make it ‘garbage’. You only have to look at any comment thread related to this game to realize a vast number of people still adore it, surely you can appreciate that.

      • MisterFurious says:

        That’s funny. I just saw a video a couple of weeks ago of someone who said the old XCOM was one of his favorite games of all time and he’s been playing the newer ones and loves them, too, trying to go back to the old one and giving up after a while because it’s so slow and clunky and hard to play now. The reason why people adore old games and movies is because of Nostalgia Blindness. It’s the reason why Star Wars movies still make a billion dollars even when they’re awful.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          I’m speaking as a person who’s played and enjoyed every x-com (well okay, not interceptor and that one shooter), old and new, yknow. I’m not trying to tell you that everybody must enjoy the originals, but I also refuse to accept that the new ones render them obsolete or inferior. One person making a video that says otherwise does not make it true. Enemy Unknown, and many many other older games, are still fantastic fun and still do many things that haven’t been bettered or, in some cases, even really attempted since. You are free to prefer newer titles, you are free to flat out dislike all older ones, but that does not mean that people who still love and enjoy them are wrong. Fuck nostalgia, frankly, I play games that give me the kind of fun I look for, old or new, and I know I’m not alone.

          • cardboardcity says:

            Yes, people telling other people they are having fun wrong are tedious. May be a sign of insecurity.

        • Crafter says:

          I played a little bit of XCOM as a kid and rediscovered the first game a couple of years ago.

          The UI is awful. Managing munitions is tedious.
          BUT the game is still extremely fun to play to and does not really have a modern remake I enjoy as much.

          So no, it is not just misguided nostalgia (even though it is really a thing), some old games are just timeless.

  8. stele says:

    Two weeks. Two weeks.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    The anal me reminds: it’s UFO: Enemy Unknown aka XCOM Ufo Defense. XCOM was the name used only in USA. And you are british, RPS!

  10. ZakG says:

    Certainly my number one ‘Best Game Ever’, but for those that do not do Steam, and even those that do, the OpenXcom version is the best one to play, exactly like the original, just with bug fixes, GUI improvements and better support for higher resolutions.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Aye, can’t recommend OpenXcom highly enough. Pretty much any old wrinkle or complaint you want to fix can be fixed, but it also forces basically none of it on you, so you can play the classic pretty much whatever way you please. Fantastic source port for a fantastic game.

  11. Chiron says:

    Fantastic game, I even prefer it to the shiny new ones. Sadly I already own it on Steam along with the others.

    Xenonauts was a worthy attempt to replicate it but it took itself a bit to seriously and had some flaws.

  12. Themadcow says:

    Open XCOM is the definitive version IMO. It’s hard to improve on something as near perfect as the original x-com but the changes made really are excellent quality-of-life additions.

    Um, any news on Phoenix Point? It seems to have disappeared off the radar, and considering it’s a Gollop made Xco… err, squad based tactics game, I was really hoping for some more news by now.