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Published on June 25th, 2010 | by Cameron Woolsey

XCOM Impressions

Official Trailer:

I’m not ashamed enough to admit that before the announcement trailer, I knew next to nothing about the X-COM franchise or that it was to be given a reboot thanks to 2K Marin (Bioshock 2). But I don’t feel all that bad about it because last week before the demonstration took place, only one journalist raised his hand when our group was asked if any of us had experience with the games.

It’s true; X-COM is truly a cult franchise with its own collection of fans. However, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the game and let it slip back into the shadows. 2K Marin is on a mission to give the old neglected franchise the reboot of a lifetime, hoping to bring a new set of fans to the X-COM universe. Hitting the PC market in 1994 (X-COM: UFO Defense), the series had a humble beginning as a space-themed action-based strategy game. The reboot, redubbed as simply XCOM, is a first-person-shooter set in the 1950s. Although the play style has changed, 2K Marin claims that elements from the original games will be seen in the new XCOM.

In XCOM, you play as FBI agent William Carter and you control the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit (or XCOM for short). Your mission is to be the first line of defense against the unknown and to study the mysterious aliens that threaten the land. If you can imagine Men in Black but in the 1950s rural America, you have a good grasp on how this will play out.

The XCOM headquarters is hidden in an airplane hangar and is full of everything a good alien-fighting special agent needs. Here, players can research and upgrade equipment with the help of the chief engineer. Using an alien artifact, players can discover new information during missions and then use this research for creating powerful, never-before-seen weapons and gear. One little beauty that comes as a result of your hard work is the lightning gun. After developing such an exciting little gizmo, you can take it out into the field and test it yourself. Think of it as a perk for being the man in charge. Another item we were introduced to was a grenade filled with a black fluid that, when thrown, ignites with the ferocity of a molotov cocktail, that is if the bottle was filled with nitro.

The hangar also includes a large map of the U.S. displayed against a wall. Here players can choose missions to go to. Each mission has a unique reward for completion but, in a twist, also has a drawback. Some missions will allow you to stock up on resources and research information while others will have you go to a town to rescue threatened civilians who are being attacked by alien forces. One mission I saw on the board just said “Unknown.” Choosing this path sounded exciting but we decided to go to a suburb currently being attacked by aliens. A woman called recently called saying that the town was being attacked and needed help. Carter’s secretary was on hand to let us know that while saving the people would bring us some good-guy points, we were giving up the chance to go to another mission where we would gain resources instead. This little interaction shows that XCOM will provide gamers with several different mission paths to take possibly leading to different outcomes and possibly, different endings as well. I don’t believe there will be any goodguy/badguy branches to follow along the way, so joining with the aliens to destroy all mankind is most likely not going to be the option.

The town we reach is bright, cheerful, and just oozing American dream from every orifice along with bright green lawns and white picket fences. It is comfy and quiet; maybe too quiet. In fact, there isn’t a sound to be heard. To confirm any suspicions, a nearby house is completely empty, yet the backyard featured a nasty surprise. A body was splayed out next to the back door, covered in black slime. Taking cues from Bioshock, XCOM gives you access to a camera which you can use to take pictures of alien evidence for research which you can take back to HQ.

Navigating around an area is done by the way of a paper map which Carter carries with him. A press of the button will bring up the map and a red circle signifies the destination in which players need to travel to. In this level, the red circle is over the house in which the desperate phone call recently took place. During a rescue mission such as this it’s important to try and save the person you’re after. The woman who made the call is in a house just down the street, and time is a factor.

Again, the primary theme that 2K Marin is trying to convey with this game is that of defending the world against the unknown. So far, the only evidence to alien attackers has been dead bodies covered in black slime. The fear of not knowing what exactly is around the corner will keep players on their toes. Yet the target house finally reveals the culprit. Readying weapons, Agent Carter storms in to face his enemy: hideous, terrifying, scream-inducing…little black lobs. Huh, didn’t see that one coming. But–almost thankfully–the little blobs turn out to be pretty mean little buggers. They move fast and attack anything nearby. A few shots from the shotgun will reveal their true form: smaller blue orbs. A few more shots cause them to explode into blue mist.

While the trusty shotgun can do easy work on one or two blobs, against four or five we start to have problems. Thankfully the lightning gun–turning out to be a great example on the need for research–can fry several with just one trigger pull. And the “blobotov” is pretty handy too when used against enemies who are in confined areas.

Before starting a mission, players can pick and choose agents to accompany them. These agents are not immortal, as we have seen. They can die and their deaths can change the outcome of the mission. In what way, I’m not currently sure, but players should keep in mind that every action in this game will have consequences. During the demo we had two agents with us, now we were down one. Sadly, though we were victorious, one of our agents went down. We didn’t have enough time to mourn Special Agent Bob because a loud rumbling brought us back outside taking with us the slime-coated Special Agent Frank; the “lucky” one.

Outside we faced a new enemy, one so terrible that it’s almost too difficult to describe. Floating in the air, we saw a monstrous, repulsive, blood-chilling… flying orange rectangular cube. Now that’s interesting. Wow, what I would do for some good ol’ predictable gray aliens. A few moments later, the innocent looking cuboid transformed into two separate objects: a large ring with a smaller ring in the center. A glowing white fireball in the middle of the smaller ring was alarming, but poor Agent Frank must have had a poor sense of danger. In an impressive display of power, the ring fired a white death ray at Agent Frank, completely disintegrating him and the car he was standing next to, leaving nothing more than a smoking crater. The attack left so little trace I felt it was almost comical; I half-expected to see a brown fedora floating down into the crater. No such luck. We then watched as Carter ran backwards, firing as many shotgun rounds and lighting blasts as he could as cars and patches of asphalt were reduced to smoking cinders in front of him. At last the beam caught up to him and as the screen turned white, the XCOM logo appeared signifying the end of the demo.

Before the demonstration, XCOM went from my list of games never heard of, to my list of games to watch out for. While the graphics are still rough and some gameplay needs tweaking, I believe that the folks at 2K Marin are onto another fun franchise. Will XCOM turn out to be another franchise successfully rebooted for this generation of consoles? We shall see once the game hits stores sometime in 2011.

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Check out some screenshots direct from E3 here: http://www.gamingtruth.com/2010/06/23/xcom-e32010-screens/

Be sure to check out the website as well: http://www.xcom.com/xcom.html

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About the Author

Video game journalist since 2006, and gaming since he was old enough to use an Atari joystick. Follow me: @Cam_is_16bit



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