E3 2011 Live coverage : XCOM

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When the new Xcom was announced, I was filled with trepidation, and more than just a little disgust. How could they take one of the most ionic strategy games ever made, and devolve it in to one of those mindless of all; an FPS. I’ve just concluded another behind-doors session and my fears have largely been allayed.

The Xcom games have always been about large-scale, tactical global combat – and have traditionally been the top down strategy sort. How the effing EFF could they make this a first person shooter? thankfully the guys from 2K Marin aren’t just making a big dumb shooter; they’re fans of the original and wanted to bring the same concepts from the original, but to modern gamers with modern gaming systems. To do this, they identified 3 core mechanics or concept that make XCOM XCOM.

Those are that there’s no one-man army; it’s a large-scale combat and no single person is capable of stopping an alien threat. Deep, strategic and tactical combat and lastly, that you’re fighting a large, but unknown and mysterious threat. By all accounts, it seems they’ve succeeded. the game takes place on continental America, in the early 60’s- just after the collapse of the idyllic 1950’s American Dream.

The game actually shares its general  aesthetic with more RPG-focused FPS encounters like Fallout. You play as intelligence officer agent Carter – and you’ll have to assemble teams to work with you on each mission. Each of your fellow agents earns XP and can be upgraded, giving them new and enhanced abilities. Though there’s a central plot and plot-specific missions, others are semi-randomly generated, removing any sort of forced linearity. some missions will further the plot, with others furthering the opportunity for research or territorial control.

America is being invaded by an alien force – the outsiders – , with an unknown agenda. They’re not only killing citizens, but also terra-forming the American landscape into an odd, blue crystalline one.  Yes, it’s an FPS but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much strategy was required in each of the demo’d encounters.  you can slow down combat to a crawl, and assign tasks to your fellow agents, like using specific powers, capturing alien tech or flanking – actions which all use time units. during combat you can also capture tech for research, or re-deploy said tech on the battlefield in a trade-off between staying alive, or understanding the attacking alien force.

It’s not as pretty as some of the other games we’ve seen – but it seems to be a very cerebral experience; a thinking man’s FPS. I entered the session without much in the way of anticipation, and left feeling more than intrigued. XCOM could be one to watch.

Last Updated: June 9, 2011

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I’m old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time – they were capable of being masterpieces. I’m here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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