By: Michael Dao
PAX Prime 2012 is the first time that Americans have had the opportunity to play the sequel to one of the best strategy games created, X-Com: UFO Defense. We’ve previewed the game previously with great excitement, and being able to play it for the first time, I can safely tell you that the hype is well deserved. This game not only advances the genre, but it holds true to its source material.
The demo started with an opening cinematic, where a squad of rookies are being slaughtered by an alien incursion. The sole survivor of the squad of rookies is screaming into his radio begging for assistance, and just like that, the cavalry, a squad of high level soldiers are dispatched to his location. Previously, we’ve only seen a lower level team, so it was great to see how the soldiers can grow. The last to disembark from the aircraft was clearly a human with psionic abilities, which was described to us as being “beyond human.” As he stepped out of the Skyranger, the audience was told that it was only fitting that the man who created Civilization would be the man who would save it. Yes, Sid Meier was strutting out ready to unleash his mental powers on the alien invaders. We got to see specialized armor, from the sniper that was encased in Archangel armor, allowing them to pick off targets with ease while in the sky, to the Assault’s Ghost armor which gave them the ability to be invisible as well as a have a faster run speed.
Having the opportunity to play the beginning of the game, one can say that the Enemy Unknown certainly knows how to manage tension. The first few levels are a good introduction, giving players new to strategy games a handle on the mechanics involved, while giving X-Com veterans that are familiar with the franchise a look at what’s changed. The first mission teaches the tough, tough lesson of losing troops, as only one makes it home alive. While teaching players key concepts, the early missions are still rather story driven. Overall, the game captures the essence of its predecessors. There’s the feeling that there’s a much larger picture that you’re initially piecing together, and still present is the continual pressure of prioritization. Does one decide to research better armor for their soldiers instead of performing an alien autopsy? Does one defend China against an alien terror mission over one in the United Kingdom?
Though we have seen various gameplay videos in the lead up to release, seeing gameplay and experiencing gameplay are two completely different things, and the player can’t help but draw comparisons to the original. At the panel for the game at PAX East, the developers stated that they had removed a lot of the “bullshit” from the game, things to micromanage, situations where the player would lose their squad during their very first turn. Playing the game, it really appears that they have kept true to their word. Gone are time units – for the most part, players can move or shoot, or move twice. Ammo management is also taken out, you don’t have to make sure that your aircraft are stocked with ammo, you just control each soldier’s individual load. To say that things were removed from the game would be to do it a great injustice. It would be much more fair to say that it the game was distilled into its core components. By limiting the number of troopers that the player can take on a mission to 4-6, each soldier becomes that much more important, and encourages more offensive play, as opposed to how many people would play incredibly conservatively with past X-Com titles.
Right now there are two concerns about the title. The first is replayability. There are numerous levels in the game, and it has been stated that a person could play through the game twice without playing the same level twice. Still, that number is finite, and with the more cinematic gameplay, it makes sense. Each environment just HAS to be lovingly handcrafted, as opposed to how levels were randomly generated in the past. The second is which version to get, Xbox 360 or PC. The PC will have more graphical options, better resolutions and a different UI, whereas the Xbox 360 will have Achievements, and if you’re
anything like me, more people to play with in multiplayer.
We have until October 9, 2012 to decide.