Who knew that after all of these years that it would be Firaxis quietly infiltrating the minds, hearts and souls of PAX East 2012 attendees. Not only are they rolling out the most comprehensive (and exciting) expansion to Civilization V (Gods and Kings), but they have jumpstarted a series near and dear to the hearts of so many old guys like me. 2K Games couldn’t have made a smarter decision than bringing on Sid Meier’s team to bring XCOM: Enemy Unknown to life.
For those of you that haven’t played the original, XCOM is the story of an Earth under siege by hostile alien forces. It’s a complete re-imagining that is equal parts strategy and turn-based tactics. Humans are being abducted and it’s up to you, leading the elite XCOM team, to push back the threat and take the fight to the invaders.
The developer walkthrough we were shown started on the ground, with a team of four XCOM operators in and around a gas station. Before you ask, yes, stuff blew up. The team was comprised of a support unit, a heavy weapons specialist with a rocket launcher and LMG, an assault soldier with a shotgun and a sniper with a knack for finding higher ground.
The game is not at all grid-based, and while the PC version’s UI is being created by a separate team of Firaxis gurus (it’s also coming to PS3 and Xbox 360), the man at the controls was using a wired 360 controller. It seemed very easy to select a unit, drag the movement line to cover, ladders and more, and then, if there was still room in the action pool, to use a skill or attack.
One of the things that separates XCOM from other tactical games is that your units don’t simply move, act and then wait. They are constantly engaged in the fight. For instance, when the heavy was laying down suppressive fire, pinning an enemy Sectoid (updated, but still recognizable) such that he (she? it?) couldn’t move during its next turn, the fire kept coming. You won’t forget what your troops are up to. As he was firing at the Sectoid, the poor car in the line of fire was getting shot up with windows blown out as the brass piled up on the ground. The alien was visibly flinching at the close fire.
Next, the sniper grappled up to the roof and positioned for a better shot. At the same time, the assault troop tossed a grenade at the pinned Sectoid who, thanks to suppressive fire, had no choice but to watch as his death neared.
When the aliens were up, one Sectoid ran inside and, through a mind meld, buffed another one. Alone they aren’t challenging, but when they’ve combined their might, beware. Another went into overwatch mode. This sacrifices movement, but allows the unit to fire at anything that crosses line of sight. This happens in slow motion, with great cinematic flare. Unlike some other tactical games, the zooms and angles give a greater sense of urgency on the battlefield.
In addition to the Sectoids, we got a look at Mutons (also returning) and the new Berserker aliens. Those guys are best dealt with from a distance. We witnessed the support officer get pounded into a bloody paste and, by the way, he wasn’t getting up. Ever. Permadeath is something you will need to contend with in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. To wrap up the mission, the assault officer climbed up to roof and used her “Run and Gun” ability to clear out one of the Mutons.
The heavy blew out the front of the building with his rocket launcher, taking out the face of the structure and that Berserker. Finally, the sniper picked off the last Muton. The after-action report indicated that resources had been recovered that play into the research aspect of the game.
One thing I loved is that, it seems, that all units are fragile. If this bears out in the final game, it will be focused more on flanking and smart team strategy than hope and prayer about surviving an attack because of a huge life bar.
We had a look at the XCOM base, which resembles an ant farm. You see a cross-section of the base, with different rooms for scientific research, engineering, medical and more. You’ll have to make hard choices. There is limited time for research and finite resources for producing weapon upgrades.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown will probe your… yeah… this fall on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.