#7 XCOM ate my weekends

03. Apr. 2013

Hey everybody,

the last few entries were all about writing in one way or another. In an effort to balance this out a bit, here is a blog entry about games. Unlike blog #2, this one doesn’t deal with the mechanics, but simply with the fun I had playing computer games :P

From the games I’ve recently played (Transformers Fall of Cybertron, Transformers War for Cybertron, Bastion, Starcraft 2 Heart of the Swarm, Faster than Light, Crysis, The Cave, XCOM Enemy Unknown and probably a few others that I cannot remember right now), one stands out: I’ve spent the most hours playing XCOM, which is pretty much the bench mark for a single player game. If it weren’t fun, I wouldn’t have played it for so long. Steam tells me that it has been forty hours… It certainly doesn’t feel that long, which is another plus, despite seeming like “lost time” when I look at just the figure. On that note, I usually play games on “easy” now, because I don’t have time to spare, but for some reason I started XCOM on normal and had to restart once, which explains some of the invested time.

Before I delve into what makes the game so awesome, I’ll lay out the premise: The game is set in modern day Earth. However, extra terrestrial forces have appeared on the planet. Since they are abducting people, the governments of the world have banded together to form the XCOM group. Its mission is to fight off the alien threat. You play the role of the commander of XCOM. Depending on the number of member states under the protective umbrella of your satellite network, funds are allocated to you every month. These funds can be spent on various things, like better equipment for your extraction teams, more satellites, additional compartments in your underground base, hiring new recruits, etc. Some of these require salvaged parts from the alien pieces of technology. However, the same items are needed by your scientists to reverse engineer the aliens’ gear.

 130401 Assign Crew

Your extraction team, customized with some late game equipment.

Throughout the game you are faced with decisions like where to stop alien abductions. They might appear in New York, London and Tokyo at the same time, but you can only make it to one of those locations, so where do you go? Wherever you don’t help, panic spreads. If there is enough panic, then the affected member state will pull out of the project, leaving you with fewer funding.

Apart from the base management and the decisions at the events, the main part of the game consists of tactical turn-based combat. Initially your team has 4 slots and successful missions look like this:

 130330 beginning missions success

As you can see, three of the four crew members got a promotion, even though one of them was injured. Promotions are what’s “leveling up” in role playing games: Your character receives more hit points, better stats and a new skill. Most of the time you can choose between two different skills. This simple levelling up mechanic combined with the new alien tech that your scientists develop, provides a nice incentive to play on and see what’s coming next.

The injury means that this soldier is probably not available during the next mission.

Later on, successful missions might look like this:

130329 X-Com Mission success

That’s another thing, which I enjoyed about the game: In most games, you either win or lose. In XCOM, it isn’t so clear cut. You may “win” the mission, but at the cost of losing most of your high ranked troops. Since you control many soldiers at the same time, the emotional investment (compared to losing a Diablo hardcore character, for example) per character isn’t as high. It certainly adds to the game that nobody is safe and that you may lose a guy or two even on successful missions. That said, I had to restart when it became obvious that I couldn’t win anymore with my beaten down crew.

Another nice touch is the use of the Unreal engine, which is usually associated with 3D shooter type of games. Every once in a while, for instance when sprinting, the game switches to a closer camera angle (you can see a “reaction shot” in the picture below) from the isometric view. Of course, this looks a lot more impressive in motion.

130401 reaction shot

I’m on the last mission now. Hopefully I’m able to finish it this weekend, to put that time sink to rest. Nevertheless, I can highly recommend it.

130401 tactical combat

Catch you all later,

Kai

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