PC gamers: XCOM is a very different prospect to X-COM, the revered strategy game. You'll probably dig it anyway.
Console gamers: XCOM is a re-imagining of X-COM, the revered PC strategy game. You'll probably dig it anyway.
There aren't many licences which would be quite as unwise to resurrect for the Xbox 360 crowd as 1994's UFO: Enemy Unknown, aka X-COM: UFO Defence. Many wise heads (myself included) regularly hail it as one of the finest electric videogames ever committed to pixel-paper. Even after 16 years of fan projects and unofficial sequels and really, truly awful official spin-offs, nothing has managed to recapture its remarkable blend of intensity, strategy, scares and b-movie silliness.
This has made X-COM into a precious thing. The reaction of PC old hands to April's revelation that 2K was bringing X-COM back and turning it into a first-person shooter was predictably and unhelpfully vicious, but it came from very genuine heartbreak. They had waited so very long for this, for the return of the king, but now it seemed like a betrayal.
They've not been betrayed though, at least not based on what I've seen of XCOM so far - although clearly promises and hints do not a finished product make, which is especially true when said promises and hints come from the folk behind the BioShock series. (Great games, but with eyes far bigger than their stomachs.) Even so, I am excited and I am convinced by what I've seen so far, despite being as die-hard and bitter an X-COM fan as the next 30-something myopic PC gonk.
Neither have people who didn't grow up squinting at tiny Crouch icons and worrying that they were short on plasma rifle clips been left in the cold. XCOM has abandoned its original genre, slipping instead and inevitably into first-person shooter trousers. It hasn't, however, abandoned its original ethos. This isn't a game about running down corridors, shooting aliens in the closest approximation they have to a face and then watching a climactic cut-scene. This is a game about making a plan, then trying your damnedest to stick to it even when the world whole goes to hell.
X-COM, the original, was a game about fending off a wide-scale alien invasion of Earth in two very different but interlocked ways. On the high level, you built bases, researched new technology and trained a high-tech army. On the low level, you dispatched a squad of armed operatives to the scene of an alien sighting and then oversaw the resulting shooty-bang-bang directly. Again, it's about coming up with a plan - and then seeing if that plan works, often in brutally unforgiving circumstances.
In XCOM (by the way, could you pay attention to the hyphenage? I'm getting bored of writing "the original" every time), you already have the base. The timeline moves from the near future to the 1950s, and specifically America. As FBI Agent Carter, you're heading up the new XCOM unit, a specialist and beyond-secret initiative to investigate and counteract suspected alien activity on Earth.
To do this, you need to come up with a plan in your subterranean base: research new technology, build new weapons, and monitor the airwaves and phone lines of America for signs of Otherness. If something dodgy is found, it appears on the map in your office. It's up to you to go investigate - or not. Much of the game will not be linear, instead allowing you to pick and choose missions based on how important you think they are. For instance, one report might tell of suspect animal attacks. Snap to, Agent. Time for a bit of role-playing.
You've been looking into this insidious business for long enough to know that mysterious animal attacks are telltale sign of something very particular, and something very frightening - Blobs. Decision time, Agent. You've fought these things before, so there won't necessarily be much new information to gather. On the other hand, having fought them before you're now well-equipped to take them down. Unlike last time. We don't talk about last time.
It's worth it. Thanks to the boys in the lab, you're now in possession of a nasty little surprise for these murderous goo-balls. It'll be a fair fight, and you'll have a decent chance of snagging some Elerium, the mysterious and infinitely precious off-world element that these alien dum-dums tend to drag around with them. Game on, Carter. Take two of your best agents, fire up the mighty fed wagon you call the Enforcer, and get over to suburbia sharpish.
Outside, you're in an America that's both real and fake. It's what America wanted to be in the 1950s, not what it really was. XCOM exists in a nearly-alternative universe, even before the aliens turn up; its suburbia is pastel-coloured houses, perfect lawns, every family beautiful and happy and wealthy.