And dead. That's why it's so quiet. You're too late to save any of these shiny-shoed city shmucks, or their pretty housewives. Best not to think of the children. Half this place's people are gone, to God only knows where, and half of them are smoking corpses, covered in a strange black goo.

It's Blobs, alright. You know that even before one bursts out of a hedgerow and clamps itself to the face of one of the two agents you brought with you. It's a shapeless mass, some unholy hybrid of orb and flailing tentacle, and bullets absolutely do not stop it. You found that out last time. This time... this time they're going to pay.

Go flame grenade! Thanks to the evidence you collected on prior missions, your scientists have been able to research the Blobs and then come up with a counter-measure. With the blueprints passed to your engineers, you can now order up as many flame grenades as you need - and they scorch a Blob into so much flat tar in seconds. Use 'em sparingly, mind. You can only take so many with you on each mission, and they cost a ton to manufacture. Money doesn't grow on trees; money grows from government funding, and that's something you need to earn.

Right now, though, your only concern is survival. Moving from an open lawn to a picture-perfect family home, you find yourself trapped and surrounded by spasming black tar-beasts. Letting off another flame grenade here results in carnage - burning walls, burning furniture, and burning agents.

Bruised, battered and covered in ichor, one of your men finally succumbs to this wounds. Just two of you now. (Out of character interlude - the nature of your control over your backup guys remains mysterious. Clearly it's a big deal for X-COM fans, accustomed as they are to controlling squads of a dozen-plus soldiers. 2K Marin/Australia have confirmed there will be reasons to care about the other Agents, so hopefully they won't be the mute drones of this demo, but for now it's guessing-game only.)

Keep moving, keeping fighting - all the while keeping an eye on your worryingly diminished reserves of ammunition. Once it's gone, it's gone, and you'll have no choice but to run. Don't go thinking you'll find a box of ammo lying helpfully in the street. This is the real world, sunshine.

Outside again and, at last, Elerium. The metallic substance looks geometrically impossible, and it's also covered by a revolving wall of Blobs. One more fight, then you can get out of here.

If only it was so simple. Once you grab that Elerium, the very sky changes. The whole world turns darker. Some thing drops slowly through the clouds, looking at once like a building, a craft and a creature. This hulking obelisk begins to transform, turning into a ring of diamond-shaped mega-beads.

You're not quite sure what happens next. Was that a death ray, or some kind of monstrous vacuum cleaner effect? In either case, it's enough to rip up the tarmac road and disintegrate your remaining backup agent. The thing turns to you. Pistol bullets, shotgun shells, flame grenades: they do nothing. You run.

You always run. That's how XCOM works - nothing so simple as fighting until the end, until every alien is dead. You fight for as long as you stay can stay alive, for as long as you have enough health and ammo to keep going. The longer you stay on a mission, though, the more the threat escalates. Blobs become Titans, Titans might become... Lord only knows. The most recent trailer hints at strange, cubist creatures disguised as housewives too, and perhaps there will be inspiration drawn from X-COM's later foes - mind-control weapons and creatures which can lay quick-hatching eggs inside live men.

XCOM isn't a strategy game, but it is a game about strategy. It's about preparing for a fight, dealing with a fight and then knowing when to cut your losses. Next time you'll have a weapon to take care of that strange obelisk, thanks to the evidence you've gathered and given to your researchers. Next time, you'll read the clues and tweak your load-out to reflect the threat you suspect you're up against. You'll still have to run eventually, though. You always run.

XCOM is due out for PC and Xbox 360.

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About the author

Alec Meer

Alec Meer


A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.