June 11, 2011 by Paul Curtin
With the original game that was released back in 1994 often being referred to as one of the best PC games of all time and five other games being released over the past 17 years, it’s strange that most people have still never heard of the XCOM series. The extraterrestrial invasion cult classic is now getting a complete reboot with 2K Games bringing the PC game to consoles and switching the game from a real-time strategy to a first-person shooter with role-playing elements. We got a chance to preview the latest XCOM game at this year’s E3, and we can’t wait for this alien invasion.
2K Marin (the studio behind BioShock 2) are keeping the same premise that made the old games so popular with the game being set in 1962 America when the country was on the verge of change and humanity is abruptly forced to fight for their survival. Fans of the original games have been upset over the switch from RTS to FPS/RPG with a cover system, but from what we saw, it works great. We were told that the game plays a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, but it’s clear that if anything, the game looks and plays just like a mash-up of Mass Effect and BioShock, which is awesome as both games complement each other perfectly.
In XCOM you’ll play as Special Agent William Carter in charge of the tactical command of the U.S. government’s top secret XCOM division. Stationed in the underground XCOM base, you’ll be able to select which missions you want to embark on in order to help push the aliens back, one American town at a time. Inside the base, you have other characters you can interact with by having conversations, and you can direct research to help improve your squad members’ powers in addition to your own.
Each mission allows you to bring two partners with you as part of your squad who aid you in battle, exactly like Mass Effect, with the ability to command where your squad attacks and which powers they use. Each character has their own unique stats, powers, and playstyles — so you’ll need to be strategic when selecting who to bring with you on each mission. By completing certain missions, you can also rescue more characters and bring them back to base to help in future missions of the alien resistance. You can even send characters out on their own missions if you choose not to bring them with you in your squad; this way they won’t fall behind as your squad levels up and won’t become worthless as you get further into the game.
Inside XCOM, you’ll be briefed on the status of the country and be able to choose which missions you want to do and in what order you want to complete them. Some missions are essential to the plot, while others will reward you with new technology and upgrades. The mission we got to see had us going into a suburban town in search of a doctor who we were told is vital to the resistance. Apparently, rescuing the doctor was important because he would play a huge role in the future development of the story by being able to help give us more intel. As we progressed through the suburban neighborhood, we saw an abandoned military station with a human scavenging through the barracks in search of something. As we got closer, he attacked us and quickly transformed to reveal that he was one of the alien Outsiders’ infiltrator classes who have the ability to shape-shift; he escaped, presumably also looking to capture that same doctor.
As we continued to make our way through the military camp, we came across more alien enemies and were forced to play intelligently and flank enemies to get around their force fields. Again, like Mass Effect, to help keep the game’s RTS/RPG feel, when in battle you can go into Tactical View, but instead of completely stopping time like ME, the game keeps going but in super slow motion. While in Tactical View, you can command both of your allies by choosing who and where they attack and also which powers they use.
After defeating swarms of aliens, there was an interesting new RPG concept that 2K has taken from previous XCOM games: the ability to find and collect alien weaponry to use for yourself. We were told that whenever you find new alien technology and weapons, you have two options: instantly use the items to help aid you in your current situation but only enjoying its assistance short-term for that level, or save the item and bring it back to base with you after the completing the mission for reverse-engineering research towards more unique upgrades and weapons for your character. In order to collect some alien technology, you’ll have to fight it and significantly damage it before capturing it (think Pokémon meets Ghostbusters).
Towards the end of the preview, we were able to find the doctor, but it was too late. As we made our way into the hospital room he was in, we found that he was being abducted by the Outsiders and taken through a portal. The preview ended with a big teaser as we too were sucked through the portal and ending up being in what seemed to be the Outsiders’ home world. Talk about a cliffhanger. Expect to hear a lot more about XCOM as the game gets closer to its release on March 6, 2012.