Mad Mack: XCOM Gets X-Rated
(NB. FMV does not necessarily share Dave’s views, and accepts absolutely no responsibility for any offence his diatribes may cause.)
Welcome video game fans to my second long-winded rant about the state of play in the games industry. Or, for those of you who are reading this on Internet Explorer, welcome to the internet. But if you are looking for the porn or for funny pictures of cats with kooky captions, you have come to the wrong place (note to self: ask editor about potential porn content for FMV).
So, this week I thought I would take a look ahead at an upcoming game by looking back at its origins. Specifically, I want to talk about XCOM, the new FPS in development by 2K Marin. XCOM (note that it is called ‘XCOM’ and not ‘X-COM’) is a reboot of the highly popular and successful strategy series, which dates back to a time where you had to enter text into a black screen to get things on PCs to work, and when moving a PC from ‘A’ to ‘B’ was the work of a forklift and a team of lumberjacks. I am going to focus mainly on the old X-COM games for a number of reasons. One, because I have played them to death and have only seen a few videos of the new XCOM, and two, because this is my soap box and I will talk about whatever the fuck I like. Right now I feel like talking about X-COM. I am also a little gassy. And a bit tired. And possibly hungry.
The year was 1994 (or to put it another way, the year before the majority of X-Box Live players were a gleam in the milkman’s eye) and most gamers were sitting around waiting for Starcraft, Half-Life and 4chan to be invented. In terms of game play mechanics and quality, there were the beginnings of a new Renaissance that would lead to the release of classics like Warcraft, Mario 64, Dungeon Keeper and Baldur’s Gate. Standing shoulder to shoulder with these was UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-COM: UFO Defence in the US and X-COM: Enemy Unknown on the PS1), a turn-based isometric strategy game, mixing squad-based tactical combat with base building and global strategy. Revolutionary in its time for its depth of gameplay, variety of enemies, RPG elements and progressive research and base management sections, X-COM was one of the first games where you could play again and again and have a different experience each time. It was also fucking hard. I mean, really fucking hard. Like, paedophile in a Nike factory hard.
A variety of sequels and spin offs were made. X-COM: Terror from the Deep, which was basically the same game but underwater (right down to starting off with dogshit weapons and soldiers who can’t hit the broadside of a barn with a tactical nuke – apparently fighting the new aliens with all those plasma and laser weapons from the previous war was considered too unsporting), was followed by X-COM: Apocalypse, which was a bit of a flawed gem and suffered mightily from production deadlines. Other spin-offs were made, such as X-COM: Interceptor and X-COM: Mercenaries, but both of them were pump so I am not going to bother.
So, what did the X-COM games bring to the table? I am going to pretend for a minute that I am a real games critic and I am going to score the series as a whole, based on how I felt about the games at the time. So ladies and Gentlemen (ha! That’s a joke readers – we all know girls don’t play computer games – at least not good ones about guns and men and tight body armour and glistening pecks ….. mmmmm…..yeah…..glisssstening. It’s also a double- joke because I am fairly certain that just because you can afford Walkers Sensations instead of off-brand cheese puffs does not make you a ‘gentleman’) without further ado, please enjoy my review of the X-COM trilogy. Instead of scores out of a possible 10 stars, I am going to be using batons in honour of the excitement currently taking place in London…
Gameplay: Nicely varied, with a good mix of strategic and tactical elements. Equipping your squad well in the base screen will enable them to perform well in the tactical phase of the game, capturing more tech for your scientists to research so you can build better craft and give your soldiers better weapons to take the fight to the aliens. Overall, a really satisfying experience.
Score: 8 Batons
Graphics: I think we can all agree that even at the time, the graphics were not something you would write home about. A lot of the illustrations looked like they were pulled from an ’80s sci-fi experience:
That said, this was a game for DOS, and you can’t really fault the graphics in any way. Certainly, there was less clipping and bullshit glitches in the X-COM games than there are in many modern releases (I am looking at you Red Dead Redemption).
Score: 6 Batons
Sound: The sound effects in X-COM were pretty damn scary – the first time I heard a Snakeman move I swear I had to clean my y-fronts (shut up, I was like 12 at the time). The music in Terror from the Deep was perfectly atmospheric, capturing the sense of the unknown in the deep ocean or a sense of desolation as you search an abandoned freighter, and the sound effects in Apocalypse were crisp and well-implemented.
Score: 9 Batons
Overall: Innovative and exciting, scary and atmospheric, gripping and immersive. These are words. I would use them favourably when discussing the original X-COM trilogy. While they may be a bit dated now, the solid gameplay and immersion they can achieve mean that I can to this day go back and give them a run through. Overall these games today still stand on their own, with any efforts to replicate them proving to be pretty shite.
Score: 8 Batons
So, what does the future for X-COM hold? How does the upcoming XCOM look when compared to Enemy Unknown? Well, let’s see.
Is it turn-based? No. It’s a First Fucking Person Shooter. Hor. Ay.
Is it a squad-based isometric strategy game? No. It’s another fucking first fucking person fucking shooter. Because those are, y’know, hard to find.
Does it have global strategic sections? No – gameplay is limited to Middle America, to really capture the international interest groups.
Is it even in the same continuity as X-COM? No. It is set in the 1950s while Enemy Unknown was set in 2008 – and I am fairly certain that if it was in the same universe, when fighting the 2008 invasion someone might have mentioned it (possibly in a Bruce Willis style: “How can the same shit happen to the same planet twice?”)
So, it’s not the same type of game, it’s not in the same continuity and it lacks all of the originality of the first. XCOM looks like it will be to X-COM what Country Life magazine is to Playboy – boring, bland and completely lacking in any titties. And we all love titties.
I feel it would be remiss of me not to mention the other so-called spiritual successors to X-COM. First up is UFO Aftermath. It is a spiritual successor to X-COM in the same way a dose of the shits is a spiritual successor to a very tasty vindaloo – sort of related but not exactly interchangeable. Or even equivalent. Or even close in terms of which one you would like to see on your plate. There are a couple of other games out there that could fit the bill (Laser Squad and the like) but I played a few and they were pretty piss poor.
Dave McConkey is available for weddings, children’s parties and Bar Mitzvahs.
Mad Mack continues next week…