Wednesday, October 10, 2012

After Action Report

I'm going to start this off by saying two things.  First, in light of the release XCOM: Enemy Unknown I'd like reminisce over my experiences with the series.  I'm going to avoid discussing the space flight sim, third person shooter and canceled FPS (this one not the other one) that hang like a dark shadow over the IP and instead focus on my experiences with the original game and its two direct sequels. Second, my most memorable squad based strategy game involving guns and an isometric perspective is, in fact, Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games if only because of the fun I had with the mission and campaign editor.  So, I can't say I'm a rabid fan of the series although I really enjoy what it has to offer.

The original was known by two names X-COM: UFO Defense and UFO: Enemy Unknown.  I reluctantly played this game at the behest of a friend who was way into it. Thanks to his enthusiasm I got hooked. My friend was extremely focused on minimizing losses and would lament the death of even one of his agents. I, on the other hand, treated my brave soldiers like cannon fodder (with predictably disastrous results on night terror missions involving the dreaded chryssalids). I still have bad memories of missions ending with only one survivor out four. I was also fond of taking low stat rookies and turning them into "Stun Troopers," agents armed with shock sticks, stun bombs and laser pistols. Typically they'd be charged with storming the interior of downed UFOs or dealing with mind frazzled agents. When to my horror I discovered not one, but three alien bases in the Antarctic they also made for expendable point men.

I was a little disappointing with this one in that it felt more like an re-skinned expansion pack rather than a proper sequel.  The feeling of being underwater was great though and some of the monsters were truly terrifying (the Tentaculat and Lobstermen in particular). Unlike the first one, where I'd often wait until the sun was up before starting a mission, water depth often forced me to fight in the dark, crushing abyss. I was also able to finish this game without hacking the research tree. Although I had a lot of fun using a mod that let the AI and player swap sides. Needless to say the entire squad of X-COM aquanauts perished on that seaside terror mission. That said, I think they stole a bit too much from H.P. Lovecraft and the increased level size exacerbated some of the problems with the combat. On a side note am I the only one that thinks flying submarines are a bit too much?

This third chapter in the X-COM story could have been the greatest. They wanted to have a game that not only involved aliens, but also rival organizations. The Cult of Sirius always took a beating in my games, and occasionally they'd get revenge by attacking me side by side with aliens on base defense missions (I always wanted to do more defense and as a bonus security stations are actually useful this time around). Because of problems during development a lot of things didn't really pan out, but there were also some neat bits that did make it into game too like me selling alien tech for cash only to realize later that it ended up in the hands of street gangs and rival organizations. I also thought the alien dimension was way cooler than Cydonia or T'Leth. And unlike my aforementioned friend, I really enjoyed being able to take the gloves off and bring out all those heavy explosives  without fear of repercussions when sweeping allied buildings. The battles also felt more decisive to me than the cat and mouse of the previous two titles. I can vividly remember making firing lines as hordes of aliens poured out of downed saucers. At first I tried playing turn based but eventually gave up when I found out how much faster and smoother the real-time system worked. Air battles over the dystopian cityscape were also a lot more evocative than a simple tactical display. The retro-future look and setting were aesthetically pleasing, but I'm not sure if it was better than the comic book style of the first two games. During the final raid into the alien dimension the leader of my forty man team, Captain Wulfe, killed three megaspawn single handed and a wounded private, who was knocked out early in the battle and left for dead, woke up and escaped after the smashed alien facility had been completely vacated.

Ah memories.... Incidentally, if you not familiar with the XCOM series or have become fuzzy on the details here's an excellent video to bring you up to speed:

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