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XCOM E3 Preview

The announcement of XCOM, a reboot of the classic PC strategy franchise, has divided opinion and stirred up something of storm amongst fans. With many highly sceptical about its radical overhaul as a first-person shooter, developer 2K Marin must weather the storm of pre-emptive criticism and prove that it deserves this reinvention. From our E3 preview of the game there are certainly familiar elements from the classic series but a host of new ideas to go with them.

XCOM Screenshots

Taking a beloved strategy game series which includes one of the greatest PC games of all time, UFO: Enemy Unknown, and transforming it into a completely new genre is a rather risky move by 2K Marin. Understandably fans of the series have expressed fears, especially considering how well X-COM: Enforcer was received. This last entry into the series 9 years ago was a redesign of the franchise, turning the gameplay into a third-person action title and it failed to capture the essence of what had made the first few entries memorable. So, going into our E3 presentation of XCOM there were a lot of expectations but it seems that this successor has a lot of potential.

XCOM Screenshots 

2K Marin is a studio well known for their first-person shooter pedigree having worked on both Bioshock and its recent sequel and the developers were keen to emphasise that they have a lot of respect for the original series. Keen to create a fear of the unknown and enemy forces constantly lurking around the corner, they also want to combine strategy with shooting. Immediately obvious is the transition from the modern and futuristic settings seen in the originals to 1950's America. With details regarding the plot rather vague at the moment, it seems that strange alien attacks are plaguing the country and more sinister forces are at work. In an age where the government was implicitly trusted disturbing events are taking place everywhere, even in the quiet suburbs. With 2K's history of strong narrative based shooters, it seems unlikely that this will be another X-COM: Enforcer

XCOM Screenshots

Following the discovery of a mysterious alien artefact XCOM are formed, an organisation designed to research and combat extraterrestrial threats. Let by William Carter, the agent who discovered the relic, our preview of the game followed him as he walked around the centre for XCOM's operations. Housed in a huge aircraft hanger, there are many similarities with the bases from the traditional series. With a team of people based here around the clock monitoring the air waves for any sign of alien activity, this is where you will receive reports which act as missions.

Each report is presented on a large map of the United States alongside details such as emergency phone calls, photographs and other useful information. Missions will provide different rewards and incentives for completion such as money, resources, technological research and are divided into different styles. Completing a rescue mission will result in you gaining confidence from the public, but at other times you may want to complete a research mission to try and create better weapons to fight the aliens with. The level of depth to this system is currently unknown but it will be important to balance your resources across the different categories. This sounds like an interesting mechanic to add strategy into the title, but whether it can match the complexity and range of options available from past games remains to be seen.

XCOM Screenshots

Choosing from the wealth of missions available, Carter picked an emergency mission, answering the call from a panic stricken woman desperately calling for help against something that was attacking her. However, before heading off it was time for a trip to XCOM's technology expert, Mal, to gather some firepower. Collecting a standard issue pistol and shotgun for the mission, Carter also collected two new weapons crafted using technology gathered from the alien artefact. These were the "Blobatov", a type of Molotov cocktail and a hugely powerful lightning gun which had very limited ammunition. Carrying out research will be one of the only ways to unlock the more powerful alien weaponry, which will be especially useful later in the game.

XCOM Screenshots

Gathering two extra agents to assist him, Carter set off to investigate arriving in the neighbourhood the call came from. XCOM's stylised graphical style was very evident here, which worked nicely in building a different style of atmosphere from the previous games. Soon it was very clear that something was wrong in the quiet suburb, as the streets were deserted with abandoned shopping bags and children's toys littering the road. Soon, Carter heard a scream for help and dashing to a nearby building found a bloody trail leading to a body. The man's corpse lay in a pool of black alien liquid with smoke slowly rising from the remains. Taking out a camera and snapping a shot captured the scene and could be used for research to better understand the enemies back at the XCOM headquarters. Seeming to follow a pattern very similar to Bioshock's research mode, gathering a better knowledge of your opponents will give you advantages and can unlock new weapons (such as the Blobatov).

XCOM Screenshots

Soon the group of agents reached the house where the call was made and almost as soon as they had walked through the door, the aliens attacked. The creatures were strange blobs of dark ooze which crawled over surfaces before leaping at the XCOM team trying to latch on. It wasn't long before one agent was overcome and left dead, forcing the two remaining members to use the Blobatovs to create a wall of fire and buy them some time. Finishing these foes using a combination of the shotgun and burn damage, the dead body of the agent lay prominently in the room. The death of an agent is a significant event and will be a severe blow to XCOM, as in the original series.

XCOM Screenshots

Fighting their way upstairs the team rescued a woman from the creatures, who were emerging from under cupboards and even the bathroom taps. The gameplay was tense and fast-paced, forcing Carter to break out the lightning gun and fry the reaming creatures. Battling back out of the house, things took a turn for the worse with the appearance of a gigantic alien monolith. The hovering pillar proceeded to vaporise the other agent, forcing Carter to make a run for it as he lacked the adequate technology to deal with it. Instead, taking a chance and snapping a few photos of it for Mal back at the base, he made a final last ditch effort to get to his car, but a blinding white flash appeared and ended the demonstration.

XCOM is looking to be a very different game to its predecessors, that much is certainly true. However, this isn't the kind of lazy reuse of a famous "brand name" to cash in on the success of a popular genre. It is certainly true that 2K Marin will have to really emphasise the strategy aspects and make these count in the gameplay to separate this title from the slew of first-person counterparts. On this early evidence a lot of thought and planning has gone into the game to capture the spirit and feel of the X-Com series and it seems they are definitely on the right track.

evilgiraffeman | 6th July, 2010
Dead Alive's picture
I really don't like the way this looks. I'll likely give it a go, but I have a feeling I'll hold the same sort of resentment towards it as I do Fallout 3, when I think of the originals.

Also - EvilEye?
Angelfromabove's picture
Great preview!
Yeah i spotted the EvilEye and was immensly confused!
It was an entry **** up by rash lol
POBmaestro's picture
UFO: Enemy Unknown to me was perfection, and I never really got into the newer titles, but I am all for a new take on the series. A FPS sounds interesting, but I am worried this could end up like C&C Renegade, and those images/video doesn't exactly fill me with excitement. I guess its a case of wait and see how it develops and then try a demo if and when one is released.

Thanks for the preview Giraffe.

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