PAX East '12 - XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Posted on April 9, 2012 - 3:47pm by Jared

Right next to the two-hour wait line to get into Borderlands 2 was a much more humble line to get into a closed door viewing of Firaxis Games' upcoming XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I was brought into a room with about 25 or so other games and journalists, sitting on makeshift benches in front of a large screen and the presenter Pete Murray of Firaxis Games.

Pete started up the demo and assured us that what we are seeing is still a work in progress. The first thing I noticed was the art style. It's hardly a gritty realistic look like the FPS  XCOM. It's much more stylistic, almost cartoony. Which I'm totally digging, as it feels like the taking the original cartoony sprites from the old PC game and making them into 3D models.

The combat mission shown is very early in the game. It starts off showing a squad of four getting off of the Avenger transport ship. One is a sniper, one carries a gatling gun, another has a shotgun, and the last wields heavy explosives. The soldiers move up into different positions, and you can see shield symbols representing the amount of cover each has. For example, a car provided partial cover, but behind the pillar of a gas station gave full cover.

Once the sectoid aliens came into view, the small, frail gray aliens from the original, combat started. The gatling gun-toting soldier used one of the new skills introduced in the game: suppression. He begins spraying bullets at a sectoid hiding behind a car, which prevents the alien from being able to move anywhere. What's cool is that the suppression animation continues while controlling the rest of your squad, giving the feeling of a constant battle instead of chess pieces on a board. Aliens get skills too, as one sectoid uses telepathy to power-up the sectoid trapped in a hail of bullets. With the alien suppressed, a grenade thrown onto the car explodes and decimaes him, along with the car.

Soldier mobility is greatly improved since the original. Since the sniper's large rifle prevents him from moving and firing in the same row, he heads to a building and uses a grappling hook to instantly get onto the roof. The soldier with the shotgun kills a sectoid after flanking him, and uses  a ladder to get herself onto a separate roof. 

Eventually, the squad fights the much larger muton enemies, including a a red/berserker variation that will plow through walls. A combination of explosives, sniper fire, and one lost soldier, the mutons are defeated.

The demonstration really shows how Firaxis has updated the turn based strategy gameplay to modern day. The improved mobility, the simpler move/fire turn options, and skills makes it look much more refreshing. To keep the combat from getting dull, every shot and action has the camera zooming in and going over the shoulder to follow bullets and grenades, keeping you in the action. They briefly showed the homebase after the mission, and even though it's underground, will retain nearly all the functions it once had.

After the demo, Pete Murray opened up the floor to questions, where I dominated. Seriously, I asked like, ten questions to maybe three from other people. I nerded out, yeah, but these were important to me. Some of the questions must have been too good, because I got a stock answer indicating what they don't want to reveal. These are some of my questions and their responses (older X-COM players will know what I'm talking about).

Will psiconics come into play in the game? -- "We are looking very closely at the original source material, and drawing inspiration from that."

Can we choose where our base is located in the world again? -- "Yes! You choose a region, like Russia, America, and depending where you are, you'll get different bonuses. For example, America manufactures ships faster, and Germany gets you more scientists."

Is capturing a live alien and researching it to find the mothership going to be the same victory condition? -- "We are looking very closely at the original source material, and drawing inspiration from that."

Are the tanks or other vehicles going to make an appearance? -- "We are looking very close at the original source material, and drawing inspiration from that."

Will there be underwater missions like in Terror from the Deep? -- "Terror from the Deep was a notoriously difficult game, and I encourage everyone to play it. But, no, there will not be underwater missions."

Is the quarterly summary screen returning, showing how much funding you're getting from the different nations? -- "We are looking very close at the original source material, and drawing inspiration from that. I can say that it won't be exactly the same, but it what the world thinks does matter, choosing who you help, because you can't save everybody." 

Will using interceptors to shoot down UFOs before sending in ground troops return? -- "We are looking very close at the original source material, and drawing inspiration from that." (But based off of what he said in other portions, it seems to be returning in some form.)

Overall, as a longtime X-Com: Enemy Unknown fan, I was very pleased with what I saw. It is slightly different from the original, but the changes presented do signify a more streamlined experience. I'm still interested to see what the base mechanics and soldier creation tools are like. I really like the mobility that soldiers have, and the use of skills like suppression and grappling hooks does add a new layer of soldier uniqueness.

If you were someone who felt the 'betrayal' of the shooter XCOM reboot, you will be beyond happy with this XCOM remake. It'll release sometime this fall on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. 

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