E3 2011: XCOM
When I was researching XCOM before E3, it didn’t look terribly impressive. The trailers showed what appeared to be a run of the mill FPS, albeit in a cute setting. Yet having seen a half hour gameplay demo at the 2K booth, it’s without a doubt one of my highlights of the show.
Unlike the previous X-COM games from the ’90s, this is set in ’60s America in its full glory. The central plot is the same though: a mysterious alien race called The Outsiders have invaded Earth and it’s up to you, playing as a Special Agent William Carter, to stop them.
The demo began in your agency’s office, which acts as a hub where you spend time between missions. Here you have access to many of the game’s RPG elements. You play alongside other agents in the field and here you can select who’s in your roster and spend their experience on upgrades.
From the office, the division chief Angela gives you an overview of the available missions, which you can tackle in any order. There’s a strategic element to choosing where to go and you can also opt to send agents out on their own to gain experience. This was the first sign that XCOM isn’t your average linear FPS.
The game’s producer chose a mission to rescue a scientist and was soon jumping out of a helicopter into a town with two other agents. Here, something wasn’t quite right and it wan’t long before he encountered an alien foe, a type of which could appear in human form.
There are a number of interesting things to talk about when it comes to the gameplay. First is the notion that every enemy is an opportunity. If you defeat some of the larger aliens such as turrets, you can choose to either keep them to research later or deploy them against their own by bringing them into your squad. This short- vs. long-term choice is echoed throughout the game.
The squad-based combat is perhaps most similar to the Brother in Arms series. Directing your agents with a simple button press, you can send them to a given position and then go off on your own to flank enemies. There is a little more depth though, which is apparent when you enter the game’s Tactical View.
This slows down time almost to a halt and zooms the camera back to a third-person view. Here you can see your balance of what 2K are calling Time Units. These can be spent on your own or other agents’ powers, such as being able to capture enemy tech. Using these squad mechanics appears to be core to succeeding in XCOM, and players are incentivised to keep their fellow agents safe.
It’s also worth mentioning that the game looks fantastic. Like 2K’s other FPS, BioShock, the attention paid to getting the art style just right is obvious. Unlike its stablemate, XCOM is much more focused on tactical and strategic elements. These look like they’ll give it a compelling depth that’ll have broad appeal when it’s released in March.