E3 2011: Behind Closed Doors With: XCOM

I’m going to have to give 2K my personal award for best private rooms. I’ve been to a ton at this point, and most of them are just bare bones with chairs and a screen. 2K went all out for their rooms. For XCOM we sat in a military briefing room straight out of the 60’s. It really sets the tone nicely for what you’re about to see.

Before beginning the demo, the rep wanted to address the original XCOM, which he did a lot during the presentation. I couldn’t tell if it was out of respect, or if they wanted to cement to the original audience that they weren’t completely abandoning the roots of the over-head strategy game original.

He went over what he felt were the 3 pillars of the original, what made an XCOM game an XCOM game. These three pillars were:

– Strategic play vs combat
– The fact that you are not a one man army
– The enemy unknown

He touched upon each of these elements during the presentation. You play as William Carter. The year is 1962, and you work as an agent for XCOM. This game is a prequel, or an origin story as he called it. Before XCOM became the massive organization it eventually becomes, it began as an American organization. Things kick off in your office, which acts as the hub for the entire game. In this area you can build new technologies, train and recruit agents to take with you on missions, and more. Not knowing much about the game beforehand gave me plenty of surprises and delights. It was refreshing to find out that it wasn’t just a standard FPS like the teasers have indicated. There’s planning, recruiting, and on the fly strategy littered throughout the game.

First he took us through selecting a mission. This was interesting, as he pointed out that he decided to go with a rescue mission first, as rescuing this Scientist may help you develop weapons and tech for later missions. I found that to be a nice little addition; even the mission order provided a small bit of strategy to the overall game.

Next he took us to the recruiting area. You can look at the stats of your available agents, gauge their skills against the type of mission you’re going on, and help assemble the best team for the job.

Once you’ve selected your mission and picked your team, it was time to get messy. We approached the mission in flight using the “Skyranger,” a mix of real technology at the time, plus some added twists that 2K came up with for the XCOM universe. Upon landing, the mission was to meet up with an outpost of troops that was already there, and who had intel on the scientist’s position.

Since the game takes place in the 60’s, during the “American dream” type setting, it provides a refreshing take in a genre flooded with current war titles. Add in the sci-fi element, and you’ve got yourself a nice glass of lemonade. I have no idea what that means. Anyway, once you’ve reached the station to meet with some troops, you find it torn a part, with everyone inside dead. Luckily, one survivor remains. However, upon closer inspection you realize he looks to be snooping around. Once asked for ID, the trooper runs toward you in a rage, attacking you. This is all part of an in-game cinematic, where the trooper’s face shifts momentarily to the alien that he is. This is a type of alien that is capable of taking on the appearance of a human. I could see that aspect getting interesting if used in different ways in later missions.

Before the alien is killed, it’s able to alert its friends, so when you leave the station you’re under attack. This is where the combat kicked in, and where he sort of lost me on the whole strategy thing. The rep appeared to be really playing up the strategy in an attempt to appeal to long-time fans. But really, it seemed like you could opt out of the strategy all-together and run and gun. I could be wrong, and maybe it was just the demo, but that’s what it felt like to me. In the demo, he took the strategic route by having his agents cause a diversion so the aliens would move their shield to block them, while he ran to the side and took them out.

When you go into the tactical mode, the action slows down. He said this was their version of the “Battlescape” mode in the original XCOM. This allows the game to keep playing out, but slow enough for you to be able to take your time and make some decisions.

A cool aspect of the game came after the fight, when he approached an alien turret that the aliens had been using against him. You have the option to just blow it up during battle to ease the firepower off your team, or you can try and salvage it so that you can capture it after the fact. This allows you to get it back to your home base and study it, in hopes of unlocking new weapons, or find weak points to use against them in the future. Furthermore, you also have the option of using anything you capture right away in battles, but if you choose to do that, you will not have it at your base to learn from (it would be a one time use to help you out). I really liked that element of strategy. He even went so far as to capture a huge enemy ship that looked like a flying saucer-ball type thing called the “Titan.” It’s like a B-52, he said. He captured it, and then used it against the aliens in the next fight, which demolished a good portion of a building, showing off the game’s environmental damage. Looked pretty cool.

At the end of the demo, you find the scientist right as a portal is being opened, and the scientist is being sucked into it. You attempt to save him, but are sucked in along with him, and end up in the alien’s dimension. It was a little cliffhanger teaser sort of thing, and then the words XCOM came on the screen and that was it.

At this stage in the game, which is still far off from release, XCOM could go either way for me. I’m a sucker for this sort of subject material, so I’ll keep an eye on it, though there doesn’t seem to be enough that I’ve seen to sell me on the game completely.

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