While at PAX I got a chance to be hands-on with the new X-COM: Enemy Unknown. It’s brilliant. Those of you who remember how hardcore difficult the original series was will find the same difficulty here, but now there’s a tutorial, so folks who’ve lost the manual (me) can actually play it without constantly alt-tabbing to Google. That’s nice.
Fans of the original will remember that it had a two tiered system of gameplay. One level was managing the day-to-day workings of your top-secret alien-fighting agency. The other was the tactical, turn-based, combat I got to try out. Each turn your squad-members can take two actions. These can be movement, attacks, or all sorts of other actions depending on context, loadout, and rank. As your troopers complete missions they level up, becoming more accurate and trained in new, powerful technologies. The game is insanely lethal. One, maybe two direct hits will kill your troopers, permanently. That’s scary considering the time, effort, and attachment invested into your veterans. Use of cover is heavily advised.
The tactical portion is slow, but the best kind of slow. It’s a game where you consider all of the angles, plot your moves, use Overwatch often, and keep track of fields of fire. It’s a game where your mission objectives may be secondary to survival, but you really need to survive to complete them. It’s a game where getting too close to the enemy may result in your trooper getting mind-controlled, forced to shoot his sergeant, then pop a grenade on himself.
And yet it doesn’t seem unfair. The aliens may be scary, sneaky, little buggers, but with the right tactics you can beat them. I can’t really dig into the deeper mechanics besides the standard move/shoot/grenade/overwatch, due to most of the higher tech being unavailable in the demo, but I can say that you could eventually have a psionic artilleryman in a jetpack. That’s pretty cool. The game will have a multiplayer mode, designed after the points systems seen in many miniatures games. Troops and gear have varying points costs based on their relative levels of effectiveness. I don’t have details, but it looks like fun. Oh, yeah, and you can play as the aliens.
The game will be available for PC and Xbox, and allow for asynchronous multiplayer, but not necessarily cross platform. I didn’t get a straight answer from the representative I talked to. It’s nice that they’re making turn-based strategy for consoles, partly because I love them, and partly because it doesn’t require the pinpoint accuracy and speed that Real-Time-Strategy requires. I am really psyched for this game, it was easily my most anticipated game from PAX, and it lived up to it.