What the Hell is X-COM?!

The Origins of XCOM

In 1994, a small company released a relatively modest title with humble beginnings in an industry that was about to boom. During the 5th generation of games, Mythos/MicroProse brought unto man a game that would inspire strategy and tactical role playing games for years to come. The story takes place in 1999, when UFO’s begin appearing regularly in the night sky with reports of abductions terrifying the human population. In December 11, 1998, all of the world powers met in Geneva in order to come up with a solution to combat the unknown enemies. They came up with the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit…or X-COM. You must command this unit and defend earth from the invaders!

Its up to you boys!

So as many of your readers hopefully know, XCOM: Enemy Unknown has just released today. However, from my superior skills of observations and information gathering, it has become apparent that many gamers out there simply do not know what XCOM is; much less are actually interested. Well I am here to rectify this matter by giving some much need opinion and description to one of the most influential series out there today, and why you should be excited about this latest entry!

Influence? Influence Who?!

A valid question mysterious reader. but its best to ask why it would be considered influential in the first place. Lets look at the beginnings of the tactical role playing genre, starting with the eastern games. When you think of the origins of SRPGs in Japan, one title comes up numerous times; Fire Emblem. Nintendo’s staple SRPG franchise is among the most storied franchises in its bevy of first party titles. Fire Emblem is what brought the genre to the front line, increasing awareness for such a style of game in the east. Why do I bring up Fire Emblem though? Well, its safe to say that Fire Emblem is to Japan (East) as X-COM is to the US (West). UFO: Enemy Unknown (it would be called X-COM in later) took different approaches to the genre, but were fundamentally the same. Battles were turn based and allowed for a limited number of units to be deployed.  While Japan stayed with Fire Emblem as the overall blueprint for SRPGs, XCOM encouraged innovation and creativity by shattering the strategy game barrier. Suffice to say, the game is not easy. Gamespy was quoted saying, “Playing it again in 2012, it [X-COM] comes off as both completely brilliant and slightly insane.” Insane indeed, the game had great ideas that were recognized by the industry that can be seen influencing games that used isometric view points, evoking atmosphere in turn based combat, while also putting great emphasis on combat as a whole, which is reflected on today’s western RPGs and SRPGs alike.

Some notable influenced games are: (some have stated, others are just obvious)

– Fallout

– UFO Series

– Freedom Force

– Silent Storm Series

– Valkyria Chronicles

– Many other lesser known

Notice that last bit: many lesser known titles. It should be noted that the tactical RPG genre has experienced huge success in Japan, but less so in the US. Western developers typically developed only for the PC and shy away from making SRPGs because of their nature of being confused as strategy games. Its a common misconception since SRPGs are technically a subgenre of strategy based games.

OK, if its not a strategy game the how does it play?

Well, the quick answer is that it plays like a normal isometric grid based tactical RPG. Then again, I suppose you wouldn’t be asking this questions if you knew what that was. Well, lets refer to classic games like Baldur’s Gate or Diablo. In these games, you roamed the open world from a isometric perspective, hanging above your character in a fixed postion but following a moving dimensional plane.

A fine example from an equally fine game

Ok, well take that graphic, but imagine that moving was limited to a certain distance per turn, and that use required to plan attacks accordingly to make use of your turn efficiently and effectively. That was the basic tactical RPG back in the day.

In XCOM, your given the option to many things during your battle phase. The end goal was to defeat as many alien enemies while sustaining minimal loses, all while rescuing as many hostages as you can. Micromanaging is a staple among many of the type of games; it comes with the territory. However, there come a much more personal level with X-COM. The actions you take will be reflected by your resources, additional units (or lack there of) and the maintenance of morale. As I stated before, the game is difficult.

So at this point your probably thinking this is a strategy game and that I have proved nothing. Well, I should stress the individuality of each unit. Unlike games like Total War or Starcraft, you don’t continue making units over and over again from a barracks whilst collecting minerals. Resources are much more valuable in that sense, and you come in with a set number of units of your X-COM. If they die, they are gone for good. I will never forget the sacrifice I had to make to get past certain levels; when deciding how to approach a battle, its on a individual basis. Also important to not that the scope of battle is much smaller in XCOM then said games. The isometric view allows for enough room to point cover for units while small enough to create a unique battle zone for your individual unit.

So what’s different about this X-COM game?

Well this time around, XCOM is the one coming out from hiding. Its been a solid 11 years since a proper sequel has come out, however this game will be more of a re-imagining of the original game. Many of the old tried-and-true game features like turn based gameplay will return along with new features inspired from games since past. Also new is that this time around Firaxis is developing the game. For those who do not know, Firaxis is the company behind some the best western strategy and adventures games out today. Also interesting to note is that this will be the first Firaxis game that doesn’t have the words “Sid Meier’s” right in front of it; there’s your fun fact of the day.

Something I should note about the approach the new developer took is that they drew heavy inspiration from many of the finest games out today. The developers have stated numerous times how they wanted to make a game that reminds us of the old days with Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem, while drawing inspiration from some more modern games like Valkyria Chronicles and even Dark Souls. Granted, they reference Dark Souls as a reminder that people still enjoy masochistically difficult gameplay sometimes. Another thing to note is that this new XCOM was built from the ground up for consoles, with the controller in mind. It pleases me to hear that the controls for this game via Playstation and Xbox controllers work extremely well. So lets this lay other misconception to rest:

The game is also on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360!


Official Launch Trailer:

While I haven’t gotten to play the game as of yet, my excitement for a new XCOM is at an all time high. If you have a chance, try the game out yourself. You may be surprised by how much fun the game can be, and by how personal the combat can be. My final send off is that hopefully this reminds the industry that the strategy RPG genre is not dead, people want more of these games. I applaud the developers to make a game that they were clearly passionate about! In a final note, I actually know a game that could be made right now that is an SRPG and would be very welcomed…Final Fantasy Tactics 2…?


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