XCOM 2012

I loved X-COM from when I first saw it over a decade ago. I only got to play X-COM Apocalypse onwards, and despite original fans disliking that installment, the detailed tactical combat and strategic resource-and-research management grabbed hold of me. X-COM Interceptor was a step sideways and down, and Hasbro (those idiotic Monopoly rethemers, unused to the long development times of video games) ran the franchise into the ground. Well the videogame industry is fickle, and the XCOM reboot was greenlit and built before I realised that it happened. The result is a much-streamlined game that retains a lot of the meat of the original entries.

Soldiers now come in classes with experience-unlocked special-power upgrade picks. While restricting player choice, it forces an interesting asymmetry and division of responsibilities among squad members. Grenades, rockets, and medikits are one-shot and tightly restricted, substantially limiting your use of them. Gone are the days when you could have squad members packed with half a dozen rockets and the same in grenades. UFO fights are very basic now – it’s one-on-one with a simple loadout; though you can build and use systems that boost movement/attack/defence during the battle.

There are some nice settings – a flooded city, a graveyard, a subway – that twist the tactical situation up; however they are smaller and less complex than Apocalypse, leading to fewer new situations or innovative tactics. I would have liked to fight within (human) buildings more – most combat occurs out in the open. That said, the tactical combat is excellent, and you’ll need to command your troops well – one slip-up can easily get people killed.

Unlike Apocalypse, the storyline is very light – we find out about individual aliens, and there are hints to their purposes, but the game ends without revealing their objectives or origin, or why they have bases and ships where they do. The narrative runs along checkpoints, with a couple of scripted missions, and you can accelerate events a bit too easily. I wish the endgame were longer, like the series of unique missions in Apocalypse. There’s a decent selection of alien types, each well-differentiated with specific powers, but their ramp-up is a bit short.

Base-building is very basic, and you won’t be attacked. Workshops and research labs are superfluous (I got by without constructing either); the most difficult part is managing sponsor countries at the start of the game before you get things until control. This indicates the game arc is a bit off (too little control at first, then the tension dissipates), but kind of fits with XCOM starting reactive and progressing to active missions against alien assets.

The in-battle controls are pretty intuitive, though reloading was buggy (and hung a couple of missions), cancelling an action was annoying, and I didn’t realise you could scan an enemy until the last couple of missions. Equipping and managing your troops is extremely tedious, with a lousy UI, especially if you’re a cheapskate like me and only have enough equipment for the team going into the field, but want to rotate personnel.

Overall I found the game too short, and wished there was more content. The game mechanics were streamlined and tight – each alien corpse or interrogation is valuable, each weapon has its time in the sun; some of the tactical creativity is lost in the troop classes, loadout restrictions, simplified mechanics, and simpler combat arenas. However the things that exist in the game are pretty slick – apparently mods have appeared to polish up balance issues that were in the original game.

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