December 15th, 2015
Hours Played: 76
Last played 1/1/16
XCOM: The Unknown Enemy Within, Myself
The title sounds poignant, but I can assure you, it’s not.
Pseudo-musings aside, XCOM is a hell of a game. I’m fairly certain everyone has heard of it. And by everyone I mean, you know… all sentient beings within the galaxy. But really, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a very popular game from 2012 that revived an old classic from the 90’s. XCOM: EU was followed up by a somewhat pricy expansion that added a fairly sizable amount of content to the game; XCOM: Enemy Within.
All of that to explain the dumb title, and I haven’t even told you what kind of game it is!
XCOM is a strategy game, although it is not an RTS! There are two layers to XCOM. The geopolitical and global layer of protecting the Earth as a whole from an Alien invasion. And the personal, up close, turn-based battles against the aliens themselves.
It’s your job to make sure that the XCOM Initiative has the proper funds, tech, and coverage to protect the world from the Extraterrestrial threat. As well as ensuring that the individual skirmishes push the aliens back. While lowering the panic present around the world.
The key to success is managing the battles, and the war. Despite being a conglomerate of all the world’s best minds, and soldiers, you can’t be everywhere at once. And you have to pick and choose who to help when the aliens strike. And when they do, assisting one country’s distress call very literally means refusing help the other nations’ pleas. This leads to panic increasing in the countries you chose to ignore.
Mechanically when you’re offered missions they take place in countries that are a part of XCOM. Each mission gives rewards for completion, which creates opportunity costs to helping the different countries around the world. Perhaps Egypt has a very low panic rate and is offering to donate a group of Scientists, while Australia has a very high panic rate, but is only offering a monetary reward.
You may really need those scientists! Maybe you’re falling behind in the arms race and are losing soldiers to the Alien’s more advanced weaponry; both on land and in the air… But, if you don’t help Australia they could pull funding from the Initiative at the end of the month– sending you into the hole.
Do you help Egypt, sacrificing Australia, to save the world as a whole? Or do you help Australia in the hopes that you can cover the ‘tech gap’ in the future?
Hard choices are the name of the game. Well, actually it’s XCOM.
These choices extend into the tactical layer as well. What do you do when you have a Sergeant and a Rookie that are both critically wounded? Both of them are valuable in the long term against the aliens. One has a proven track record, as well as several skills associated with their class. But the Rookie could be very valuable later, perhaps when they receive a promotion they’ll be that one Support that you so desperately need.
Or maybe they’ll be another one of your already numerous Snipers.
Do you heal the Sergeant, ensuring you have a proven soldier, or do you heal the Rookie?
Did I mention that if a soldier dies, they’re dead forever? Losing a soldier is a huge deal.
A lot of XCOM comes down to short term vs long term decisions. And sometimes it can be very difficult to figure out what the ‘best’ choice is… If there even is a best choice.
This is increased exponentially in the Enemy Within expansion where you are given the options of genetically, and cybernetically, augmenting your soldiers. I haven’t dabbled in the genetic mods much, but I do know that the cybernetic modifications involve taking a soldier out of commission for about a week… and surgically amputating their limbs…
But, on the bright side their arms and legs are replaced with badass robo-limbs! And they can interface with very powerful mec-suits!
Obviously it’s just a video game; but, the idea of cutting of their limbs does, actually, bother me! I like to pull from wounded soldiers for my mec-troops. You know, get that whole–Warhammer 40k Dreadnaught/Robocop thing going on. Plus they heal faster that way too! Probably.
Currently I am running through a campaign on normal, which is on the easier side of the difficulty curve. And yet, within my first month I lost eight soldiers. At that point in the game losing eight soldiers is almost a fail state. My soldiers were picked apart by some really unfortunate critical hits that just tore through my unupgraded armor. Somehow I managed to spring back from such heavy losses– but I still haven’t recruited enough Support soldiers to cover those that I lost…
My favorite soldier in my current campaign was a member of one of the squads that got wiped out. He was the lone survivor. After that, in my head, I felt like he had a strong bitterness towards the aliens. His name is ‘A. Bikani’. I sent him on various other missions and eventually he was gravely wounded… and he became my first mechanized soldier.
Now, he’s about nine feet tall, has a chain gun, a flamethrower, and a unquenchable thirst for alien blood…
He also earned the nick-name ”Boom Boom”. Which fits with his now cybernetically enhanced bitterness, and penchant for blowing things up.
And this is one of my favorite things about XCOM. The stories that your soldiers gather around them. The actual story in XCOM is rather barebones. It really is only there to facilitate you playing the game and experiencing your own ‘stories’. By the time the game ends, your soldiers have become characters. You grow attached to them. They gain their own personalities. Each soldier has a country of origin, a first and last name, and eventually a nick name.
I remember in my first playthrough I had a sniper who constantly missed. Eventually when he got a nickname I sarcastically removed the auto-generated one, and named him “Specs”… Because he obviously needed glasses.
He ended up becoming my best sniper, and had one of the highest kill counts in that campaign. Specs was responsible for many a clutch head shot from across the map.
I had a support that looked like a friend of mine, and was instrumental in an early mission that involved storming a crashed UFO. Without him some of my soldiers would have bled out and died… I nicknamed him “Doc”. He was one of my best supports, certainly my favorite cause he looked like my buddy.
Later on in the game it turned out that he was “gifted”– meaning he had Psionic abilities. Making him my most versatile, and potentially powerful, unit. Using his abilities he could damage enemies, scramble their minds, send them into a panic, mind-control them, or open up a rift in space time.
He was a badass. Eventually I gave him a horseshoe moustache to cement his badassery.
Speaking of badasses; I had a Heavy that from the very beginning was an all star. He would constantly kill aliens with ease. He became my go to squad leader– he was “El Hombre”– The Man. He was a large, imposing figure; so I made his armor dark green like the Hulk. He went out on every mission he could. Not only was he my best soldier, and leader, but he was my favorite “character”.
Him and Doc went on most missions together, Doc laying down suppressing fire, and healing the squad. While ‘El Hombre’ and the crew would neutralize the enemies. It was awesome
If something went wrong in a mission, and El Hombre or Doc died… I restarted the mission. I ‘save scummed’ up until the final confrontation actually. During the final fight El Hombre became mind controlled by a particularly powerful psionic alien. It was brutal watching him try and murder his squadmates. ‘Specs’ killed his mental assailant, and the feedback their minds separating killed ‘El hombre’…
It was heart wrenching… but, in a way, poetic!
That moment is one of the standout moments in my mind when I think about XCOM.
XCOM is a hard game that wants to break you. But when you fight back and eventually break it, it’s truly an epic and memorable experience.
For the first part of the game you’re fighting against “slow death”. And you either claw your way out; sometimes by the skin of your teeth… Or, you don’t.
Ask anyone who has played the game, they’ll have a story to tell. Something memorable always happens. You become very attached in XCOM. And when… and I mean when, a soldier dies.
You feel it.
Also the sequel comes out in February… Hype!