XCOM Update

Friday, June 4, 2010
A while back, Games Radar had a 4 page preview up for XCOM. It seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the greater press (as well as the lesser). It was taken down not long after it was put up, for reasons unknown. From various forums and quoted blurbs, here's what we've been able to piece together. Enjoy.

XCOM is a first-person shooter, set in the 1950s. Deep breath. This is not a time to panic. This alien invasion is an occasion to celebrate. Consider what those original strategy games were about. An implacable alien menace threatened the world. You were in charge of an agency that investigated these otherworldly horrors, engaged them in direct combat when it could find them, and poured vast funds and research into developing and improving countermeasures.

That’s exactly what XCOM does. You step into the shiny shoes of FBI agent William Carter, who heads a secret taskforce that is Earth’s last and only line of defense against the scum of the universe. From its underground base, this newly-formed XCOM monitors reports of alien sightings and dispatches agents to snoop around, gather evidence and, if necessary, clean up.

This isn’t a linear shooter, either. Your base’s phonetappers and police-radio scanners present you with choices as to where to go next and what to do, picked from a large map of the US. Rumours of animal attacks and strange weather patterns in a certain state? Sounds like Blobs are on the rampage. Saddle up, Agent Carter. Grab the wheel of your hulking fedmobile, take two of your best men with you, and go see what’s going on.

[sic] the nature and intent of the aliens is the game’s biggest secret. “We want to create a genuine mystery, one that players are compelled to find out more about, to unravel themselves.” Again, XCOM nods to X-COM, where your researchers gradually unlocked the aliens’ origins, how to stop them and where they came from. Unlike X-COM, however, these aliens aren’t a mix of random species.

“One of the things that we wanted to move away from was the kitsch or the expected from these creatures,” says Pelling. “Creating a set of enemies loaded with preconceptions really undermines the game. Part of the impact of seeing our aliens is that they’re not bipedal things walking around, it’s something completely different. We want you to look at them, study and explore them.”

Also, there’s Elerium here somewhere. This incredibly rare alien element is crucial for the construction of new weapons, armour and gadgets, but seizing it involves enormous risk. Out in the back of one pretty suburban house you spy a block of it – a strange arrangement of cubes, hovering in mid air. Dark lines and shapes whip around it in a self-contained storm, meaning you can’t just grab the thing. More Blobs. You’ll need to take them down if you want this precious spacerock. Check health, check ammo, check grenades. Every shot counts.

Stanley Kubrick’s psychedelic nightmares are made flesh as an enormous monolith shudders out of the horizon, the accompanying mist and lightning blocking out the daylight. Before your eyes, this cubist deathmachine – is it a creature, a spacecraft, a building, all of the above? – transforms. First, into a ring of smaller, diamond-shaped artifacts, and then into two concentric rings, like a gaping metal maw. The rings suck. All the furniture of the house you’re in is dragged towards it, smashing through what few windows remain. Run. Your guns have no effect here. Run... ...Maybe those eggheads back in the lab will be able to build you something, so next time you can bring this faceless horror down to Earth. But not this time. Run.

This stay-or-go structure is a re-creation of the original X-COM’s missions. Yes, killing everything would mean success, but that wasn’t always possible. If half your team was dead and most of your ammo was spent, it was fruitless to hang around. Gather any alien tech and corpses you can, then get out of there. The difference here – and we think it’s an improvement – is that you’ll never end up in a situation where you know there’s one Snakeman hanging around somewhere, and you’re in for hours of peering behind every door, into every alley, over every rooftop to find him. The constant, gradual escalation means every mission will end on a high.

2K refuse to be drawn on any multiplayer details, but at least they’re not denying it won’t happen.

“We’re really good at making shooters” says Pelling. “We’ve got a lot of experience doing that, and I think that provides a unique opportunity to present XCOM in a much more immersive and intimate format. Putting it into the first-person shooter is going to blow it up a little bit.”

The revised setting is going to be a sticking point for many XCOM fans, but makes a surprising amount of sense – the ’50s were a time of political paranoia, which the B movies of the age reflected. It also means the world is attractively stylised rather than grimly, tediously realistic, and the homemade, early-007 gadgets look like a hoot.

“The choice of the ’50s was not about putting it into a specific time period –
we don’t have a set date for when the events of the game occurred,” says Pelling. “It’s more that we wanted to create a beautiful, idealised world for players to explore, and create this contrast between the horror of these beings and what is at stake. This is what life could or should be, whereas the infiltration of the aliens really destroys that.”

So, is this XCOM really our beloved X-COM? “We’re forging a new mythology, but what we’re retaining is the core elements that made X-COM X-COM,” says Pelling. “The strategy, the base, the research, agents, being in charge, and dealing with this problem as you see fit. You are the one that’s driving the investigation – those elements remain but we want to create a new world with a new set of enemies that’s genuinely compelling for players to learn more about."

So, that's what we've got. It would appear that a great deal of the experience remains intact. The research, the non-linear feel, strategy. Good on you, Take 2, this is encouraging news.

We'll be on the lookout for the remaining bits of the original preview as well as any new info on the title.

Special thanks to Evil Avatar user Emabulator for starting the thread we got a good deal of the text from, as well as Brian Damage from the 2kGames forums.