It was shortly after midnight that sgt Li from the People republic of China was brought low by a stream of plasma bolts fired by a cowardly alien hiding behind a bomb designed to wipe out the city of Hamburg in Germany. Li sacrifice allowed her teammates to close in with the target, take it down, disarm the bomb and save Hamburg in the process. Her sacrifice will always be remembered.
The scene I just described happened to me yesterday in X-COM enemy unknown, the remake of the classic game X-COM: UFO Defense, a game I spent hours playing when I was younger and the game that made me a fan of turn-based tactical game. Remakes of classic games are always risky business but Firaxis pulled it off (again I should say) and the newest iteration of X-COM had me hooked to my computer screen the whole evening and made me stay up late because of the infamous “just one more turn” syndrome.
So what is it?
So what is X-COM exactly? X-COM put you in charge of an international organisation tasked with saving the world from an alien invasion. There’s a few problems though. You are hopelessly outgunned, the enemy has way better tech, you are underfunded and your recruits have a life expectancy of a few days at best.
There’s really two aspects to this game. The first is a brutal tactical game that if played on anything higher than easy will kick your ass repeatedly. The enemy is smart and you will be punished for making dumb moves.
The other aspect is the management of your base, research, manufacturing of new weapons and making sure to keep happy the countries funding you or else you’ll find yourself broke and unable to fight back. The alien invasion will escalate whether you are ready or not and you won’t have enough money to do it all. It becomes really important to make the right choices of when to make weapons, when to expand your base, whether or not it’s time to research new armor or research the alien bodies you found.
Of course the two aspect tie together and poor mission performance will cost you money replacing people and equipment as well as pissing off your backers and poor management will leave your soldiers stranded without the proper equipment to fight off the aliens. This is where X-COM does it magic, you feel in control and you feel that each of your decision has a direct impact. You start caring about those randomly generated soldiers and suddenly you feel bad when sgt Li who saved your ass in the alien ship mission suddenly bites it from a random shot.
Since it’s a day 1 review I won’t go into the likes and dislikes and as you probably already figured out, I’m completely raving about the game so my impartiality is zero at the moment. Instead, I’ll leave you with some tips.
- Play the game on classic (hard) difficulty and in Ironman mode. Ironman means you won’t be able to load previous saves and that you have to live with whatever happens, the good and the awful. It will make you rage when you fail a mission but overall it will make the experience that much more gripping.
- Don’t be afraid to restart the game and redo that first month a few times to get the hang of things. The devil is in the details in this game and you need a good start. Allow yourself to fail and learn the game.
- Your squadmembers will start the game being downright awful. Anything will kill them, they can’t hit anything and will probably all die off in their first mission or two. That’s normal, don’t panic.
- (Tactical) 75% hit chance means that you will miss one time out of four. Plan for it.
- (Tactical) Until you have made contact with the aliens on the ground move slowly and use overwatch heavily. It’s not very precise but it may prevent an alien from running straight to you and gunning you at point blank range.
- (Tactical) Explore with your first actions, cover yourself with the remaining ones. You don’t want to make contact with no actions left on any of your characters.
- (Tactical) You don’t have to do all your actions on the same character in one go before moving to the next character. You can move, switch to a different character and then go back to shoot or go overwatch if you need.
- (Tactical) Use grenades liberally especially in the beginning when your guys can’t hit anything.
- Projects listed as priorities are not actual priorities. They are necessary to complete to move the story forward and ultimately defeat the aliens but give yourself time to study the side projects like weapon and armor or you’ll find yourself outgunned badly when the invasion escalate.
- Make sure to bring a rookie or two on every mission. Not only are they great at doing the dangerous jobs and protecting your more advanced squad members but you’ll need replacements for when the big guys get killed.
- Sell extras on the grey market! You need the money!
- While your reflex will be to invest heavily in research try a more balanced approach. You’ll need engineers to build your new toys and lots of money to support it all.
And on that note I wish you the best of luck!