E3 2010: XCOM (Impressions)

by: Chuck -
For those of you who were worried the new XCOM (no dash) is exactly like the old X-COM (with dash) except that it's set in the fifties, it’s a first person shooter, and the first bad guys you run across are blobs of black oil with electricity crackling along the top of them. OK, so maybe that's a lot of changes but the game still features a research component, elerium, a dark sense of foreboding/horror, and some critical thinking about which alien encounters you pursue at any one time.

I asked why the game was set in the idyllic 1950's Americana instead of in modern times and the developers mentioned how this was the time of pure Americana and how they wanted to take that ideal life and add something a bit menacing to it. I guess that's better than using alien paranoia as another euphemism for McCarthyism but that might actually make it into the game.

The demo started with William Carter, protagonist, exploring the XCOM HQ which is an abandoned aircraft hangar. Here you'll pick missions, select weapons, and track the progress of your research team. Picking missions is critical to the game as they will influence the approval for the XCOM division as well as how well your organization is funded. Some missions will only be available for a short time so if you pass one up you might not get another shot at it. From the screen I noted that missions are broken into three categories, Rescue, Anomaly, and Unknown. I'm guessing that's not the final list but it looks it does seem to cover most of the bases. While you're at the base you can also talk to Mel, the Q to your James Bond as he's the one who will provide you with new weapons based on alien technology.

The demo mission was a Rescue mission as we were responding to an alien attack in a small suburb. I'm not sure if it was local or not but Agent Carter along with two generic red-shirts were transported to the scene of the crime almost instantly. I'm guessing this was to save time in the demo but I do wonder how travel will be handled in the final game as you won't have the fantastic transport jet from the original game to get from point A to point B.

Once we were boots on the ground things got interesting and really showed off what 2K Marin is trying to do with the new game. Here we walked through an idealized version of the American suburb and you could almost smell the apple pie cooling in the window, or at least you could if it wasn't for the horrible black ooze that had just killed Ma and Pa and left their charred bodies behind. The game didn't really throw the black ooze at you at first; instead you had to build up some tension as you searched for it by going house to house. This was in broad daylight which did add a bit to the tension.

Once we found the infestation it was a matter of shotguns and blob grenades (alien based weapon which set the alien blobs on fire). Once one of the creatures was killed a picture was taken for research purposes. Then all hell broke loose as we were overrun with blogs and screaming suburbanites. Both of the red shirts on the team were killed and we were left to fend for ourselves as the aliens formed the giant rectangle/circle of doom in the E3 Trailer. I'd love to tell you what happens next but the demo locked up and we didn't get to see the end.

After seeing the demo it's hard to wonder why 2K Games didn't create a new franchise instead of resurrecting the old XCOM franchise. The game seems strong enough to stand on its own and there's a lot of potential in the shooter for gamers to get excited about without having to bring back such a legendary franchise. That said I am interested to see what the rest of the game holds and if they can keep the tension up throughout the game without it turning into camp.
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