E3 2011: XCOM (Impressions)

by: Chuck -
More On: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified E3 2011
Game: XCOM
Developer: 2K Marin
Release Window/Date: March 2012
What's polished: New tactical elements make the game feel more X-Comish, great art style for the aliens

What needs polish: Still not sure why this is an XCOM game, feels a little Mass Effect 1950’s edition

I have a feeling that after last year’s showing of XCOM at E3 the folks at 2K Marin had a conference call to go over the design of the game to figure out how to make it more XCOMy. Why, because this year’s demo shared more with the original game than just a name at the top of the demo. While the run and gun nature of last year’s game was still there the folks at 2K Marin have added a new strategic and tactical game play elements makes it feel more like an XCOM game and more than just another FPS where you kill aliens

Before the presentation started we were told that this is being created as an XCOM origin story and to think of it as an extension to the lore as well as a new interpretation of the game. I’m still not sure the original game needs a new interpretation but I decided to let that thought pass and focus on what they were going to show us. Those looking for a multi-player experience should look elsewhere as the developers confirmed that this will be a “massively single player experience” although they did hem and haw when the subject of co-op game play came up.

The demo started with a filmstrip of shot by a small child. The child wandered through his house until he went into the kitchen where the child saw what was supposed to be its mother working on something in the sink. As he got closer it turns out it was a shape shifting alien who then tried to grab the kid. It was a bit jarring and a bit reminiscent of the shaky cam alien footage from “Signs”. It did a nice job of setting the tone for the rest of the demo.

Another big change is the base where Agent Carter works out of. Gone is the barren aircraft hanger from last year and in its place is a new bunker that a 1960’s era James Bond would feel comfortable in (assuming he was fighting aliens instead of SPECTRE and commies). There’s also a room with a giant map showing where aliens have been spotted as well as a room where you can meet and equip your squad.

The mission map is the real focus of this part of the game as this is where you choose the missions you’ll go on. There will be a central campaign to the game but there will be side missions as well that will allow you to gain new tech and level up your squad. The developers also told us they would be making the squad a bit more important as you’ll get to choose up to either agents to work with, and those agents will be in one of five classes (although the specific classes are still in flux). There’s also a focus on trying you to bond with your squad so you actually care about them rather than just sending yet another dumb recruit into the line of fire without hesitation.

The biggest change though was actually being out on a mission and the new combat system. The game has moved more towards a Mass Effect like system where you can issue commands to the two agents you brought with you. You can have them flank, use powers or weapons, and generally be more than two giant pieces of cannon fodder. It looks a bit more action focused than Mass Effect 2 so it will be interesting to see what the final product looks like.

The other big change is that you can capture alien technology that you come across in the game. Once captured you have the choice of allowing the science nerds back at the base research and break it down for future weapons or you can re-spawn it later in the level to help you through a tough spot. We got to see an alien “machine gun” re-used against the aliens as well as the giant spherical laser that’s been shown in most of the game’s trailers. I really liked this choice as it really makes you think about if you want to take the easy way out and use the alien tech or if you want for the long term benefits of having it broken down.

The aliens in the game have also received a major makeover as they’ve gone from being weird blotches of black oil to large, block shaped aliens. The pictures below don’t really do them justice as 2K Marin has come up with a complexly new and very cool aesthetic for the alien creatures. The aliens also change the environment around them as they corrupt the area around them. It’s a cool effect and I’m guessing there will be some kind of game play element in the final product.

I have to say that my interest in XCOM has been pegged with the demonstration as they’ve gone from being something of just another shooter to being a game that’s going to make you think and weigh your options. I still wonder if they really needed the XCOM brand as the game might be better received as its own property rather than standing on something that a lot of gamers consider holy ground. This was easily the most improved game at E3 this year and if you’re looking for a good thinking FPS experience it might be time to start counting down the days until March 2012.