When 2K first showed off their reboot of the X-COM series at least year's E3, the reception they received was lukewarm at best. So what did they do? Rework everything and try again the year after.
What 2K Marin had to show at E3 2011 was considerably more impressive. XCOM is an origins story of sorts, though as a first-person shooter laced with RPG elements, it bears little resemblance to the '90s games.
Set in 1962 America, the game offers up plenty of stylish, era-appropriate visuals and designs, from the jittery 8mm introductory film to the environment and character designs. The premise still deals with alien invasions, and players step into the shoes of Special Agent William Carter, a former FBI operative reassigned to the United States' Extraterrestrial Combat Unit -- better known as "XCOM."
Meet Your Team
As Agent Carter, you'll be leading a small squad of other specialized agents in the ongoing war against an extraterrestrial enemy. In XCOM, your agents work like a party system from any RPG, and you can recruit, level, and upgrade them in a number of ways. As your agents level, you'll also be able to customize their abilities and perks, depending on your tactical preferences.
Agents add a good dose of strategy into the FPS combat, since you can actually direct their actions during fights, though Carter is restricted to having two additional agents with him for assignments. Every mission varies in objective, so you probably won't be using the same two guys repeatedly.
You'll be managing your team from the underground XCOM headquarters, where you can also access the campaign map (of the continental United States), check for new missions, and plan your operations accordingly. For the most part, the non-linear campaign revolves around various mission types, such as defense, invasion, and asset recovery.
An Unknown Enemy
During the demo, Carter and his team were sent into a surburban neighborhood to rescue a scientist by the name of Dr. Alan Weir. Of course, standing between them and their objective are waves of hostile alien units armed with superior technology. To contrast the warm tones and overall organic feel of the human side, the aliens and their tech are marked by a distinctive, synthetic design, characterized by cold hues and crystalline features. All over the game world are alien terraforms, a spreading corruption that produces obsidian-esque formations.
The aliens themselves come in a number of flavors, each with their own unique abilities. In the demo, we ran into a particularly deadly class called "Infiltrators," who are capable of impersonating human beings. Once their facade is broken, however, their disguise disintegrates into a 3D pixel effect. It's pretty unsettling to look at, seeing a man's skin melt into cubes.
Should you find yourself outgunned by the invaders, don't panic. Carter can actually capture alien technology, and while he is supposed to bring the tech back to HQ for research purposes, you can always decide to bring it out during a fight instead. These captured weapons can only be used once, so once you've reintroduced the weapon of mass destruction back into the field, you won't be able to recapture it for later.
Even massive weapons like the devastating Titan weapon, capable of annihilating large areas with its massive laser, can be captured when weakened enough, then brought back out to unleash its destructive power on its former creators.
At the conclusion of the demo, Carter and his team do find Weir, but not before the aliens get their hands on the doctor and take him into a blue wormhole. Not one to ever leave a job unfinished, Carter runs after them, and when he comes to, we were treated to a breathtaking sight of a deep blue void filled with gargantuan floating alien constructs. It was one hell of a cliffhanger, for sure.
XCOM isn't due out until early 2012, and after seeing what 2K Marin is capable of given enough time to work, we're not particularly disgruntled by the faraway release window. Gameplay is shaping up nicely with its mixture of genres, but XCOM also boasts some of the most thoughtful and stunning visual design we've seen in some time. We definitely recommend keeping a close eye on this reboot, whether or not you're a fan of the classics.