E3 2010 Impression: XCOM

Idyllic ‘50s America - apple pie, baseball and... aliens? In XCOM by 2K Marin, you seek to remove that third tag, bringing peace to our tiny planet from the threat of alien invasion. The legendary title is back with a new spin on an old story. So, put on your pinstripes and suspenders and get ready for this new first person shooter.

The story: you are Special Agent William Carter, head of the FBI’s XCom division - a clandestine organization tasked to locate research and ultimately eliminate the new, unknown force that is seemingly ripping apart America silently from within.

XCOM Demo Room

As I walked into the demo room at E3, it felt more like stepping back in time with the entire room mocked up as a ‘50s kitchen. The only way they could have improved the ambiance was if Barbara Billingsley herself walked into the room and presented the game to us. It was a great way to set the mood as the demo opened to a short cinematic as Carter enters XCom HQ. Immediately you notice the detail of the environments. While beautifully rendered, the graphical style carries a subtle feel - homage if you will - to the golden age of television.

2K Marin spared no expense on immersion. From the way the characters’ dress to their attitudes to their mannerisms, you have no doubt about when you are. If the devil is in the details, then this team has been racking up serious frequent flyer miles on round trips to the underworld.

Not wanting to lose that feeling of strategy so prevalent in the franchise, you must collect evidence to provide research to develop new technologies, go on missions to earn money to continue funding your operation as well as provide security for many of the inhabitants on earth under siege (rescue operations). Mission choices are made from a giant map on the wall of the United States, which acts as your mission hub. Choices you make in the headquarters and your execution will decide the fate of the planet.

Unlike many first person shooters, you are not alone. You have two agents that follow you and make up your team. From what we saw, the agents seem to have their own personalities. They will point out things as you move around the world, giving you hints and help along the way. It is a clever system to keep the game moving forward as well as serving as your guide inside the game.

No FPS is complete without a solid armory. You have your standard fare of shotguns and machine guns, but things start to get interesting when your research bears fruit in the form of weapons. We were only introduced to two advanced techs: a specialized incendiary grenade and a lightning gun. While these weapons were extremely effective, their limited ammunition opens up more of that strategy aspect I mentioned earlier. The lightning gun not only fried the enemies, but arced to nearby enemies stretching the ammo out further. The incendiary grenade worked more like a Molotov cocktail, but was no less effective at removing the alien threat.

For the short time we had, we went along on a rescue mission. While the game play itself seemed tight, it was not revolutionary. I was impressed more by the how the narrative played out. We arrived in the neighborhood and heard commotion and screams. The first house we arrived at had no survivors - we were already too late. This is not for the faint of heart, kids. We saw the devastation left by the aliens, passing over the dead, including a person and a dog. Before engaging the enemy, we even watched a recent victim vomit black alien goo before keeling over. Make no mistake; we’re in this for the species. Once we eradicated the threat and saved the civilians we could, we walk outside to find a Titan. Informed we have encountered this before and have no way to defeat it, it’s time for us to leave. Escape is only possible by reaching the car and we did not park close (insurance purposes I’m sure… it’s the government, people). Once the Titan demonstrates its power by evaporating the space in front of us, including a nearby onlooker and an automobile, we make our escape to end the experience.

The Titan

I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of what XCOM and 2K Marin have to offer. What we saw looked very promising. The ambiance, narrative and the sense of urgency in the game play really took it to the next level. You will be able to find XCOM on the XBox 360 and PC, but does not currently have a release date.