E3 2011 Impressions: XCOM

At last year’s E3, when I saw XCOM, I was loving the environments, the time period and the promise of strategic elements. What I was iffy on was the generic-feeling action game play. A year has passed and I walked into the 2K Games booth to see what progress 2K Marin has made on this re-imaging of the beloved franchise.

This year the focus of the demonstration was the strategic aspects of combat in the field and the importance of decisions made through the course of the game. Everything is a factor – from choosing your mission, to who accompanies you on the mission, to how you tackle each scenario you encounter in the field.

The massive alien invasion has already begun as you take command of the role of Special Agent William Carter. You are charged with turning away this threat to human survival. Our demonstration began with choosing our mission to recover an important scientist, Dr. Weir. Bringing Dr. Weir onto the team will increase our scientific output making the team’s research into the alien technology work faster and bear more fruit. Next, we picked out the two agents who were going to join us on the mission. The agents have different specialties and skills, as well as have a level progression. We were told we could have chosen different agents or gone on a completely different mission and possibly lost out on getting Dr. Weir. Choices have consequences.

Now, it’s mission time. This is where the mix between the action and strategic aspects of XCOM mix – also this is where my concerns begin to take flight. The first-person action still appears generic and looks slightly awkward or uncomfortable. At least this year, the enemies weren't all amorphous black blobs. Where the combat really shined was when he paused the game to issue commands.

We weren't shown all the commands at our disposal, but we saw a protective shield, distracting the enemy and maybe the most important one of all: capturing alien technology. Again, the decisions you make play a crucial role as you are limited to the amount of command points you have and how quickly they regenerate. It is this aspect of resource management that intrigued me. This is especially true where the alien technology is concerned. After you secure a technology, you have two ways to benefit from it – the question is when. Do you choose to hold onto the tech, take it back to the base and use it in research - gaining long term benefits, or do you use it in the field immediately against the very masters it once served in order to reap the short term benefits of staying alive and completing your mission.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. I know I’m a hoarder, so I would do everything in my power to capture as much alien technology as possible for further research. What will you do?

XCOM is set to release on March 6, 2012 on the XBox 360, PlayStation 3 and the PC. 2K Marin seems serious in their quest to make this game live up to the expectations of the franchise’s cult following – a group they profess to be a part of. We weren't given hands on with the game so I cannot speak to the fluidity of the combat or how it controls. That said, until that happens, I continue to have concerns about the shooting mechanics and game play. Outside of that, I am loving the strategic elements they showed in the demonstration and I’m still a huge fan of the environments and the stylistic 60s time pieces. I’m looking forward to what 2K Marin has in store for us in the next 9 months.