The Better Half of XCOM

Posted on July 30, 2013 by richardgoulter
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I had a playthrough of XCOM: Enemy Unknown these holidays.

For those who’ve not played it, XCOM’s thematic setting is about saving the world from an alien invasion; gameplay-wise this is (mostly) half Turn-Based-Tactics and half base-building.
The two are symbiotic, in that form the TBT skirmishes you gain resources (or other currency) to make use of in the base; and from the base you can build better weapons and armour.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Turn-Based Tactics side of things. Not particularly my cup of tea; but also I didn’t play it in a proper way. (Whenever I didn’t do so well, I’d reload an earlier save and come out with a better result. – In action gameplay this is like screwing up at a checkpoint and having to redo; in the mechanics/dynamics of XCOM, it happens to cheapen the experience).

The base-building aspect of XCOM is pretty cool. You get an “underground facility” somewhere in the world, and with the income you get from kicking-alien-ass are able to build research facilities, engineering workshops, satellite uplinks, etc. (which improve research, building, and alien-detection respectively).
The base-building is the interlude between skirmishes; or is it that the base-building is interrupted by skirmishes with aliens? (You’ll spend the majority of your time in the TBT skirmishes, so probably that). – The base-building is also interrupted with ‘intercepts’ of Alien UFOs, where the game mechanics didn’t lend to complex dynamics, alas.
The story of XCOM is driven by certain specific missions (do this skirmish; shoot down that UFO and do that skirmish; get a super-unit and do a final skirmish). But fortunately (or unfortunately?) the rather engaging arms-race with the alien foes reaches a termination point, where your side ends up more powerful. :-)

On that last point; the arms-race seems a decent enough trope in videogames for providing tension/challenge. (“my pistol from level one doesn’t do as much damage as this more expensive rifle; I’d better get money to use the rifle”..).
But since at the termination point your guys end up on top, the tension flattens a bit at that point. (It might be fair to say that, with a more genuine TBT experience, the tension holds: the aliens end up with super-killer robots. If caught unaware, those super-robots are pretty damaging).

Regardless, I found the key aspect of building-the-base to defend the world was a pretty fun part of XCOM. It was fun to manage the research for more powerful weapons, and to strategically decide where to spend the money for a more effective defense.

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