Sparky's Update - Last Thoughts on XCOM: Enemy Unknown

"It's not the size of your blog, it's how you use it!" -The Hamburglar

After finally escaping the clutches of my post-Thanksgiving food coma, I'm back and ready to write. This week's blog is gonna be just a short, sweet whispered little nothing in your ear. I've mostly been finishing up XCOM and Walking Dead, but I'll also briefly touch upon Rock Band Blitz and the adventure game Jack Keane. Let's jump into it.

Aliens, Ahoy-hoy!

Most of my game time this week has been slavishly devoted to XCOM. I detailed some thoughts last week on the positives of the game as well as my admiration for the basic changes made to the classic formula. My thoughts on those haven't changed much; I think it's a brilliant game and a testament to the fact that we should see more modern revivals that adhere loosely to the original gameplay.

I beat the game this afternoon, clocking in about 177 game days played. I changed the difficulty a few times, starting off in medium, switching to easy for a few missions with the chrysallids, and then switching back to medium again in the later stages of the game. I restarted it once, as there's a point where a giant alien spaceship appears and can be murder if you're not prepared - as I wasn't. The turn-based tactical gameplay is refreshing, and far outshines this year's other big turn-based strategy revival in Jagged Alliance. XCOM puts that game to shame, but it's great that both even exist.

There are some problems with XCOM, but they're not at all deal breakers. The difficulty, as referenced above, can be wildly uneven. Although I was crushing it tactically, the HQ portions can be head-scratchingly random in its difficulty. Even with a strong strategy in place with lots of satellites and Interceptors in play, I still lost a grand total of five nations. Combat can also be a bit polar. Early missions strike a good balance of weak enemies with weak soldiers, but new enemy types are introduced rapidly, and by the point chrysallids are thrown into the mix, I saw quite a few members of my B-Team dying. By the end of the game, though, the difficulty became something of a joke. With mind-blocking helmets and/or Titan armor, my squad was mowing down the enemies in the last mission with almost ridiculous ease. I really should have bumped it up to Hard on that last mission, but oh well.

There are also a lot of little graphical problems that could have used a little polish. Bullets seem to sometimes fly backwards out of guns. There is clipping galore. Most of the text is insanely tiny and impossible for me to read. More armor variations and models would go a long way towards making the soldiers feel unique. The enemy variations, while sticking close to the original's types, seem awfully generic.

Actually, that last bit, the generic enemies, touches on my biggest issue with XCOM, and that's the limited scope of what Firaxis has dreamed up here. That's not even an issue at all, since this is essentially a remake of the original XCOM. However, if they do up a sequel (and I desperately hope they do), I'd like to see them get a little more creative with weapons, armor, and enemies. Let's see some new types, something from the minds of Firaxis's intelligent men and women.

When all is said and done, though, this was a fantastic game and one I will revisit sometime in the future.

The Walking Dead (Spoiler Free!)

Much has been said already about The Walking Dead's excellent story and cast. I agree with all of that. But what I most particularly love about The Walking Dead is how it made the adventure genre relevant again. Most of the puzzles in the series make sense - you always have a clear direction and the tools are appropriate for the job. By adding a timed conversation tree with choices that influence how people react and talk to you, it adds a ton of depth as well as a tense nervousness to the gameplay and story.

I found myself in the last three chapters eschewing my typical "play it friendly with everyone" approach and going with my gut instinct in the conversation trees. The game became supremely satisfying. While I stuck to trying to be the good guy, occasionally letting my (or Lee's) temper shine through was quite a bit of fun and added to the tension of the game. If you play this, try not to reload every time you choose an unfavorable dialogue choice. The best way to play this game is to just go with what you feel at that moment.

Whether Telltale chooses to go ahead with the second season of this or its announced King's Quest series first, I think we're all in for another treat. I can't wait for either.

The Rest

-Jack Keane has to be the most unremarkable adventure game I've ever played. The graphics look good, I suppose. But the gameplay, characters, and story are all extremely dull. It takes its cues from Monkey Island, but instead of trying to be charming or fun, the game insists upon yanking yawns from its audience. I cannot recommend this one to anyone.

-I'm awful at video games. That's a known fact. But I've never come across a game I've felt so hopelessly awful at like Rock Band Blitz. I'm at a full sixth of the points of the person next in my friends' list - and that's playing on my best song. Still, that doesn't mean it's a bad game. Just one I'm bad at.

-I also finished up with the third and final season of Hung this week. It's an okay show that loses its direction after its second season. I think the show had higher aspirations at the start, but someone, somewhere along the way left and he or she was the only one who knew where the show was going. It's too bad. Thomas Jane is immensely likable, and there's a good premise here. But overall, I wouldn't really bother with it. It's a bit of cotton candy television that ultimately just doesn't leave anyone satisfied, unlike the protagonist.

And with that, I guess that's it for this week. Anyone get some great deals on Black Friday? I'm going to start laying out some ideas for my end of the year blog sooner or later. While I'm still playing a great many games and won't be laying down my Best of... list for some time, I think I'll start pulling together some award ideas specific to the games I think deserving this year. I don't know that I'll be doing an award for every game I played (frankly, I just don't think War in the North or Tomb Raider Legend, for example, are particularly worthy of any award, good or bad), but I reckon most will get something. We'll see.