An X-Com by Any Other Name

Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

So, I've decided: I'm OK with the new X-Com.  Or XCOM, I guess. From what I've been able to read I can tell that there is at least potential in the design they have.  They're taking some of the elements, that idea that you gain more junk if you risk your crew's lives and stay there to clean up (with a different emphasis on risk vs. reward in this version), commanding a base, and gaining advantages through what the aliens leave behind.  The aesthetics of the game, the idyllic 50's with the dark corruption tearing it up is also really appealing to me.
 
I understand why people are pissed, though, and I'm going to encapsulate what I don't like about this project this way: they used the name X-Com.  In a sense, they're riding on the notoriety of the original property without coming closer to the the original gameplay style than would be considered appropriate by many.  It's really, really easy for any of us to point to the original and say that there's not much in similarity but for aliens invading and a few callbacks to old strategic elements.
 

 Just forget about all the other crap that's happening during the 1950's and pretend everybody's happy.
If I remove the name for a moment, and just look at the promise of the game, I'm intrigued by its potential. I know a lot of people struggle to imagine repeating that feeling they got in Rapture in 2K's Bioshock, that it stretches credibility to try to go back there again and again.  Here's a way to get that retro, alt-tech feeling without dipping into that well again, and I think they're really on to something.  If they tried to make this an offshoot of Bioshock there would have been serious trouble, just because the interdimensional alien stuff doesn't really mesh with the entirely human-made debacle that is Rapture, so that's sort of out (although I think, ultimately, that would have been the lesser of two evils.  Many strategy game grognards are notoriously quick to resent, slow to forgive, and have long memories (Sorta like STTNG Klingons, or the Dwarves from Lord of the Rings!), so announcing a title like that  without much of a connection to the X-Com they want is the psychic equivalent of a nut tap-- I can honestly say I was a bit miffed, myself).
 
But... but... but.  The original  X-Com, by Julian " Laser Squad " Gollop and the rest. I love it.  It's fun to play even after all this time.  Arbitrary Water recently experienced the game for the first time and seems to have fallen in love too, so people who are willing to deal with an older game's quirks can still find something to sink their teeth into. The game has tons of flaws to be sure, which is why people always wanted a sequel.  The first new game was, in some significant ways, a mere reskinning.  It was more challenging, there were slight differences, the story was different and the environments had changed, but it didn't push things forward.  You still had the painful inventory screen, there were weird bugs with some equipment and actions, the interface was twitchy, the aliens were often a bit too brutal to prepare for adequately, and the consequences of some actions only became apparent after it was too late to take them back.  The third game improved on many of these things, but I think, from what I managed to play, that it missed something by changing the strategic overview part of the formula, and altering the action to a more Baldur's Gate style of timed movement.
 Quick, get the power up!

One thing some people seem to have forgotten is that 2K's XCOM isn't the first attempt to take the same franchise in new (and uncomfortable for us X-Com fans) directions.  First there was a space fighter simulator, then a 3rd-person shooter, both of which weren't well received.  I think the strange thing is that companies seem to think the X-Com label is either more popular that it really is, or that they misinterpret the fandom as directed toward franchise, when it's really connected to the gameplay itself.
 
When I look at it this way, it becomes clear to me that 2K's use of the franchise name is just another reminder that I will have to wait a bit longer for a proper, more slicky designed X-Com that I want, not any sort of declaration of war.  From what I've seen so far, the team that seems like they will get the victory parade is Goldhawk Interactive, developer of Xenonauts.
 
 This little hunk of metal will make it a LOT easier to go charging through doorways without it being a suicide run.
Xenonauts seems to be modified clone of the original X-Com, which I think is just the thing that's needed.  It has a map screen, where you send interceptors.  It has a base you build up with different sections for research, storage, defense.  You have to earn money, and you do that by capturing alien tech and pleasing contributors with shooting down bad guys over their territory.  In the game description they cannily describe it as though it's a new concept, which I think was the smart, if cheeky, thing to do, because I think a modernized version of the original game needs to be tested to see how much of the bluster is just us old guys and young converts who love the game, or if there really is a big enough group to justify a bigger production of, yes, a turn-based strategy game.  Here's hoping that Goldhawk, or someone down the road, will be able to put this thing together.  With the noise over 2K's excellent-looking but unfortunately-named shooter, maybe Xenonauts will get more attention than it already would have gotten.  As long as people give both games a chance, that's fine by me.  
 
I understand that there have been some other attempts over the years to try to reproduce the old X-Com formula, although I've lost track of many of their names.  Has anyone had a chance to try out those, or other games that try to scratch the same itch?
#1 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

So, I've decided: I'm OK with the new X-Com.  Or XCOM, I guess. From what I've been able to read I can tell that there is at least potential in the design they have.  They're taking some of the elements, that idea that you gain more junk if you risk your crew's lives and stay there to clean up (with a different emphasis on risk vs. reward in this version), commanding a base, and gaining advantages through what the aliens leave behind.  The aesthetics of the game, the idyllic 50's with the dark corruption tearing it up is also really appealing to me.
 
I understand why people are pissed, though, and I'm going to encapsulate what I don't like about this project this way: they used the name X-Com.  In a sense, they're riding on the notoriety of the original property without coming closer to the the original gameplay style than would be considered appropriate by many.  It's really, really easy for any of us to point to the original and say that there's not much in similarity but for aliens invading and a few callbacks to old strategic elements.
 

 Just forget about all the other crap that's happening during the 1950's and pretend everybody's happy.
If I remove the name for a moment, and just look at the promise of the game, I'm intrigued by its potential. I know a lot of people struggle to imagine repeating that feeling they got in Rapture in 2K's Bioshock, that it stretches credibility to try to go back there again and again.  Here's a way to get that retro, alt-tech feeling without dipping into that well again, and I think they're really on to something.  If they tried to make this an offshoot of Bioshock there would have been serious trouble, just because the interdimensional alien stuff doesn't really mesh with the entirely human-made debacle that is Rapture, so that's sort of out (although I think, ultimately, that would have been the lesser of two evils.  Many strategy game grognards are notoriously quick to resent, slow to forgive, and have long memories (Sorta like STTNG Klingons, or the Dwarves from Lord of the Rings!), so announcing a title like that  without much of a connection to the X-Com they want is the psychic equivalent of a nut tap-- I can honestly say I was a bit miffed, myself).
 
But... but... but.  The original  X-Com, by Julian " Laser Squad " Gollop and the rest. I love it.  It's fun to play even after all this time.  Arbitrary Water recently experienced the game for the first time and seems to have fallen in love too, so people who are willing to deal with an older game's quirks can still find something to sink their teeth into. The game has tons of flaws to be sure, which is why people always wanted a sequel.  The first new game was, in some significant ways, a mere reskinning.  It was more challenging, there were slight differences, the story was different and the environments had changed, but it didn't push things forward.  You still had the painful inventory screen, there were weird bugs with some equipment and actions, the interface was twitchy, the aliens were often a bit too brutal to prepare for adequately, and the consequences of some actions only became apparent after it was too late to take them back.  The third game improved on many of these things, but I think, from what I managed to play, that it missed something by changing the strategic overview part of the formula, and altering the action to a more Baldur's Gate style of timed movement.
 Quick, get the power up!

One thing some people seem to have forgotten is that 2K's XCOM isn't the first attempt to take the same franchise in new (and uncomfortable for us X-Com fans) directions.  First there was a space fighter simulator, then a 3rd-person shooter, both of which weren't well received.  I think the strange thing is that companies seem to think the X-Com label is either more popular that it really is, or that they misinterpret the fandom as directed toward franchise, when it's really connected to the gameplay itself.
 
When I look at it this way, it becomes clear to me that 2K's use of the franchise name is just another reminder that I will have to wait a bit longer for a proper, more slicky designed X-Com that I want, not any sort of declaration of war.  From what I've seen so far, the team that seems like they will get the victory parade is Goldhawk Interactive, developer of Xenonauts.
 
 This little hunk of metal will make it a LOT easier to go charging through doorways without it being a suicide run.
Xenonauts seems to be modified clone of the original X-Com, which I think is just the thing that's needed.  It has a map screen, where you send interceptors.  It has a base you build up with different sections for research, storage, defense.  You have to earn money, and you do that by capturing alien tech and pleasing contributors with shooting down bad guys over their territory.  In the game description they cannily describe it as though it's a new concept, which I think was the smart, if cheeky, thing to do, because I think a modernized version of the original game needs to be tested to see how much of the bluster is just us old guys and young converts who love the game, or if there really is a big enough group to justify a bigger production of, yes, a turn-based strategy game.  Here's hoping that Goldhawk, or someone down the road, will be able to put this thing together.  With the noise over 2K's excellent-looking but unfortunately-named shooter, maybe Xenonauts will get more attention than it already would have gotten.  As long as people give both games a chance, that's fine by me.  
 
I understand that there have been some other attempts over the years to try to reproduce the old X-Com formula, although I've lost track of many of their names.  Has anyone had a chance to try out those, or other games that try to scratch the same itch?
#2 Posted by Bigandtasty (3203 posts) -

I've tried the original X-COM and UFO Defense. Pretty enjoyable and deep despite its rough edges, but I simply could not manage my squad well enough to avoid them getting owned by the late-game aliens every time. Maybe I was too merciful in not firing bad soldiers. Or I didn't spawn more overlords.
 
Anyway, I can definitely see where fans of the franchise are coming from with their skepticism. When people look at a changed franchise (e.g. Splinter Cell, Resident Evil) and say "I would have liked it just fine if it were a new IP! Don't ruin my beloved franchise!" I don't really see the validity in those complaints. Gameplay has to change eventually -- sometimes drastically, and change can be a good thing or a bad thing; it depends on what the change is, not the fact that it's change.
 
But changing the genres completely seems a bit silly to me, and it will always endgender skepticism among fans who see it as a risk-aversion move to make what would have been a new IP into a supposedly safer spinoff. That, in addition to the poor reception of the previous two entirely-new-genre X-COM spinoffs, makes skepticism understandable and perhaps even logical in this case.
 
In the end, I think my (and the entire video game community's) expectations for XCOM (and all upcoming video games) should boil down to two basic principles: hope the game is enjoyable, and if it isn't, hope the developers will make intelligent changes in their next game.
 
As for similar games to the original X-COM, the most recent similar game that I know of is S2: Silent Storm. Haven't played it myself, but have read about it and it seems pretty good. Happy hunting and playing hardcore turn-based strategy!

#3 Edited by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -
@Bigandtasty said: 
 
 " I've tried the original X-COM and UFO Defense. Pretty enjoyable and deep despite its rough edges, but I simply could not manage my squad well enough to avoid them getting owned by the late-game aliens every time. Maybe I was too merciful in not firing bad soldiers. Or I didn't spawn more overlords."
 
When it comes to psychic defenses, it sometimes pays to be a bit merciless with your firings or back-benchings, but I think they always preyed on the weakest no matter how strong their defenses were.  The main thing was to spread out into 2 man teams and hit the enemy hard and fast, especially toward the end.  At the very end, you can be a lot more reckless.


 
Anyway, I can definitely see where fans of the franchise are coming from with their skepticism. When people look at a changed franchise (e.g. Splinter Cell, Resident Evil) and say "I would have liked it just fine if it were a new IP! Don't ruin my beloved franchise!" I don't really see the validity in those complaints. Gameplay has to change eventually -- sometimes drastically, and change can be a good thing or a bad thing; it depends on what the change is, not the fact that it's change.
 
But changing the genres completely seems a bit silly to me, and it will always endgender skepticism among fans who see it as a risk-aversion move to make what would have been a new IP into a supposedly safer spinoff. That, in addition to the poor reception of the previous two entirely-new-genre X-COM spinoffs, makes skepticism understandable and perhaps even logical in this case.
 
In the end, I think my (and the entire video game community's) expectations for XCOM (and all upcoming video games) should boil down to two basic principles: hope the game is enjoyable, and if it isn't, hope the developers will make intelligent changes in their next game.
 
As for similar games to the original X-COM, the most recent similar game that I know of is S2: Silent Storm. Haven't played it myself, but have read about it and it seems pretty good. Happy hunting and playing hardcore turn-based strategy! "

Yeah, that's sort of my angle.  I'd hate to condemn what looks like a great concept on the grounds that they're unthinkingly blundering into disappoint-long-suffering-fans-again territory, but their marketing wasn't terribly smart, and their not-reveal-anything is only adding fuel to the only-XCOM-in-name fire.
#4 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11902 posts) -

Well done with the name drop sir. I bought Apocalypse on steam yesterday as part of the absolutely balls-out insanity sale that they are having (along with Thief 3 for $2 and Heroes V for $6). Already, I see plenty of issues and quirks that would slowly drive me insane if I tried to play it seriously, but it seems competent at the very least. Also the Aliens kind of look like muppets. Not going to touch Interceptor or Enforcer though. Being a Resident Evil Fan, I know crappy spinoffs when I see them.
 
I am willing to give Irrational's "in name only" X-COM a chance, because of the pedigree, but the naming itself seems shady and almost designed to garner ill-will among people who remember the original game fondly, almost to the level of Dante's Inferno. Then again, I'm sure that some of those people fall into the trap where they wouldn't be satisfied with anything that Irrational put out, even if they were making a direct successor to UFO Defense.  Oh well. That's what the 3 or 4 fan-made projects that are just trying to recreate UFO Defense are for, right?

#5 Posted by Chaser324 (6647 posts) -

I loved X-Com back in the day and I've tried out a lot of games that try to fit into that same genre, but very few have been all that great.
 
Rebelstar Tactical Command, by some of the creators of the orginal X-Com, is very similar in terms of the basic gameplay. However it is a little less open-ended and has some more JRPG style character development. It's also a GBA game and as a result has had some of the challenge and depth toned down a bit to make it more "portable" and easier for that platform's younger audience to handle.
 
A lot of people also tend to throw Jagged Alliance into the discussion, but I've never been able to get into any of those games. There's something about the gameplay that is just very off-putting to me.
 
For my money, Valkyria Chronicles is about the closest thing to a next-gen X-Com as we'll ever get. It's pretty linear in terms of the mission structure and it lacks any real resource management or base-building, but everything within a mission feels very much like an update to X-Com's classic turn-based strategy gameplay.

Moderator
#6 Edited by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater:  Yeah, Apoc's alien design was pretty sad.  It did have fully collapsible environments, though, now that I think about it. It does look like the XCOM thing will have elements that hearken to some of the strategic feel and pacing of the old games, with a base and a sense that you can't pick all missions, and that within those missions you're under pressure to perform optimally and not just run around and gun everything.  They also encourage taking evidence and getting out of there, which might have been a cool extra mission type for the original X-Com.  Like, stealth in or blaze in, kill an alien, get in the ship and take off before more aliens come and waste you.
 
I AM worried, though, that the research element for the new one will be a mirror image of Bioshock's taking pictures.  If they don't make it more substantive than that it will be a bit embarrassing.
 
Looking forward to what Xenonauts might dish out. 
 
Welcome back, and don't be afraid to name drop me once in a while :P
 
@Chaser324: The tactical combat of Valkyria Chronicles seemed pretty cool actually, but of course the mission structure was completely different.  I think a lot of times when people refer to X-Com, and are dissatisfied when other things don't live up to what X-Com did, is the blend of all the elements together.  Certain things could be different I'm betting (you could probably change the interceptor part to fully turn-based and not TOO many people would complain), but it's sort of like what other games try to have, where there are a bunch of different elements, only X-Com was one of the rare games that actually made that work:
 
The base building had a light sim-style to it, where you had to be smart about placement and growth.  It's really important if your base gets raided, because your troops will be in storage rooms and living quarters, and the aliens will pour through the openings (weapons silos and the hangars).  
 
The overhead map has you running patrols to please your funders and figure out alien activity.  The actual combat is pretty straightforward (anyone know any other smart tactics other than keep at a distance and blast at close range?), but there is an art to search patterns and fuel management.  

Of course the tactical combat is the single largest thing, with its brutal difficulty, destructible environments, and Hidden Movement.  
 
Three basic elements that work together really well, on the whole, despite numerous flaws, and has yet, at least by what seems to be general consensus, to have something come close.
#7 Posted by Chaser324 (6647 posts) -
@ahoodedfigure: 
I agree. No other game has brought together the strategy and sim elements in the same way that X-Com did.
Moderator
#8 Posted by Danial79 (44 posts) -

I've always resented the fact that X-COM Alliance was never completed :(

#9 Edited by TennSeven (15 posts) -

Have any of you ever played UFO: Alien Invasion (the GiantBomb link does not have much info on it)? It's a completely open-source game that is a LOT like the original X-Com/UFO: Enemy Unknown. The game is free and constantly being added onto by a community that loves the original X-Com games.

#10 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@TennSeven: Careful when resurrecting old posts. Some people don't like it (I don't mind, though).

I've heard from a few people... no, wait. I haven't heard of this one at all. Given the changes in all things XCOM lately, my focus has been primarily on Xenonauts, and the XCOM reboot that overshadowed the one I profiled above.

If I had heard of it it was a long time ago in its earlier stages. You play it at all?

#11 Posted by Wandrecanada (407 posts) -

Am I one of the only two people ever who played Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate? Because that was probably one of the better X-Com clones out there. If you're a fan of the old games but want a chance in hell of winning without resorting to game guides try it out. It's pretty solid.

#12 Edited by Hailinel (25179 posts) -

Has it really been over three years since the Game Formerly Known As XCOM was announced?

...Now that I think back on it, holy shit.

The game really has undergone a major shift in that time. Who knows what the final product of the original vision would have been like, but The Bureau, at least, seems interesting.

#13 Edited by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

@hailinel: Wow, that long? I don't know how major the shift was, it still looks similar to what it was when it started to me, but I haven't really payed too close attention. I tend to just let big releases wash over me and I catch up with them when I can afford them :)

I'm willing to give the Bureau a fair shake if I ever get my hands on it, sure. But this from an X-Com fan who hasn't even played the rebooted property that displaced the Bureau, and haven't used the desura key for Xenonauts yet. Closest I got was playing Shadowrun Returns, but that's not quite as in-depth a squad game as I think we're talking about here.

@wandrecanada: I tend not to notice Warhammer products, maybe I was burned by the memory of spending all those bills on the miniatures back in my misspent youth, but I'll keep an eye out for that one. What makes you feel that it's close to X-Com?

Also, my post is damned old, but thanks for resurrecting it anyway :)

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