It's the 1950s and you'll play the game as William Carter, an agent for XCOM--a special task force charged with keeping the world safe from an increasing alien threat. The organization operates out of a secret airplane hangar, and from here you'll choose your next mission, choose some weapons to take out into the field, and manage your team's research to help them develop new weapons to assist you in the fight. There seems to be some sort of freedom in your mission selection, and there were three different choices available on the map during our demo, and each one offers a different mix of the game's resources. The missions are said to be generated, not individually scripted, which means if you need specific things--like a specific precious metal used to build weapons--you can repeatedly take on those types of missions. The mission map also has a color coding to it that lets you know how happy each of the 48 states is with your progress. Though not explicitly stated, keeping them happy is probably key to keeping the money flowing in your direction, as it was in previous games in the franchise.
After soaking in a bit of office atmosphere, heading out into the field is as simple as getting into your car. You can bring field agents along with you for assistance, as well. The mission we were shown had the XCOM team heading out to a quiet (too quiet!) suburban neighborhood that was under attack from blob-like aliens. After stalking a few blob slime trails, Carter came upon a dead body, covered in more goo. This is where you can get out your research camera and snap a photo, which gives you a quick analysis of the situation (the guy was asphyxiated by slimy goo, no surprises there) and there seems to be some sort of longer-term research benefit, as well.
The actual combat of the mission came when Carter and his team finally found some screaming survivors, attempting to fight off a pack of blobs. The blobs themselves can seep through walls and jitter around in a very unorthodox way, making them hard to hit with your standard issue shotgun. This was the point when switching to a big lightning gun made a whole lot of sense. Zapping the blobs appears to be a lot more effective, and after hitting them for awhile, their cores are exposed, giving you a chance to finish them before they can suck enough goo back onto themselves to continue blobbing around. The cores appeared to be quite resilient, but that's where the "blobatov" comes in. Earned via research, the blobatov is a grenade made from blob goo that acts a lot like napalm, giving you some great-looking fire effects after it hits. With the blobs burned and the survivors saved, it then becomes time to finish the mission by getting back to your car.
Of course, at this point the entire area was attacked by a big UFO that kept reshaping and reforming its polygonal elements to make different shapes, almost like something out of a Rez boss battle. In between fits of looking quite cool, the ship attacks humans, beaming them up with a cool-looking pixel/block effect. Getting back to the car isn't quite as easy as it sounds, apparently.
This was the end of the demo, but between its striking looks and the promise of various types of resource management, XCOM looks incredibly fascinating. Unfortunately, just like everything else that looks incredibly fascinating, XCOM isn't due out until sometime next year. In the meantime, keep watching the skies.