A fan and a half
“Do we have any die-hard Xcom fans present?” was lead designer Garth DeAngelis first question during the short introductory presentation of Xcom: Enemy Unknown. I held up my notepad and noticed only one other hand made it up into the air, reluctantly I might add. Xcom games are from way back when most of the gathered press was too young to have played it when they came out. The lackluster response to his question did nothing to stem DeAngelis’ enthusiasm for his game and, as it would turn out, for good reason.
Ushered into the next room, we were offered a choice to play the multiplayer mode or part of the singleplayer campaign. The multiplayer mode has very little to do with the original games but I have to admit that it sounds kind of fun, in a quirky way. In multiplayer, you gain control of a squad of soldiers that can consist of both humans and aliens. As with the singleplayer campaign, squad members level up and their experience can be carried along into other multiplayer sessions. Matches are turn-based and feature a turn timer to keep things going.
The prospect of playing with aliens and using their strangely unique abilities will no doubt appeal to many Xcom fans, but I was keenly curious after what Firaxis has made of the singleplayer experience. I was a little disappointed to find a controller lying in front of the screen, confirming once more that the Xbox 360 is used as the lead platform. Why did DeAngelis even ask if there were die-hard fans, if the game is not really made for us? The choice to focus so much on the console version has puzzled me from the day that the game was announced… Still, I’m glad to say that the Xbox controls were very easy to get into. In less than 10 minutes, I felt completely at ease with the gamepad and was ready to enjoy the game to its fullest.
Last man standing
In the first mission, my squad arrived at the crash site of an alien pod sticking up from the ground. Mine was not the first team to investigate the site, but the team before me had gone silent and part of my mission was to find out what happened to them. Taking orders from a commanding voice in my headset, I moved my team forward through the deserted town, slowly leading up to the green-lit pod at the end of the street. I learned how I could move my team from cover to cover and how each turn, the members of my squad were either allowed to move and shoot, or move twice.
I soon encountered a body that seemed to have burst open from within. A female researcher joined the conversation in my ear, telling me that it was almost as if something had been trying to crawl out, which was a fair assessment of the scene before me. Upon reaching the pod, it was all clear as day; we were being invaded by aliens.
I was told to move my team towards the building at the end of the street and investigate what was inside. Two of us burst through the window, another kicked in the door. These rather explosive actions may sound careless, but like every other action, these too would end in my soldiers taking cover. A lone, human soldier stood frothing at the mouth, live grenade in hand. As we ordered him to stand down, the camera zoomed in on what is going on behind the poor sod and we saw an alien working hard at controlling his mind. Trying to flank the alien, the soldier dropped his grenade and died in the blast that ensued, but the alien itself survived and it turned out he didn’t come by himself. In the attempt to take the blue freaks down, all but one of my squaddies ended up getting killed. It was a black day for my team, but the experience of one man left standing would prove invaluable in following missions.