15/12/2013

making aliens go boom

Spent most of the day getting my ass handed back to me playing XCOM: Enemy Within today so not much in the way of a blog update tonight unless you want me to repeat random profanities for the next few hundred words. Yes you wouldn't think it but I'm actually in my happy place playing this game.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was possibly my favourite game of 2012 and this is essentially that game with a whole lot extra bolted on top of it. It's top down ruthless strategy at its best, the kind of experience I'd thought game makers had all but given up on, especially on console but no here is a game that feels like the evolution of strategy games I played way back in the day.

There is certainly a nostalgia factor going on here that your spidey senses may be picking up on. It does bring back a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings of yesteryear but this is no rose tinted love-in with gaming's past. This game does not gently take you into its stride, it drops you in the deep end of shit creek sans paddle.

You play the faceless authority figure in charge of XCOM, a top secret hush hush shadowy defence force fighting off the inevitable alien plot against the planet. The fight takes many forms. Whether it be researching alien tech, building sci-fi toy eviscerators or just taking your walking, talking action figures into battle, this game demands some supreme juggling of your responsibilities.

The game proper is managing your squad as they take on the alien threat. Watching the angles, flanking foes and completing objectives. Into the mix there is also permadeath where your squad members die and stay most definitely dead.

Now these are randomly generated squad members you grow to appreciate as the game goes on. The more encounters they survive the more they get promoted and get up skilled in the art of making aliens go boom. So when they die, say by being blindsided by a new threat the game throws at you with no warning, well it actually feels like a kick to the nuts of your ongoing war effort.

That this game forges a connection between me the player and randomly generated characters says a lot about what this game gets so right. The tone, the mechanics and the B-movie nonsense, they work, they just work perfectly together. Given how often I'm left cold by the plethora of games that fail to forge that basic connection this is a welcome change to gaming's regularly scheduled programming these days.