There’s an odd joy to playing games like The Sims. Perhaps it’s a joy not everyone appreciates, and perhaps it’s a joy that’s not the same for everyone. I mean what’s fun about watching little made up people go about their day, live and then die, when you could do that in real life? The whole point of video games is to pretend to do things you can’t do in real life, right? Well personally I’ve enjoyed naming sims after people I know, and characters from my favourite shows. Suddenly a boring game is fun when there are faces and names to those little fake people. Suddenly I want to root for them, and it matters to me whether they succeed or fail. It’s not a feeling unique just to the Sims. In hockey you can make your own players. In wrestling, you can make your own wrestlers. But X-com, for quite a while now, has been trying to capture that simulation aspect of The Sims and combine it with the ass kicking fun of killing aliens. Oh and the hard in depth strategy of Civilization. It’s not, perhaps, too much of a stretch to say that this game has a little something for every gamer. I can’t imagine anyone not finding something to enjoy in both this recently released game X-com 2, nor the recently free with gold first game in the rebooted franchise once previously first established in the early 90s.
X-com isn’t all that distinct from a game in the Total War franchise even though it’s set in modern day during an alien invasion. What I mean by that is most your time with the game will be split between two different modes of play. There’s the overworld map where you move around pieces on a world map and maintain resources and your army. Then when a battle breaks out, you’re taken into a very different game where you’re controlling the action directly man to man. Though the two modes are different enough to be separate games, what you do in one has the potential to directly affect the other and vice versa.
Interestingly X-com is almost specifically opposite to Total War, in that the world map in X-com progresses in real time, while the battles are turn based. Battles will take every bit of strategy you have, and consists largely of positioning your people behind the most effective cover you can find, firing yours guns at whichever shots give you the best percentages and praying to the gods. This game does a lot to throw curveballs at you, hit you with new larger enemies you weren’t expecting, or moves you’ve never seen. Even on the easiest difficulty this game is hard. It’s the kind of game you play once on the easiest, and only by using what you learned from that will you stand a chance at the next highest difficulty.
As mentioned above, what I think really sets X-com apart besides it’s nearly perfectly executed gameplay, complicated long form narrative, extensive and detailed research tree, and formidable rogues gallery is your ability to customize every soldier in your army. Name them whatever you like, outfit them however you see fit. You can change how they look, choose whether to give them armour or explosives, or put them in a giant mech suit. The choices are endless, and will allow you to make the perfect alien fighting team you always imagined. Whether it stars you and all your friends, or maybe the characters from Disney’s Girl Meets World, the choice is yours.
The graphics are an improvement over the last game, but if you’re looking for things to look as good as Witcher 3, you should tamper those expectations. There’s a lot going on with this game at once, and considering that you view the action from a largely top down perspective, it’s impressive how well everything looks when the camera zooms in close for the action, whether it compares to other games of this generation or not. The character models could be a higher resolution, but the enemies all have a distinctive look and this game has a lot going for it on art value.
The music and soundscape are both beyond excellent. The way an alien’s roar at the end of a round are all you need to know exactly which direction the enemy is in is pretty amazing. When a giant mech stretches to full height and smashes through the wall of a building beside you, you’ll jump and maybe even forget that the game you’re playing is turned based. This is absolutely a game worth turning up.
If there was any criticism it would be in the dialogue. People talk a lot in this game. Especially in the overworld. They will explain the same thing three different ways in as many words as possible and at first it was a part of the tone that I appreciated. Like a sort of Star Trek scientific dedication to the techno babble. But by the end of the game the writing was so overwritten and prodding and would go on forever, that it absolutely got on my nerves. To make matters worse, people had a tendency of trying to talk to me as I was jumping from one screen to another, clicking just as their dialogue came up and completely missing what they had to say on accident.
This game has endless replay value, limited only by the scripted events that always play out the same way every time. Most of the game is randomly generated, and there’s a lot of variety to the things you do from one mission to the next. There are different combinations of soldier classes to try, plenty of unique maps to battle on. There’s even an online mode for battling friends, though I didn’t get a chance to delve into it, it’s not exactly what people are coming to the game for. There’s another way to play multiplayer anyway. I had a lot of fun playing with my girlfriend, splitting my squad of six into two squads of three. I’d let her choose her people, and how to equip them, and we’d pass the controller back and forth during the combat. It was a fun couch co-op way of playing the game that, while not encouraged by the developers, helps make a fun game only more fun.
All in all, it’s easy to call this game one of the best games of all time. I’m not sure exactly whether this game is better than the first. Certainly with the expansions and mods for the first game, there’s more options and variety for it than every before. I expect they’ll patch in more campaign options as time goes on, but right now the only thing you can really change is the difficulty. The first game and this game are both absolutely worth giving a chance, and I guarantee you’ll get more than your money’s worth out of all the time and fun you’ll get playing “just one more turn” well into the night.
Screenshots By: Andrew Geczy