Tuesday, October 30, 2012

XCOM Blogdier: Colonel Andrew 'Andy' 'Ice' M

at 11:28 AM
HOO-RAH! I'm not being patronizing - he says that all the time. Both in real life and the game. Because it knows. Here we have our tough-as-tissues de facto squad leader, who takes his anger out in the form of lazers, going through aliens' heads. Yeah, old Ice is so lazy he barely takes a step from the drop point before he starts settin' up shots and knockin' 'em down.

I extremely hate this idea already. See I was going to try to talk about each of the character roles and use that as a segue into discussion of the broader game architecture, but my execution in writing hardly ever lives up to my ideas. In this case, I'm not sure how to keep you interested in the discussion of a combat class that you either already know about or don't need to (and don't care to) understand in order to comprehend the post as a whole.

He's a sniper. Guess what the aliens don't have. Snipers. So you've got a leg up right there. Then again, you don't have Chryssalids. And they have four legs up on you. So who's in charge now? I don't know, and I definitely don't care. XCOM never pretends the playing field is even - in the first mission you'll watch your entire squad die. The whole way, the game wants you to feel outside of your comfort zone, like you're facing an overwhelming enemy as horrifying as that afflicting the in-game (gameic? filmic.) Earth. A lot of tension is on the table, all over the table, oh come on now it's spilling onto the floor will you just go get a paper towel. You can never see the whole playing field, new enemy types are frequently introduced (the game smartly faces you off against an alien collective rather than a species, so it can jump from Greys to Cyberdemons to Xenomorphs while keeping you guessing), and there are fights that you just can't win.

Huh I got sidetracked for the last twenty minutes watching video demonstrations of Turok weapons.

Well anyway, it's fun having a strategy game with such different, unbalanced sides. Like StarCraft, but if the Terrans could only build infantry. One of the things that bores me about Firaxis' (the dev of Enemy Unknown) most popular series, Civilization, is that it's a tech race. Since everyone essentially starts on equal footing, whoever gets tanks first tends to win. Here, you know you're going to be outgunned, so while indeed there's a race to get up to par on alien weapons and armor technology, the emphasis is on tactically outsmarting your opponent - and that doesn't mean choosing units to manipulate a rock-paper-scissors cycle (Company of Heroes, Fire Emblem, etc.). It means thinking about every move and every shot. If you don't find yourself pausing and looking around the map and scrolling through a few characters before every single move in this game, you're having a much different experience than I.

Sometimes strategy/sim games with random battles get tedious to the point where you want to be able to auto-compute the result of small skirmishes so that you can focus on the larger conflict (hi Koei!). This game doesn't belong to that category. Not because the sim parts aren't challenging and satisfying on their own, but because each tactical battle is so enthralling and rewarding.

I'll talk about that worldwide economic and political management half of the game tomorrow, when I feature our next squaddie, Maj. Elesia Bowers.

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