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IGN has an extremely well-written editorial up about all the things us X-Com fans have wanted to say but probably just didn’t know how to say it without reverting to fanboyism, tears and simple “screw you 2K…screw You!” comments. The exquisite editorial breaks down why the turn-based genre is not dying out, why it’s actually alive and well, and why the new XCOM could have succeeded as a strategy game had 2K given it a little bit of a chance.
I think, though, the issue goes even further than that. It’s not so much that the turn-based mechanics are done away with, because let’s be honest X-Com was way more than just turn-based strategy, it was about business management, financial management, inventory management, micromanagement, research and development, as well as a lot of moral decision making (i.e., do you risk sending in a team at a terror site when they’re not 100% effective and risk losing good soldiers or do you wait until you have ample supplies and forfeit the lives of civilians?)
Not only are the turn-based mechanics done away with, but just about everything mentioned above has also bitten the dust in 2K Marin’s upcoming XCOM remake. In the lengthy E3 walkthrough gamers basically get a full grasp of how the game is played, and pretty much the full extent of the playability in the unimpressive walkthrough.
A while back I wrote about XCOM not being anything like X-Com and it has little to do with the turn-based mechanics or the game being in first-person, but again, more-so with everything else that made X-Com fun, which was the management aspect.
Many gamers even noted that the FPS change isn’t always for the worst, just look at Fallout’s transition from isometric, turn-based RPG to open-world FPS-RPG. However, one could argue that Fallout’s evolution into the new generation of gaming isn’t far off from what it once was, mainly the perspective just changed and it was made to be in real-time. Fallout games are also mostly single-character, story-oriented adventures, and that has mostly stayed the same in the newer iterations of the series.
X-Com, however, was not a lone-gunman type game. As mentioned, there was as much a focus on the combat as there was on all the things leading up to the combat. Remember, without power-suits your squad was likely to die in a single shot. Without high-explosives or tank support it was sometimes impossible to get the jump on snipers or blaster-rifle aliens holed up on the top floor of a warehouse. Without laser weapons or plasma rounds it was also a chore trying to take down the flying discs or subdue the zombie-like creatures that could revive the dead. The strategy wasn’t just in the placement of soldiers and firing weapons, a lot of it was based on the psychology of how players chose to approach each mission.
The RPG elements, base management and equipment really helped shaped the original X-Com and even if the game was turned into an FPS, having to micromanage your team and going in with a full squad would have still made the game more true to its roots than the XCOM coming out next year.
Instead, players are given predefined squad mates to choose from in the new remake. Only four XCOM operatives are allowed to go on each mission (as opposed to having up to 20 or so in previous games) and players no longer have to wait to use some of the alien technology, which can now be used instantly while on a mission in some circumstances.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the old X-Com was keeping some soldiers alive and having them rank up, earn extra time-units, health and points (typical RPG style). It was great giving the soldiers PSI-Op powers and eventually having them captain the team at a high rank. These were the guys and gals you didn’t send first into a firefight, but instead you would let a rookie scout out a dark corner to fish out an alien menace while the higher-up sent a blaster round to completely obliterate the entire area. This kind of scenario is no longer possible in the new XCOM, and it’s not because it’s an FPS but because the game has been streamed to play more like Gears of War rather than a real-time version of X-Com.
I don’t think many X-Com fans would mind the change to an FPS had many of the core elements at least stayed intact from the original series. Nevertheless, instead of evolving the series from what was established more than 15 years ago, we’re given less and being told that it offers more.
You can read the entire editorial about the FPS versus turn-based debate for XCOM and X-Com, over at IGN.