So lately I’ve been hearing quiet rumblings from here and there about an upcoming indie title called Xenonauts. It caught my eye a couple of times passing through Blues and Rock, Paper, Shotgun and I was curious about the game being hailed as the true successor to X-Com. Recently, there have been a lot of games claiming true successorship to Micropose’s old-school classic but very few of them actually embodies what made X-Com such a beloved favorite and a game still played quite frequently amongst enthusiasts even to this very day.

So what makes Xenonauts a plausible, legitimate successor to the original X-Com? Well, for one thing it’s still turn-based. For another, environments are fully destructible. Even more than that, the aliens are actually scary again.

A few classics are getting the reboot/remake/redo treatment, much to the chagrin of the franchise loyalists. It has nothing to do with the games being remade but more-so how they’re being remade. Goldhawk Interactive isn’t remaking X-Com into a CoD style shooter, but instead is making a game like X-Com with many modern day turn-based strategy features that fans have been asking for. In other words, Xenonauts isn’t an overhaul of what made X-Com famous but rather an improvement to what made X-Com famous. For that, I applaud Goldhawk.

Xenonauts uses the same kind of isometric camera angle, and “Hidden Movement” turns for the enemy. There are still shadowy areas of the map that must be uncovered as well as the ability to lose your soldiers in a single shot. Civilians are still present in some maps and while they must be protected they are still likely to die by vicious alien invaders. Players can organize the load-out of their troops by selecting which soldiers are placed where on the carrier. Weapons and items can be researched and manufactured. Tanks can be customized. The UFO air battles now requires manual evasive maneuvering, and player performance determines your paycheck.

One of the things I found most impressive was that the feeling of dread and foreboding was just as present in Xenonauts as it was in the original X-Com. The reality is that Xenonauts isn’t a pre-scripted, tenuous corridor shooter, so the possibilities for each mission are practically limitless. Fully destructible environments, one of the things that made the original so much fun, also makes a welcomed appearance in Xenonauts, complete with up-to-date particle effects contained within each cubed square on the tactical map, exactly like the original X-Com. Soldiers, tanks and equipment are all still handled using time-units, so players still have to exercise caution at every turn lest one of your favorites could end up face-to-face with an alien and no time units to spare.

In some regards one might ask what the point is of a game like Xenonauts if you could just play X-Com? The simple answer is that it’s like an unofficial remake for today’s generation of gamers. It’s not a re-imagined origin story dumbed down enough so that every teenager will be able to beat it in 10 or so hours. Your soldiers aren’t invincible. There’s no regenerating health. The “bad guys” don’t pop out at pre-scripted moments. Your teammates, when wounded, stay wounded. All technology must be researched before it can be deployed in the field. If you need to get through a door where a door isn’t present, you can make a door out of a wall. Success or failure on a mission can affect global relations. Global facility management is present. Micro and macro-management are key elements for victory. It’s not a first-person shooter.

I understand that a lot of people enjoy the barrage of mindless shooting games flooding the market, but I’m glad Goldhawk Interactive is taking Xenonauts seriously enough that they understand fans of the original X-Com trilogy have just been begging for a more updated experience with enhanced features from the original. It amazes me how over the past 10 years we’ve yet to get a competent game to succeed where X-Com: Apocalypse left off (not counting the many failed X-Com games that came thereafter).

Still, Xenonauts at least looks like it’s on the right track. And hopefully Goldhawk Interactive can scrap together enough funds to make their 2012 release a possibility. I’m definitely going to be keeping my eye on the game.

You can learn more about Xenonauts or pre-order the game to help out with funding the project by paying a visit to the Official Website.

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