Yesterday, 2K jumped out from behind a bush, wearing a bloody clown suit, and surprised the crap out of us with a press release revealing a new X-Com game was in development. I was happy! Many of you, however, are not.
It's not the game's seemingly retro aesthetic that has people upset. Nor is it the subtle change to its spelling, from X-Com to XCOM. No, the trepidation comes from the fact this new XCOM is going to be a first-person shooter.
The original game, for those who haven't played it, was not a first-person shooter. It was a two-headed beast of a thing, half of it spent on a global campaign map planning the human resistance to an alien invasion from a strategic level, the other half spent in tactical, turn-based battlegrounds. Like Final Fantasy Tactics, if you will. Only with aliens.
And it was amazing. The strategic stuff was compelling and perfectly integrated into the combat, the combat was tense and perfectly integrated with the strategic sections, and it had one of the best intro sequences of the 1990's. Quite simply, there hadn't been a game like it, and 16 years on, there hasn't really been one since (its own sequels aside, of course).
From what we've heard so far about XCOM, the new game, the strategic stuff is still in. The press release reads "true to the roots of the franchise, players will be placed in charge of overcoming high-stake odds through risky strategic gambits coupled with heart-stopping combat experiences that pit human ingenuity – and frailty – against a foe beyond comprehension."
So it's the first-person stuff that has people angry. There are accusations that 2K has somehow sold out. That the X-Com franchise is being dumbed down. That making a new X-Com game that's not like the old X-Com game is defeating the purpose of making a new X-Com game at all.
Look, if that's you, it's OK to feel a little disappointed. As a life-long X-Com fan (hence this piece!), I can't help but feel a slight twinge of it myself. But consider the following before getting too down:
- Turn-based strategy games are a complex genre. They are, Civilization's gentle, strategic beauty aside, for the hardcore! In case you've been asleep the past 2-3 years, games of this scale (big publisher, big developers) can't afford to appeal just to the hardcore anymore. See games like Metroid, Fallout 3 and even the latest Splinter Cell for examples.
- They're a niche. That's why you only really see them released on handhelds these days. When Valkyria Chronicles - probably the most polished and enjoyable turn-based strategy game in a decade - can't even sell a million on the PS3, you know it's a limited sell.
- You want to play the old X-Com so bad? Go play the old X-Com! You can get it on Steam. It still looks, and plays, great, as does its oft-overlooked sequel, Terror From The Deep. If you want something a little more modern, try UFO: Aftermath, the game's 2003 spiritual successor. If you want something a little more portable, try Rebelstar Tactical Command, for the Game Boy Advance. Point is, a new X-Com game needed to be just that, new, because the old ones are just fine, and are still available.
- These developers have worked on Tribes and BioShock. They know how to make a good first-person shooter. You may not be getting a turn-based strategy game, but you'll probably get a great shooter, and one that retains the strategic element to boot.
I don't want to sound like I'm somehow sticking up for 2K or this new XCOM game for the sake of it. After all, for all we know, the game might suck! I'm simply trying to point out that getting angry at the game's partial change of genre, on principal (since we know so little about it!), as though this were still 1994, isn't going to get us anywhere.
I think our memories of the original X-Com, at least where they're involved in affecting our expectations for a modern remake, are like the old saying: if you really love them, you have to let them go.