XCOM: Enemy Unknown: What's New, What's Not

Time units and procedural levels are out; fog of war and permadeath stay in. So what else is in new (and old) in Firaxis' XCOM reimagining?

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The upcoming XCOM shooter might have gotten the cold shoulder from fans of the PC classic, but this strategy-based "reimagining" has had a much warmer welcome. By the same token, though, the weight of expectation is greater--and when the goodwill of fans comes from your game better resembling a revered original, how far from it can you successfully stray?

XCOM: Unknown Enemy at least began life as a prototype "very close to the original," says associate producer Pete Murray, from which it was cautiously evolved toward the reimagining Civilization studio Firaxis had in mind. The upshot is a (so far) familiar-feeling adaptation split between the traditional base-building strategy and turn-based tactical action.

No More Time Units

On the one hand, isometric views and the battlefield-obscuring fog of war return; on the other, time units as the currency of a soldier's action per turn are gone, replaced with simpler options to move and perform an ability or move further away.

Isometry wars.

The New-Look Base

At XCOM headquarters, research and engineering are as important as they ever were, but the base itself is a kind of high-tech paramilitary dollhouse (Firaxis calls it an "ant farm"): an ever-growing network of chambers and laboratories with the front walls cut away, in which you can see your returned soldiers running on treadmills or propping up the rec room bar.

It also doubles as a menu, zooming you from the ant-farm view into the science labs for research options, the engineering bay for investing in new tech, the barracks for customizing and training your personnel, or the mission control room with its luminous hologlobe for jumping back into combat missions.

Monthly Funds

As in the original XCOM, your funding council payday comes once every 30 days, and you can supplement your income by selling scavenged alien technology on the gray market, though selling alien weapon fragments to shady buyers means your scientists won't be able to reverse engineer them for advanced tech.

The "ant farm" XCOM HQ.

The diorama style of the XCOM base jibes nicely with the look of your soldiers on the ground. Over in the combat layer, your four squad members are all clean lines and easy-to-read silhouettes. Firaxis calls it an "action figure" aesthetic, intended to help with identifying the classes of your squaddies at a distance.

"Action Figure" Styling

In our first look at the turn-based combat, we were walked through one nighttime mission at a US gas station, in which one of each of the four classes (heavy weapons, assault, sniper, and support) dispatched to hunt down a small pack of spindly gray sectoids. Here, we saw soldiers intelligently snapping into nearby cover (parked cars and pillars) when moved, while the sniper, in an engineered "skeleton suit," was sent grappling up onto the forecourt roof for a better view. The camera, usually hoisted up for an isometric view of the battlefield, also dipped in close to individual units to show off their moves.

Against the sectoids clustered behind cars at the far side of the forecourt, the XCOM squaddies deployed class-specific abilities selected from the action menu, such as suppressive fire and frag grenade attacks, with which the cars used by the enemy for cover can be blown up. The original PC title's overwatch ability also remains in place, letting a squad member fire during the enemy's turn, should an alien critter move through his or her line of sight.

Cover counts, is destructible.

No More Procedural Levels

We're told all of Enemy Unknown's levels are handmade, unlike the original game's procedurally generated environments, but that of these, there are plenty; in two playthroughs you "won't see the same location twice." He also says levels are commonly multilevel and that this early gas station level, with just the forecourt canopy and nearby building roof to climb up onto, is one of the flattest in the game.

Environmental Damage

After flanking and obliterating the sectoids, the XCOM team moved on to the nearby diner building, pushing back the fog of war to reveal a party of the bulkier muton aliens and a hulking new heavy enemy unit, the berserker. Unluckily for the support-class soldier, environmental damage plays a big part in XCOM; after the support soldier crept up to the outside wall, the berserker smashed through it, bashing the XCOM trooper to death in a single enemy turn.

And here's that berserker.

The assault-class trooper, at least, had clambered up onto the roof, in which the aliens had already blown a serious hole. A player turn combining her long-range run-and-gun attack, the strategically placed sniper on the gas station canopy, and a rocket from the heavy weapons squaddie's launcher, meant the mutons and their berserker met a swift end in one more turn.

Permadeath

There was nothing to be done for support soldier Asher "Angel" Friedman, though, because XCOM's traditional permadeath is still in full effect. To that end, there's also a memorial hall back at base, where you can pay your respects to all the XCOM fighters who've laid down their lives to protect the Earth (or blundered into a berserker killzone).

XCOM vs. XCOM

Associate producer Pete Murray calls XCOM: Enemy Unknown a reworking of strictly the first XCOM game, so don't hold your breath for elements introduced in the sequels. But what of publisher 2K's other XCOM game, the first-person shooter from 2K Marin? With two XCOM titles due so close together (the shooter is coming in 2013, this strategy number this autumn), you might expect some canny--or cynical--crossover between the two, but Murray says these two games are stand-alone takes on the world of XCOM. "They're in their universe; we're in our universe," he says. "We do talk with [2K Marin], but thematically, they're separate."

Discussion

61 comments
Gamecritik
Gamecritik

Only 6 squad members? I seem to recall at least 8 in the origional? No randomized MAPS? just random placements? More crapola. Once again a great game of the past gets a GRAPHICS facelift that looks great but takes too much away from the origional gameplay. No base building? Pahleeze. That was a BIGGGGG part of the fun of the origionals.

xDeadP00lx
xDeadP00lx

Finally some remakes of ORIGINAL good games that I can be happy about. Bringing me back to my early years of gaming, pre EA-sucked-up-all-the-cool-studios days. Isometric gaming was cool. Many a night was spent on this gem and TFTD.

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@kosh1979 I was hoping for a space or alien planet for Xcom 2 myself. (Ps Don't leave a space between @ and name , the system won't ping me)

kosh1979
kosh1979

@ Arch-Stanton - An under water mission and partly combine 2 games in one...Giving also a promise for XCOM2... Nice... -The new features do look interesting. @Green---Alien - thanks for the link

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@Green---Alien Yes , thanks got that link already. @kosh1979 Looking at the link there is some interesting new stuff. 1.Name soldiers 2.Hostage Extraction - VIP rescue 3.Power management as a limited base resource. 4.Infirmary 5.Some new Aliens 6.Classes for soldiers. Maybe nice if they had a under water mission ??

kosh1979
kosh1979

@ Arch-Stanton @Smintar yes ok the 6 man squad is not the same thing as in the original games. lets see how will be the game and if the other features are ok, there is also room for improvement in an expansion... a terror from the deep remake/alike game wont be also bad...

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@PodXCOM The 6 man limit does at moment, appear to be the worst thing about the game so far otherwise it' s looking good. "one-liners that the troops say" Certainly seems a waste throwing those cliches which have been done to death on other games. Not sure if you have a base defense mission in it ?

Smintar
Smintar

Well this remake is over due I still have mine and when able to play it I still enjoy it. Its time for a great game to be remade for our todays computers. If its anywhere close to the orginal it will be a great seller. I would enjoy doing the beta if possible.

PodXCOM
PodXCOM

@Arch-Stanton Oops, didn't see this page, thanks for calling me in. :) Hmm. I like the comic book look of the game, a bit Spawn-like. But I hate the 6-men-only thing, and the way the base looks (It looks less flexible; can't make rooms where-ever you like). But what I really don't like, is the one-liners that the troops are going to say.

valent1n
valent1n

@Arch-Stanton forget about it; dont mind such things

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@valent1n Mite be the same jerk that gave me a flaming on the Marin FPS Xcom cause I made few negative posts on it.

valent1n
valent1n

@Arch-Stanton thx i'll try to finish it this time 2. i dont know, i have the same issue on this topic....some haters around i think

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@Growgor Yeah I saw the revised list, it does look pretty good.I was glad to see the adv Ui for PCs.The one base may not be too bad as you have hangar bases for Interceptors on multiple continents and the action points system could be OK too. @valent1n No probs, good luck with the 2nd play through of 2033. ..................... @ SOB Who's that SOB thats voting down my posts !!!

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Growgor
Growgor

@Arch-Stanton Checked out the UFO summary on the 2K Forum,besides the 3 points listed below Xcom looks good plus there is a addition of advance UI for PCs+ some new stuff like pwr gen and satlinks. 1.Squad size start at four and can later upgrade to six. 2.TUs replaced with Move-Action mechanics instead.??? 3.One base only.

valent1n
valent1n

@Arch-Stanton, thx for the comment there; my avatar is from League of Legends, a hero called Ryze....

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@valent1n Looks interesting but my Russian not the best.Left a comment on your 2033 blog.What game is your avatar from ?, looks famaliar.

valent1n
valent1n

@Arch-Stanton: yes indeed. do you refer to the ufo 2000 ? or what mmo ?

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@valent1n I,m sure Firaxis could do a top job on Xcom if they where not held back by the limitations of consoles.If they make a simplified Xcom I mite be still interested to play it but I'l wait till it's in the bargain bin. Has anyone tried out that MMO UFO Online ?

valent1n
valent1n

@Arch-Stanton, thanks; if you are right then things got very simple for me, i'll not play it; i'll go for the Xenonauts (already pre-ordered + a member on the forum) and the Extraterestrials 2 should be good enough, since the first one was indeed nice; somehow a clone of the original game.

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

@valent1n @kosh1979 @BornInLA @korj @Sup3rn0v4 Bad news guys according to 2K forum looks like 6 max squad.(hope thats wrong)but I think this game will fall victim of over simplification so they can port it to consoles. How many great strategy games are there on consoles ? Answer. None There are 2 other Xcom style games made by some small publisher for PC only.Hopefully they mite do the original Xcom some justice. 1) UFO2Extraterrestrials: thats due release this month and 2) Xenonauts: due 3rd Q this year. @PodXCOM What are your ideas on Firaxis What New ,What Not

valent1n
valent1n

@kosh1979, the team size should be more than 10; or maybe chosen difficulty should impose a maximum size, still the original title had, and i am sure you remember, the mighty interceptor airplane with a lot of persons in the squad, so many that you could have used a tank in the first missions to ensure a proper get-them-fast policy vs the aliens.

kosh1979
kosh1979

a squad 4+ up to 6 will be good. I think initial 6 upgraded to 8 will be better its good to have weapon & the skill options... also with 2 persons squads (3-4 squads total) you can sweep a stage with multiple ways and more effective (coverage of squads increasing) and it gives you multiple ways to advance (2 squads front, 2 behind vise versa, squads with combination of heavy/light short/long range guns etc etc...) i think that the options for use of tanks and may some robots (something like terminators, yeah..) or flying machinery if possible, would be a must and give additional options and fun in the battles. Arch-Stanton below mentioned the UFO interceptions... THIS IS A MUST. The agony till you upgrade the interceptors and the feeling that now you can pay them back with the same coin were great... classes is also a MUST. X-com is based on this fundamental rpg principle... also that is one more reason for me that a squad should be at least with 6 members. There are lot of things that I can say... I was 14 years when I play the first X-COM and hope this remake will make me loose my sleep again...

MN121MN
MN121MN

I hope it won't be another JA BIA...

Arch-Stanton
Arch-Stanton

Interesting to see how this new TBS compares to the old Xcom.4 squad members sounds weak.They didn’t mention anything about tanks or UFO interception missions. @korj "have been replaced with simpler options", I wonder if we live in the age of imbeciles”Thats so they can make a easy port to the console simpltons and screwing a few extra bucks out gamers with DLC's is now the norm. @vicke32 "XCOM would suck without the person-specific inventory system , there was a reason night missions were called nightmares". Good points the nite terror mission was the toughest !! @BornInLA “ abusing the system by sending hordes of cannon fodder soldiers at the enemy” you should have abused the blow and burn everything up as you lost points for dead troops, a rocket tank and a soldier with a auto-cannon with incedenary rounds worked well.

keyb0red
keyb0red

Yeah a squad of 4 seems restrictive I tend to bring along some "red shirts" on my missions but heck, they could give me a squad of two and I'll still buy it - just cos it's no longer a bl00dy FPS!!! :)

Sup3rn0v4
Sup3rn0v4

@BornInLA And only four soldiers on a squad, is that confirmed? > I read somewhere that initial is 4, but can be upgraded to 6.

BornInLA
BornInLA

I have mixed feelings about this, but am generally positive on it. The new turn-based system will work better, I think. The previous system was very fiddly and cumbersome and took a lot of calculating of time units, which really slowed it down and took away from the feel of it. The new system should flow more smoothly while still being challenging. I am cautious about the new squad setup. I rather liked being able to have flexible soldiers; I am not warming up to a "class-based" system. And only four soldiers on a squad, is that confirmed? I suppose some players - myself included -were abusing the system by sending hordes of cannon fodder soldiers at the enemy to flush them out while keeping the few really good soldiers back to do all the killing, but only four still seems really restrictive. I rather liked the procedural levels - which really were just pre-designed blocks laid out like tiles - but I suppose I understand them wanting a more natural look than the "chessboard" look of the old X-COM levels. I hope they are quite serious about having so many maps that we won't often be seeing the same ones twice. I love the new base look, and am glad that they are keeping the base-level activities. A lesser game company would have cut the strategic aspect to add in more action, which would have been reason enough for me to not give the game a second look (*glares at 2k*).

korj
korj

Every time I read something like "have been replaced with simpler options", I wonder if we live in the age of imbeciles. Same for four childish "classes". The later can at least be explained by marketing: "here is DLC with 5th class!", "hey, buy plastic toys of all classes now for only $69.99!” Nevertheless, let's hope for the best - judging by the article, the game can still be interesting.

AviticusDSS
AviticusDSS

I'm ready to lose a lot of sleep over this game.

kosh1979
kosh1979

way to guys, give a good remake of an old good friend...

Caemyr
Caemyr

I am a big fan of all the X-COM PC games, except X-COM: Enforcer, for obvious reasons. I am really looking forward to this game, and I am hoping it lives up to the original.

vicke32
vicke32

Reimagining they say. Just, why... Why even bother with this sh*t? Why not just hop onto the bandwagon and make it an FPS with regenerating hitpoints and two weapons? >levels are handmade >won't see the same location twice Choose one. Also, classes, f*ck classes. The point of squad based death traps called games is that you need to think ("Giving him a rocket launcher would make him blow stuff up, but then again it would slow him down..."). XCOM would suck without the person-specific inventory system. Oh and the field of vision is horrible, there was a reason night missions were called nightmares.

Elite_Maddog
Elite_Maddog

I'm not going to put too much desire in this one. So if the game isn't that good, no problem. But I can't hide my enthusiasm!

Roftie
Roftie

Wow, some spell/grammar checking would have helped before posting this article. Game looks cool though. Just hope that one can equip your "squaddies" with helmets too... :P

Hurvl
Hurvl

Oh, so the more "true-ish" sequel to XCOM is released before the "heinous cash grab of a FPS" game. That's a surprise, because it goes against the cash grab mentality by giving the hardcore fans what they want first, instead of making them wait, and all the while tempting them to try the other game just to get to play in the XCOM universe again.

00J
00J

Getting this one. Hope it comes out! Firaxis is basically the Son of Microprose who published the first X-Com. :) Could not be more enthused.

KidRockNZ
KidRockNZ

I liked the dual options from Apocalypse, the hybrid real/time turn based system was awesome, it had the feel of xcom but didn't have that 'save every shot and keep re-loading your save until it hits' temptation that ufo did. I hope this has the option as well.

lindallison
lindallison

Hope this helps show that turn-based combat was not popular back in the day because of technical limitations. TB is bizarrely underutilised these days.

inferajum
inferajum

i am so excited! xcom was one my first games that consumed my life for months!

grove12345
grove12345

Of all the modern remakes of 90s games, this might be one of the few that might work out. congrats

stdioh
stdioh

FoeCrusher, I don't see how it was punishing since every mistake could be remedied by loading the previous turn.

jordonj
jordonj

Of all the games coming out this year, this is the one I'm most looking forward to.