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XCOM E3 2010 Preview

by Garnett Lee, Jun 22, 2010 12:20pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: The 50's "dawn of the atomic age" era provides a great atmosphere for an alien-hunt shooter whether you know the original or not. And for those who do, while it's not a strategy game, there are ample nods to the X-Com spirit to get the nostalgia flowing.

No, the new XCOM is not a tactical strategy game like its namesake from the 90s; it's a shooter. But in the over a decade since the originals, videogames have changed too. So while the play style may be different, developer 2K Marin hopes to translate much of the essence that made X-Com appealing to their new game. At the same time, they also have a creative vision that's more than just reimaging X-Com as a shooter. The new XCOM trades in the late 20th century setting of the originals for the 1950's, a time when people were still in wonder of major advances in technology. It's a period rife with potential for experimental devices and a secret organization that uses them to fend of extraterrestrials.

The E3 demo I saw reflected the effort to lay groundwork for being more than just a run-and-gun shooter with around the first third of it taking place at a hidden top-secret base. This section brought in some of the planning and strategizing to be done before heading on a field assignment that was a core part of the old games. Research looks like it will play an important role again in being able to combat the superior alien forces. Observations and samples collected while in the field can be brought back to scientists who then need to be directed on what to give their attention to.

In another nod to the earlier games, there are different types of missions to choose from like a police dispatcher off a giant map wall in a large situation room. They include elerium recovery, protect civilians, recover artifacts, and conduct research. Choices matter, too, because during the time spent on one run, some of the other situations may get resolved. And though not explained during the demo, each state shown on the wall map also had a sort of satisfaction rating that presumably relates to some form of support resource in the game.

Out on a mission to investigate a disturbance in a suburban neighborhood the demo took a more conventional turn. Before the shooting started, though, the body of a dead resident covered in black ooze presented an opportunity to show off the field component of research. A quick photo logged it for the boys back in the lab to check out later. Research like that had yielded the sort of homemade ooze grenade the team had armed up with before heading out and we were about to see them pay off.

Entering a home we finally got to see the blob creatures the ooze had foreshadowed. Compared to all the work that had gone into creating the atmosphere of the game up to that point, the blobs lacked personality and were a bit of a let down as aliens go. They did crackle with electricity and prove pretty resilient to shotgun blasts. That's where the ooze grenades came in handy, erupting in flames that took them out quickly. But whether by design or just a symptom of an early build the flames didn't seem to harm the player or either of the two computer-controlled teammates along on the operation.

The demo wrapped up showing off an effective lightning gun that also looked like it had been cobbled together by the techs back at the base. It proved no match for the titan alien artifact that zaps in above the subdivision at the end first as a monolith and then transforming into a ring that hovers above the street creating a violent storm of destruction. The demo ended with it unclear if the team got away okay to reinforce the fear of the unknown theme. A lot of gamers have already felt that emotion wondering how this new XCOM will treat an old favorite. One demo won't erase that entirely but for a first look it offers a lot of fuel for speculating how it might all work out and come together.

[Watch the Shacknews E3 2010 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. You can also subscribe to it with your favorite RSS reader.]





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