E3 2011: XCOM

By Garnett Lee, Jun 09, 2011 9:20am PDT

QUICKTAKE: Back with a second test run at reimagining the classic XCOM game, developer 2K Marin promises an experience more true to the spirit of the originals. Like the prototype shown at last year's E3, the game remains a shooter, but now includes the tactical element of commanding two AI teammates in the field. A greater emphasis has also been placed on the RPG-like elements of assembling and developing your squad to fend off the aliens. It's not the turn-based tactical combat game of the old games, but what I saw came a lot closer to getting the XCOM "vibe."

THE DEMO: Beginning in the XCOM HQ, we got introduced to the player's character, special agent William Carter. Touring the facility, we moved on to the ready room to get a look at the squad system. AI teammates will take on roles based on classes. On display here were Master at Arms--a support class who provides ammo resupply, Commando--the heavy weapons specialist of the group, and Tactician--a class we didn't get to see in action, but likely provides new attack options in combat.

In the second part of the demo, Carter took a rescue mission with a Master at Arms and Commando alongside. One of the important elements of the game is capturing alien technology and figuring out how to use it in defense of the earth. The home of one of the leading researchers aiding the effort, Dr. Alan Weir, has come under alien attack and Carter's team is sent in to save him. The ensuing battles showed the squad command system. In a fight, the two pieces are telling teammates where to go and what skills to use, and then supplementing that with precision shots to defeat a superior alien force.

DETAILS: Although the format of the in-mission action has changed, the two-part approach of the game harkened back to the old XCOM. The options for developing the different squad members via skill trees showed a good range of choices that could allow for going down different routes of specialization.

Though it was not detailed in much depth, the base also serves as the hub for telling the story both on a large-scale level of how the invasion is impacting the country and at the human level of your fellow XCOM division members. In the main ready room, the XCOM division chief offers a variety of potential missions put together from emergency service calls and strategically important targets. Many of the latter will involve securing the fictional element "elerium," the heavy metal that alien tech depends on.

Once out in the field, I got my first glimpse at the new aliens. They're no longer just black blobs with electricity arcing over them (although those enemies still exist). Described as living tech, the aliens, also known as "the outsiders," take a variety of forms. The infiltrator class encountered in the demo possessed a doppelganger-like ability to take the form of humans they killed. But once exposed, they revert to their raw state of electrified black matter, in humanoid form.

The outsiders aim to not just take over the earth, but convert it into a more hospital planet for their kind. A black, electrical ooze covers occupied territory, and in areas they are attempting to terraform, massive black pillars erupt from the ground.

A trusty assault rifle--one that appeared to be augmented with alien tech--proved to be the best tool at Carter's disposal to help stem the tide of the alien invasion. Aiming through the sights provided much more accuracy than hip-fire. Cover also played an important role, both for Carter and his squad. Commanding the two teammates was a simple matter of aiming at a spot in the environment and clicking a button. As is the case in other games that use this system, it appeared there was some adjustment going on to help the AI members know where to get behind cover.

Once in position, combat settles into a rhythm of shooting, punctuated by issuing orders to the rest of the team both to get the directly and indirectly involved in the fighting. A risk-reward relationship to capturing alien technology adds another wrinkle to the action. Alien tech can be turned around and put right into service on the current mission, but that uses it up. It can, instead, be brought back to HQ to help further research. Tie that all back into the squad development system and it's starting to sound a lot more like XCOM than before.

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