In case you didn’t know the X-Com: Enemy Unknown demo came out today on Steam. I didn’t waste any time this morning jumping in to see what it had to offer and thankfully I wasn’t disappointed. After the first few minutes it was clear that this was the big budget version of the game I loved as a kid, and that the team at Firaxis knew exactly where and how to make improvements from the original. It all seems a bit denser; the maps are more robust, the gameplay is awfully intuitive, and there are some non-combat characters that make X-Com feel like a real living and breathing organization. In the roughly hour long demo I was able to sample all aspects of gameplay from the iconic turn-based combat to the brand new ant farm style command center. It’s not a question of whether or not I’m going to purchase the full game on October 9th; it’s how excited I am now that I’ve gotten a taste. After the jump is a list of five things I enjoyed about the demo.
The Cover System
The most obvious change to the combat system in the new X-Com reboot is the introduction of a vastly improved cover system. In the original, units could take cover behind objects that would simply block projectiles, but there was no other type of defensive bonuses. Now however pieces of cover are given a rating, represented with a shield icon, to show their relative defensive strength. Instead of manually telling units to duck or stand they simply adapt to their cover. It’s not always 100% safe as cover can be destroyed, but it does help to keep your “squaddies” safe as they move through a map. They’re also capable of firing from behind cover, meaning you can stand safely around a corner or behind a car and still engage enemies. In the original if you wanted a unit to fire they were forced to leave the safety of their cover.
Human’s Starting Weapons Aren’t Useless
Anyone who played the original knows the importance of researching either laser or alien based weaponry as fast as possible. The starting human weapons simply weren’t capable of dealing with some of the more advanced aliens no matter how accurate your soldiers were. In this version however it seems that human technology is actually capable of dishing out some punishment, at least in the early stages of the game. This not only balances the playing field early on but also gives player the option to research other technologies based on their play style instead of forcing them to rush to combat technologies. They are also more varied, giving the player closer ranged options like the shotgun to deal with enemies. The original didn’t have any close ranged options.
Cinematics Add to the Action
Normally I find that cinematics in fast paced games tend to slow down the action they’re trying to intensify. In this however the short cinematic effects make the turn-based gameplay feel a bit less turn-based. When issuing move orders to a unit the camera pans to show them dashing for cover. It looks similar to the roadie run from the Gears of War series. There are a lot of these quick camera pans that give a pseudo-cinematic feel, and they are used just enough as to not feel cheesy or get in the way. You can breach buildings by breaking down doors or jumping through windows and these are enhanced with a few quick and simple camera zooms. It’s subtle, but it intensified the action without taking me out of the gameplay.
Maps and Units are More Dynamic
Above I mentioned how units can enter buildings by breaking down doors or crashing through windows but sometimes a little stealth goes a long way as well. Just because you can break down a door doesn’t mean that you always should. In fact it seems that most of the time opening the door slowly and quietly is a much more prudent decision. Unlike the original, doors can be opened while remaining in cover, allowing for safer options when moving through alien occupied buildings. Combat units can also climb buildings, without the use of flying power armor, giving them view of larger portions of the map in the process. Also, most of the terrain is destructible, meaning if an enemy is hiding behind cover you have the option of flanking them or simply destroying their cover. Aliens can do the same however.
Improved Time Units System
I know what you’re going to say, “The time unit system from the original was perfect and couldn’t have been improved upon in any way, shape, or form.” I thought so too, even after watching some of the developer diaries, but after playing the demo I have to admit I like this new system much more. The original gave each soldier and limited amount of “time units” that could be spent on moving, shooting, or other basic functions. This version however is a bit more dynamic based on class, allowing some to move and shoot, move a lot, just shoot, etc. It all really depends on the class and the type of movement. It’s a bit more intuitive and doesn’t force the player to spend time counting out time units to save for other actions.
X-Com comes out on October 9th, I highly suggest heading over to Steam to try the demo ASAP.