XCOM: Enemy Unknown preview

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You’re going to have one of three reservations about this turn-based strategy reboot, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If you haven’t played the nineties-tastic original series, you’ll wonder why you should care about an ancient strategy resurrecting itself on your PS3. If you have played the original games, you’ll be dubious about how it’s been adapted to the modern gamer – you’ll probably have words like ‘dumbing down’ on the tip of your tongue.

Or maybe you fall into a third category of confused gamer who’s just wondering why there are /two/ XCOM games, including 2K’s sci-fi shooter on the horizon. Well, lead designer Jake Solomon has words to set all your minds at ease.

Firstly, that awkward double reboot: “We certainly have ideas about how our titles can interact, and we’re excited about them”, says the Firaxis dev. “For the last three years or so both team have known about each other. I think there’s ways for our two games to exist and still be their own independent thing, it’s gonna work out fine.”

2K’s shooter and Firaxis’ (that’s the Civ developers, strategy-philes) turn-based tactics title actually share very little but the name – that much is obvious as I get my first look at the game in action. The 1950′s Americana and menacing tone from the shooter are absent here – it’s an oddly camp and cartoonish depiction of an alien invasion.

Set some years after the shooter, when aliens are pretty much running about like kids on the last day of school all over our fair planet, XCOM: EU’s combat layer might not convey raw fear in its visual style, but the possible insta-deaths (and permanent deaths at that) of your four squad members add a metric f*ckton to the tension.

And the XCOM veterans, who’ve braved that tension and fended off the oddly cute aliens before? “As designers, we sort of work in a bubble. We started with the original XCOM as our prototype and we had a version that we got to work, as so the idea was like we’re gonna design fearlessly, right? We’re gonna change whatever we need to change, we’re gonna add things if we make the game better.”

It actually looks pretty faithful to the original, albeit in the shiny 3D realm. It’s still about flanking and supressing enemies, constantly looking for the geographical and topographical advantage, and destroying the scenery to do so.

The gas station playing host to the fracas I’m watching starts off pretty pristine, but has lost couple of walls (entire walls) by the time the xenos are bested – and as the scenery changed, the squad’s sniper was quick to take advantage and make the killer shot.

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