May 25th, 2009 by Potato

I don’t know where I saw it mentioned, but at one point in my random reading a few weeks ago someone mentioned XCom and how awesome it was, and I just had to get around to re-playing it after that.

This involved installing a DOS emulator, which is just going to open a whole world of trouble as other classic games demand to be played as I continue to age backwards (mentally).

Anyhow, XCom is a classic turn-based strategy game where you hunt down alien invaders in various environments, including multi-level buildings, steal their technology, and sell their corpses to rednecks (it’s not actually made clear in the game who you sell the corpses to, but someone pays top dollar for that dead alien). You have to manage a tight budget to keep your interceptors flying and your crew stocked.

I never actually played XCom though, instead back in the mid-90’s I got the sequel: XCom 2: Terror from the Deep. TFTD is pretty much the same game as XCom: laser weapons were renamed Gauss, plasma became sonics, but aside from tweaking a few stats here and there it was pretty much the same (same damage, accuracy, cost, time to build, etc., for most things in the game). TFTD added some cool, creepy underwater environments and slightly larger maps, as well as some two-stage missions. The biggest change from XCom to TFTD though is that the game became impossible. I’ve heard TFTD described thusly:

“What a great design! The punishing difficulty stopped you from noticing the crippling bugs!”

The first few times I played it, even on beginner difficulty, I was just wiped out in my first mission. The aliens can see farther, shoot more accurately, and snap fire more often than your band of rookies, who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and if they did, it still takes two shots to down an alien with your opening weapons. I quickly gave up on TFTD the first time around, but my defeat always kind of haunted me, so I tried it again this past weekend. It’s still hard, but starting right off with the only strategy I figured out from back then helped a bit: use high explosives early on so you just have to be close. I picked up some other tips from the Internet, such as just sacking rookies who showed up with sub-par base stats: it’s cheap to replace them. Most importantly, that most of your money does not come from the governments ostensibly supporting you, but rather from manufacturing and selling your advanced technological goods. That helped me get through the first dozen missions or so… and then the lobstermen showed up. I don’t know who designed them, but they make the game just ridiculously hard. They can still one-shot your troopers, but take 3-5 shots to bring down themselves. There are some techniques to try to manage, but I was just so frustrated I gave up again: a game with 5 levels of difficulty just shouldn’t be that hard on the easiest setting.

So I found the original XCom and tried that out. While virtually the same game, it’s much more reasonable in terms of balance. Right off the bat you’re a nearly even match for the aliens, rather than starting at a substantial disadvantage. The harder encounters ramp up a little more slowly, and there are no ridiculous lobstermen. It’s still a challenge, even on beginner, but so far it’s not impossible. The alien mind control is annoying me, but I’ve got my scientists on that one and hopefully I’ll only have to suffer through losing half my squad to mind-controlled friendly fire for another mission or two.

Aside from indulging my nostalgia and marvelling at how well a game that only has 16 colours holds up to the test of time, it made me realize that there really haven’t been any kind of decent turn-based tactical games in a long time. There are a few turn-based strategy games, usually of the 4X persuasion (Civ IV, GalCiv), but all of the tactical games I can think of have gone RTS (and from there to FPS, though I hear Halo is going the other way). Turn-based tactical games seem to be relegated to browser-based flash these days.

Anyhow, if you find yourself feeling the need to stay up until dawn playing a game from the 90’s and destroying your eyes with 256-colour sprite graphics, then give XCom a whirl (now on Steam, believe it or not!).


2 Responses to “XCom”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    dos emulator? command prompt doesn’t cut it?

  2. Potato Says:

    No, unfortunately not.