XCOM 2 is Closer in Spirit to the Original UFO Defense

But it still manages to play around with the original formula.

Preview by Kat Bailey, .

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a pleasant surprise when it launched back in 2012. After years of protesting that a triple-A tactics game simply wouldn't work, 2K finally relented and handed off the series to Firaxis, who in turn inaugurated a new tactics boom. As good as Enemy Unknown was though, there was something missing.

Though it did a good job of mixing randomized elements with more straightforward progression, it lost the sense of dynamic danger inherent to the original. Without a true win condition of their own, the aliens lacked a sense of agency, being unable to establish secret bases or invade the player's headquarters when they got too close to victory. It was still a great game in its own right, especially on the tactical level, but the strategy layer always felt a tad too simple and linear.

XCOM 2's strategy map.

In that regard, XCOM 2 feels like a step forward despite sacrificing a few familiar elements, which I'll get to in a moment. In the scenario put forward by the sequel, the aliens were victorious in the original game, creating a new world order while forcing the resistance underground. Their occupation brings with it massive advances in technology, but at the expense of humanity being subject to horrifying human-alien hybrid experiments. This effectively flips the script - you are now in the role of invader.

Flying around in a captured alien supply ship, your goal is to rescue captured sympathizers, sabotage alien efforts, and find out what exactly the invaders are doing behind closed doors. The Interceptors are gone; but with your own mobile command outpost, you can contact rebel cells and sabotage alien bases to keep them from researching new technology. And you'll want to, because the aliens have their own win condition now. As the game progresses, your intelligence services will warn you of "Dark Events" that will occur if you don't locate and sabotage an alien research base. In one such event, the aliens will send a UFO to hunt down your ship, the Avenger. If they succeed, you have to fight off a ground attack, with the price of failure being that the aliens win. It's reminiscent of a similar scenario in Enemy Unknown, where you could shoot down UFOs and raid them for alien corpses and technology, but also of the base invasions from UFO Defense.

Hacking is a key component of several of XCOM 2's missions.

With luck, the sequel will take this dynamic in some interesting directions. I'm especially interested to know what the alien win condition is, and what the aliens will do to pursue it. After being relatively passive in Enemy Unknown, it seems like the invaders are a much more dynamic threat this time around.

The Next Step

Of course, it won't be exactly the same as Julian Gollop's classic, nor does it need to be. After playing it relatively safe with Enemy Unknown, Firaxis seems ready to stretch out, layer on a few more systems, and play around with the formula a bit.

I joked that I was glad that they weren't going to remake Terror from the Deep, but the shadow of UFO Defense's disappointing sequel must have loomed large over XCOM 2. Strong as the original game was, Gollop always seemed to be at a bit of loss on where to take the concept next. His best effort was X-COM: Apocalypse - a sprawling, free-form strategy game that ultimately failed at the tactical level because it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be turn-based or real-time. With XCOM 2, Firaxis faced much the same problem.

By turning the original concept on its head, though, Firaxis seems to have found a satisfactory solution. Fighting the aliens as a resistance force brings with it all sorts of interesting possibilities. Moreover, XCOM 2 seems to be closer in spirit to UFO Defense in giving the aliens some agency and making things more dynamic.

Slowly but surely, Firaxis is making the series their own by dispensing with the elements they don't like (Interceptors), giving players a mobile HQ, and generally playing around with the original formula. The success of the original have given a lot of leeway to explore the concepts established by UFO Defense, and they seem to be taking full advantage. But I'm glad they haven't forgotten the game's roots.

Of course the tactics element remains almost the same. Why fix what isn't broken?

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Comments 2

  • Avatar for metalangel #1 metalangel 2 years ago
    That Gamespy article...

    Terror from the Deep was TERRIFYING. It was also supremely atmospheric and expanded on the original in so many conceivable ways. Missions were bigger and longer, you had to handle some of the aliens with great care (Lobstermen were a nightmare but for the thermic lance...) and the whole thing felt creepy and scary. I loved the original game, and loved TFTD.

    Apocalypse deserved better. It was rushed out with a number of features missing, which would have greatly expanded the political side of things. The realtime mode was excellent, since it greatly sped up missions through the increasingly vast environments. My biggest gripe with TFTD was how slow mop-ups were at the end of missions because of turn-based mode. The cityscape was tons of fun, too - you had a real sense of power and destruction as battles between the factions or against the aliens resulted in entire city blocks being levelled. The retro-future aesthetic wasn't for everyone but it was plain to see that a great deal of time had been spent working out the lore and giving us a convincing world to fight and live in.

    XCom2012 I really didn't like at first. The hoary old trope about how bad a shot your soldiers were in the old games seemed to have been ramped up to 11 here, with soldiers missing aliens whose heads were practically touching the muzzle of their rifles. The two-step turn thing rankled with me, the aliens dropping out of the sky bothered me, and one thing completely turned me off: the contrived 'we only have one Skyranger so each mission you are basically leaving another crisis to go unresolved'. WHAT. I have 50 soldiers and absolutely no other way of getting six of them to mission A and the others to mission B? It was completely nonsensical and as a result I didn't go near the game until earlier this year when the Long War mod was well-developed and did away with that cretinous design decision. It also adjusts the accuracy levels so Earth's finest soldiers are able to hit the broad sides of barns.

    I'm sure this game will be huge.
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  • Avatar for detten17 #2 detten17 2 years ago
    wish i had a pc to play this on. Damn mac and it's good for nothing software.
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