With the completely re-imagined retro-futuristic shooter variant of XCOM temporally sidelined the more familiar looking XCom: Enemy Unknown version had a chance to shine. Here is the callback to the turn-based strategy and resource management type experience that holds a lofty place in gaming history.
In a private theater showcasing a hands-off demo, 2K Games showed a squad of rookie X-Com troopers is taken apart by an superior alien force until an advanced team of troopers arrives to take care of the situation. A trooper upgraded into a flying sniper has superior range, a heavy trooper can be equipped with a skill that allows him two shots per round and finally a psychic soldier (here humorously in the guise of the legendary Civilization developer Sid Meier) mind controls an alien into dropping one of his own grenades at his feet. Just as they seem to have the battle in hand, they are surprised by a giant alien bursting out of a nearby building.
At the end of the demo Newarama granted time to explore the game a bit deeper via a Q&A with with Jake Soloman, the Lead Designer at Firaxis on XCom: Enemy Unknown.Newsarama: There is some confusion about the planning and timing of the two XCom games, how long has Enemy Unknown been in development?
Jake Soloman: About four years at this point, four years, my god that sounds like a long time when I say it.
Nrama: The hands-off demo presentation featured what looked like custom contextual animations for things like movement and taking cover, is that going to be present in the final game or was it cut in for the demo?
Soloman: We have both scripted cinematics and procedural cinematics as well so you will definitely see that when you are playing, especially when you take great dramatic scenes. We have swoop-y cameras that will follow bullets and all sorts of things. There is kind of a mix of scripted and procedural cinematics in gameplay.
Nrama: Again from appearances, stages do not seem to be laid out on a hexagonal or square based setup, is strategic movement going to be fluid?
Soloman: Yeah, that's right, it's going to be fluid. If you play with a mouse and keyboard we ended up drawing a grid over [the maps] just to help the PC player but on console as you saw its totally free form, there are no underlying tiles or hexes or anything.
Nrama: Would you call this game a reboot, and will there be a basic storyline like in the original?
Soloman: Yeah, [X-Com: UFO Defense] is my favorite game, so this one has the same starting point and most of what was in that original game I've tried to maintain for this one as well, but it is a complete re-imagination. Design mechanics, a lot of them are the same a lot of them are different. All the aliens that players loved are back, a lot of the narrative is the same as well. In X-Com there always was two storylines, the overall one of the aliens invading the Earth, which is something most [gamers] would be familiar with, but there is also the interior storyline.In XCom: Enemy Unknown the fact that your soldiers can die creates a real powerful narrative for the player and were going to do all that we can to empower that narrative. Your soldiers [will] earn nicknames, their country's flag is always on their back, there is even an area in the base called The Memorial where after a soldier dies you can go to the bar and look at The Memorial and all the bagpipe music starts playing, you'll see pictures of all your soldiers filling in the wall behind it where you can see their names, how many missions they went on, their rank, when they died, all that stuff.
Nrama: Permanent character death like that can really affect a gamer – are you building in a system to keep players from just loading a save and continually trying over and over to keep their favorites alive?
Soloman: Yeah, that's...that’s a good question. What you want to do is, and that’s probably the hardest thing design-wise, we want the players to let their soldiers go. We want them to understand that when one dies that it is okay, there is another soldier ready to step up. So we put in a lot of mechanics so the player feels comfortable when they lose a soldier they can carry on with the game. But yeah, there is always going to be some units that you want to save and when they die your going go: 'Nahhh I don't know about that.'
In fact we have an “Iron Man” mode that when you turn it on you won't be allowed to reload and the game will do all your saving for you. That's for the truly hardcore.