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Not Enough Time-Units For 2K Marin's New XCOM Ian's avatar
Finally justifying a rumour that's been knocking around since February 2007, 2K Games have finally announced that 2K Marin (formerly 2K Australia) the co-developers of Bioshock 2 are working on a new X-COM game titled "XCOM".

Planned for release on Xbox 360 and Windows, XCOM will be apparently be a first-person shooter rather than the strategic base management or tactical squad commanding of the first few X-COM games.

A blurb on newly launched reads:

XCOM is the re-imagining of the classic tale of humanity’s struggle against an unknown enemy that puts players directly into the shoes of an FBI agent tasked with identifying and eliminating the growing threat. True to the roots of the franchise, players will be placed in charge of overcoming high-stake odds through risky strategic gambits coupled with heart-stopping combat experiences that pit human ingenuity – and frailty – against a foe beyond comprehension. By setting the game in a first-person perspective, players will be able to feel the tension and fear that comes with combating a faceless enemy that is violently probing and plotting its way into our world.

Gonna throw this over to opinion from here.

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Ian's avatar

So what is the point of re-imagining an old franchise into a new game so different from the original that it's barely recognisable? Presumably, the main reason is brand recognition. So people will go "Oh dip! I remember XCOM! Though wasn't there a hyphen in X-COM?". All those people will then go out any buy the new game, and presumably won't care it's not much like the original. While I can see that this might get some free interest in your product than you when starting a new franchise, doing this is guaranteed to upset the people who remember what X-COM was and why they liked it, ie. one off the shelf internet backlash.

To pull this off this off successfully, you really need to work out what things are core to the game you are resurrecting. In this case, they seem to have picked up on the fighting an unknown alien menace as the core of X-Com. Unfortunately this is also the core of thousands of games. Great, a game about shooting aliens from a first person perspective, we need another one of those for our police lineup.

Let's have a look at a few times this sort of resurrection has been pulled off successfully. Most notable is probably Fallout 3. They managed to keep a lot of things about Fallout present; the odd retro-future tone, the wandering around a post-apocalyptic wasteland, enemies like radscorpions, vaults. Basically loads of things to keep it feeling like Fallout. Another example is Metroid Prime, in which they managed to keep the exploration, back-tracking, lonely tone, gameplay mechanics (rockets open some doors, morph ball).

Of course sometimes it doesn't go quite as well. Remember when SNES RPG Shadowrun was resurrected as a multiplayer only team-based first person shooter? They didn't keep nearly enough of what made Shadowrun Shadowrun to please anyone who still remembered the name. What about Wing Commander Arena? All they kept of Wing Commander was generic space combat, and dumped the plot/cutscenes, mission based structure, Thomas F Wilson, on-ship sections, and even the third dimension. What was left was not recognisable as Wing Commander.

If you asked me what the X-COM games had that no other games had I would probably say it's the management side. In pretty much every one of the good X-COM games, you spent half the game staring at a spinning 3d globe on your base management screen. You had to hire your crew, equip them, build bases to detect UFOs, send out ships to shoot down UFOs, then send in your team to the crashed UFO and shoot/recover any surviving aliens and technology to take back and reasearch. You also had to defend your base if gets invaded, sort out alien invasions of cities or passenger ships, and occasionally locate and invade alien's bases which they built on earth.

After three games following this formula, Microprose tried changing up the action with spinoff X-COM Interceptor, while they kept the important management side of the game they changed the action side to be about controlling the ship shooting down the UFOs rather than a squad of dudes. Without the management side of an X-COM game, all you are really left with is a generic fight again aliens from some perspective or another. The alien designs in the X-COM games were never particularly distinctive either, comprising of lots of different species ranging from standard Greys to floating livers.

Just to be clear, I am not ruling out this game being good. 2K Marin have proved themselves to be pretty talented story tellers with the later parts Bioshock 2, I am just not sure for what reason this game needs to be an X-COM game. There was a rumour that Dead Space spent a part of it's development being System Shock 3 before they saw sense and changed it into it's own thing. If they aren't going to do anything specifically XCOM with this game, I implore the developers to change the name and save themselves from having to deal with the angry rants of slighted fans. Like me, I guess.

Tags: x-com