X-Com UFO Defense: Good Game Despite Itself

Matt Barton's picture

X-Com: Girlfriend UnknownX-Com: Girlfriend UnknownA lot of people have been asking me about my thoughts on the new X-Com: UFO Defense game. Usually these are folks who loved the original game, which I reviewed two years ago on Matt Chat #60. Admittedly, that video was the first time I had played any of the original games, and I didn't play it much after that, so I'm not the person to speak to about how faithfully the new one captures the minutiae of the old series. At any rate, I wouldn't care about that anyway. After all, the old ones are still quite easy to get up and running on a modern system, so if you really want the authentic experience, it's not going anywhere. So, that leaves me with a more important question--is the new one any good? I have to say yes, even if it seems the designers seemed hell-bent on sabotaging their own game.

I have only managed to play through the single-player campaign once, and that was on normal difficulty. The fact that it has a difficulty selector (which it encourages you to change during the game if it gets too hard) was alone to get my hackles up. I really hate it when a game makes me answer that sort of question right off the bat.

I've said it once, but I'll say it again: Difficulty selectors are a cop-out and a sign of lazy game design. If you set up your game correctly, players will be able to decide for themselves how hard they want to push their skills at any given moment: "I got balls of steel! I'm sending my rookies armed with assault rifles up against those sectoid commanders!" Or, "No, I think I'm going to make this easier on myself by saving that battle for later." The fact that it would have been so easy to design the game this way makes it worse; everything is in place here to just let players decide what missions they feel competent enough to do. The only difficulty level I find acceptable is the one I never have to think about--neither because it's too easy and I'm getting bored, or it's too hard and I'm getting pissed off. I want to be in *MY* "zone of proximal development," not the zone a designer thinks I ought to be at because he's handed me a pair of difficulty-level shaped scissors with which to remove my balls before I even start the @$@ game.

As I expected, the learning curve on this one is substantially lower than the original. Like most modern games, this one assumes we're morons for the better part of an hour. Assuming you're not an idiot, you won't need to spend hours engrossed in manuals, wikis, or YouTube videos to get up and running on this one. Is that disappointing? Of course. It's like showing up the first day of college and realizing that you're the only one who can actually write a sentence. Don't just give me a shotgun and tell me to go point it at something and pull the trigger. And where the hell are the electro flares? That thing over there <-- is an electro flare. Now why the $@ is it doing over there instead of being in the game? Self-sabotage.

The part that really galled me *SPOILER ALERT* was when I realized there was no way I could save my guys on the first damn mission. It was around this point my respect for the designers started to pick up; okay, I thought, they're showing some balls here. It was also sinking in that I wasn't supposed to get attached to these guys. Nice touch. But, meh, like I'm not going to be reloading my save every time one of my dudes gets killed? @$@ that. Show me a commander in the field who'd be okay with letting a couple of his guys die if he could just reload the mission and try it again. I don't care if there's supposed to be a moral here or not, if I have the option to re-load and do a mission 50 times until I get through it with ALL my guys intact, that's what I'm going to do.

X-Com Combat: Keep head down to avoid facial.X-Com Combat: Keep head down to avoid facial.Where the game really started to get its hooks into me was when I got invested in building up the X-Com HQ. You have a LOT of stuff to do, and it all takes time, money, and resources. I didn't look at any hint sites or anything, so I was having to make some very risky investments left and right--and spent most of the game without an extra euro to my name. It was to the point that when I managed to get some UFO scrap to sell on the gray market (haha), I was giddier than a constipated man who'd just voided a heavy floater.

This game did a great job of capitalizing on my natural greed. Sure, I *could* just shoot a rocket and blow up the whole pack. OR I could sneak in and use my stun rods and take home a whole bag of alien weaponry--plus some live aliens for research. I gotta say, though, MAN did they @$@ up by not letting me sell live aliens on the gray market. I got live specimens and they want to buy corpses? What, are there no zoos in this awful future? Hey, kids, come see the lions, tigers, and, I don't know, a MUTON? Big opportunity missed there, fellas.

And no, there are no rats in X-Com, so it's not technically a CRPG. I don't know if anyone out there is trying to say that it is, but just in case, I'm glad I settled that.

The game also does a good job of making you feel totally inadequate. Oh, you think your'e bad on the field? Well, now the UFOs are thumping your miserable little ravens out of the sky cause they've way outpaced you. Good thing you have a Firestorm being built...Oh, wait, I can't afford to even begin the research for three months! Oh, yes...You keep losing battles, and the LUST FOR REVENGE begins to build. By the time I finally got my Firestorm built I'd dug out Top Gun SID and was jamming out to some Harold Faltermeyer. And what could possibly make you shatter your core faster than watching your own super soldier get mind controlled and start blasting your own guys? Oh, possibly that sergeant that just wet himself. Panic my ASS! Grrr!!!! Now, come on, if you can play a game like this without smashing a keyboard or two, I pity you.

I guess I realized I was having fun with this game when I looked up at the clock and realized I had been in the same combat for forty five minutes, clicking a dude, clicking overwatch, waiting, lather, rinse, overwatch, move a little bit...And I didn't even mind!? What the hell did they do to me to make this shite fun? Damned if I know. It's almost--and I mean almost as if--nah, couldn't be. But--perhaps? Perhaps a designer is treating me as though I had an attention span larger than a goldfish?

It's been a long damn time since I've played anything I've liked as much as this new X-Com game. It's got enough depth to keep a guy like me reaching for the three-ring, and while it's got warts, they're not hairy ones. By the time I got to the final confrontation, I was actually disappointed. Usually by the time I get to the end of the game, it's more relief than satisfaction. Not the case with this game. I'm already thinking about replaying it, perhaps even (gasp) trying out one of the harder modes. On second thought, nah, I'm just going to play on normal again so I can apply everything I've learned to really mind control the hell out of some alien sex babes. I guess we know these creatures aren't from Phobos.

Comments

clok1966
Offline
Joined: 01/21/2009
done already, wow.. I thought

done already, wow.. I thought I had free time :) I played all day sunday and spent an entire 3 hour football game on my first Base invasion.. felt all cocky as I didn't lose a single guy.. err, till Mr mind control. I knew it was coming and should have used the OLD school X-Com tactics. send out bait with no weapons.. he Mind controls him.. no worries. Im still impressed.. the Crys are still owning me hard.. anytime there are 5+.. and terror mission.. you end up with 6-7 crys and 4-5 zombies.. that each take 2 shots.. and the lovely 99% miss and game over.. Grenades int eh first one where god like.. Snipers seem that way for me now.. my team is 4 snipers and 2 scouts (both support so i have heals) all my snipers have the ability to shoot anything in any team members view. OWNES every map.. except the crys.. (and of course no idea farther in).. snipers seem to pretty much have a 60% chance at ANY range.. only cover seems to hurt it.. so a guy at high point at start of map can shot with 60% across the map almost. Keep scouts in good cover, overwatch with snipers.. (of course not so hot in close quarters.. i take 2 support, 2 heavies and two run and gun assults..

I'm still just not sure why I'm finding it harder then the old X-Com.. every forum says the new one is cake compared to it.. yet.. the Crys are giving me fits, they where hard in the old one and something you hated seeing, but I killed them.. I simply cannot win a mission with crys and human s they can zombie up.. and when i say cant.. i mean i wipe every time. yet i can do base assaults, (normally only 2-4 crys in those that i have seen so far, but only did 2).. and lose maybe a man..ANY mission without um i seldom lose a guy..Guess my tactics suck for them and excel for the rest. They just simply have to much movement and almost all maps are built with cover all over.. I can cover 4-5 squares every move, they can cover 10.. i have tried bunching my guys, spreading um out.. the AI exploits either with simply numbers, crys don't HIDE.. they are like the old AI.. single minded and head for you or the closest victum... and one always retreats and slaughters everything in the dark while you fight with all the rest. Hence its a never ending stream and your guys need 2 shots for almost all enemies (except crit sniper and rockets) then a reload.. and.. all over... frustration!!!!

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
When I played, I didn't find

When I played, I didn't find the crysallids that hard. I'd usually wait until they came within range and then hit each one with the best weapon I had. Snipers did most of the work, actually. You can't capture them live anyway (at least I couldn't), so I hit them with rockets or grenades. Shotguns are awesome against them; try to run-and-gun, get close (run out of cover if need be), and then use that double shot ability on your shotgun. That takes care of them for me.

With the mind controllers, if one of my guys got mind controlled, I just ran everybody the hell back. Kept retreating at full throttle. The mind control wears off quickly (about 3 turns or so), and the monsters usually don't follow. So then you just double-back and try again. Snipers proved deadly against the mind controllers for me, though I did actually manage to capture them a few times.

n/a
clok1966
Offline
Joined: 01/21/2009
hehe I resorted to stunning

hehe I resorted to stunning the Crys.. so yes you can capture one, but while it one shots some, others it does ZERO dmg to and .. well up close you know what they do :) it has helped.. but not enough.. maybe im just having bad luck.. every terror mission i have had with them has had 6 at least.. and all have been less then 2 moves out of view.. i just dont have the stopping power.. you mention Shot guns.. I dont use Run N Gun much.. but i can see why those guys have it.. I have said I switch Shotguns out for longer range guns.. as my tactics revolve around slow movement and cover shooting. I suspect maybe that is where I am messing up. the shotgun up close with run n gun .. can it one shot a crys? I can quite often get single minded about tactics.. and its my downfall.. (especially in RTS against Human players). That advice might be key.. shotguns and use the run n gun more..

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
I didn't start using it until

I didn't start using it until the later in the game, then I realized I had been missing out on a key strategy. You might need the upgraded shotgun to use it on the crys; I think I had one called the laser spreader that did a decent job.

I think using the shotguns with run-n-gun and the double shot ability is more effective than switching them out to rifles. I always had two snipers with me to do the ranged shooting, and they ended up doing about 75% of the killing work.

n/a
Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
http://www.joystiq.com/2012/1

http://www.joystiq.com/2012/10/31/borderlands-2-5-million-xcom-success/

Looks like X-Com is a smashing success along with Borderlands 2.

I should probably do a post on B2 at some point; I'm also playing that one, but co-op with my brother. I don't love it by any means, but it does have some charm, especially with the bosses. They haven't captured the magic, though, and I have most of the same issues with it that I did with the first one. It's about 60%; playable but just barely good enough to keep you coming back.

n/a
clok1966
Offline
Joined: 01/21/2009
borderlands 2- I really liked

borderlands 2- I really liked the first one.. adding the quest system to the standard FPS while in no means a new idea.. worked for me. But I must admit the new classes which to me seem to be to much of the old classes.. like they picked each class and said "change it enough so they wont know its the same class".. soldier is commando, Siren is lilith, Gunzerker is just ranged Brick (quite possibly the most OP class), zero is Mordiciea with Melee ( again slightly OP) and the mechromancer is .. well .. easy street.. no match.

I played the original with all classes to end, and with 2 classes a second time to see (as one calim to fame for the game is multi play throughs). Bu the second game is .. almost annoying.. the original never felt cheap, overwhelming when 2 badass mobs where bum rushing ya.. but not CHEAP.. invisible, tel-porting mobs is cheap in my book. the open all containers system worked in the first, now it almost feels like they said" we had 10,000 in borderlands , in borderlands 2 lets make it 40,000!!!!! more is better, right?" in the first i felt i could open all, it got boring, but the 2nd it feels tedious.. it feels like there are way to many.. maybe it a product of having played a game with it and the 2nd is the same but it just feels old.. but I swear there are alot more.. It could be that adding the ore made me feel its necessarily to open every one.. while in the first i only felt i necessary to open gun one.. other where optional. It really does seem like they took the "more is better" approach.. more guns. but I feel like Im swapping out in inches.. i never felt like "wow this gun is a huge improvement" .. more like.. meh 1 more DPS, and 1 more acc, guess i should swap it out. The thrill of hunting up new guns has gone from this game .. why, im not sure? I think it just the fact that they have so much.. grenade mods, skins, etc..

To be truthfully the only things i liked is the fact they had old characters as NPC's.. lots of bosses.. and the standard silly/sick Borderlands humor.. I havnet went back to it since UFO came out.. and if more good games come out.. im not sure I will.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
Borderlands 2 is CHEAP. I

Borderlands 2 is CHEAP. I think that sums it up. They took the original and found the cheapest ways to make it better--like you said, 40,000 containers instead of 10,000. That's something a level designer could do in an afternoon by thoughtlessly putting randomized stuff everywhere.

I guess the idea is to let people feel a tiny burst of gratification every 10 seconds rather than a big one every hour or two. They know their game isn't good enough to keep people invested that long without all the candy they throw at you.

I'd rather wait until I'm starving, then enjoy a porterhouse steak, than chase after the candy man throwing skittles into my mouth every second.

n/a
Ishtenos (not verified)
Correct me if I'm wrong

But I don't recall Pool of Radiance having rats either.

A billion kobolds on the other hand...

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2006
You might be right. I can't

You might be right. I can't seem to find a complete bestiary online, just a list of some of them.

At any rate, as I intend to write about next week, my point isn't so much that there should be an actual rat, just that when you start out, you should be fighting lots of wimpy foes and still almost getting your butt kicked. It could be bugs, spiders, dogs, bats, kids, etc. The point is that it looks like it'll be no match for you--you get cocky and rush in--and then promptly die. That starts to drive home the point that your guys are absolute worthless weaklings at level one. It's going to take a lot of time and hard work before they'll be real warriors, and a LOT more work before they'll be heroes.

You can't accomplish that feeling of total inadequacy if you start off having your character kill a dragon. That does the opposite.

n/a
ilcattivo13 (not verified)
For the first time, I don't

For the first time, I don't agree with Your opinion, Matt. For me, XCOM EU is not only as bad remake as Jagged Alliance: BIA was, but also it's very bad game at all. It has no spirit of old games. It has no spirit at all.

Fight is always too easy or too hard (only in terror stoping missions - only once I saved every civilian) - nothing in the middle. Terrible ballance makes that You don't have to use heavies and assaulters - snipers and supporters will do for all the game. Static enemies - no wandering, they are always waiting for Your team to come closer. They stay in line even if You're killing their "friends" in the very next room. And how tragic dumb they are... You have to clean room? Position soldiers near doors (outside of room, with no "overwatch"), move one supporter with "dashing" inside, to the very end of room, and all enemies will be hiding from that one supporter showing their bottocks to the rest of Your team... Only two missions take more than 10 - 25 minutes to complete: alien base (29 minutes) and mother-ship (35 minutes, with cinematics). And I think that the only reason for such "waste of time" were problems with camera works, which is simple misunderstanding, because I spent more time on trying to proper aim coursor, than on anything else... Whitch doesn't mean, that my effords were crowned with success - all I could see mostly was roofs or upper UFOs hulls. Argh...

"Stupid" workshops - the more workshops You have, the less resources will be used for making things (!), but production time will always be the same. My new greatest wish - to meet man, who had such great idea...

Research - 50 technologies to research and 21 of them (interogations and autopsies) You can examine instantly (due to base location in or two satelites over South America). Only limitation comes with resources, bot if You don't spend them on unnecesary thing, like labs, lasers, mid-tech armors or mid-tech interceptor weapons, then it appears that resources are no limitation at all.

Even panic-o-meter is simplied by devs. You always get mission in countries, where panic level is highest. If there will be abduction stop mission then one of three countries will be the one the highest panic level. The only "harder" thing is to keep low panic level before assault od alien base, but if You choose the right research order, then You can make assault befere the end of March. And it means, that in this time aliens can attack Earth only three, maximum four times...

I can mention tens of other bad things but the worst of it is similar to what You wrote in "Skyrim, now with Disco Soundtrack" - developers of XCOM EU followed the line of least resistance (just like developers of Skyrim and DA2): they simplier original UFO/X-COM idea and merged it with Mass Effect's way of look. And "thanks to that" game is like Playboy model - impresive first look, but after short while you discover, that inside is only silicon, two buckets of diet tea and wind howling between ears...

And the price of the great look of the game... It's way too much for me. Latest drivers, i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, motherbord and GF 580GT (both ROG versions), SSD hard drive - nearly 3000$ of overclocked hardware and at medium graphics settings the game is slowing down and freezing when I want to move camera during battles...

To me, much better UFO/X-COM game is UFO Extraterrestials. It is less boring because it has much more of everything (e.g. technologies to research and things to build), it has better "fighting engine" and more demanding enemy AI and You can't finish single game in less than 25 hours. Only graphics sucks, cause it looks like from mid 90's...

I understand that "de gustibus non est disputandum", but playing XCOM EU more than once? Yuck!

P.S. Sorry for my English... I think I'm using it way too seldom :/

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.