XCOM: Enemy Unknown multiplayer mode revealed

by johndrewmarkley on August 15, 2012

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown developer Firaxis has released some more information about their upcoming remake of the classic science fiction turn-based strategy game.most prominently, they’ve revealed the game’s multiplayer mode, something new to the series, along with some new screenshots and other game-related images. The official XCOM: Enemy Unknown website has compiled a list of previews from various sites that’s worth taking a look at.

The premise of the new version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the same as the original: You lead XCOM, an international military force created to resist the alien invasion of Earth. You build and design basis around the world, try to intercept and shoot down alien spacecraft, research captured aliens and alien technology, recruit and equip soldiers, and- the heart of the game- command squads of soldiers in turn-based battles with aliens to capture down UFOs, storm alien bases, and defend the cities of Earth as they come under attack.

The original (released in the United States as X-COM: UFO Defense) was a game I spent tons of time playing when it came out in 1994. The tactical turn-based combat was tense, exciting, and offered tons of tactical options, and the whole game had a wonderfully creepy, sinister atmosphere. This was especially the case in the ground battles, since you could only see what your soldiers could see and so never knew for sure what was around the next corner or when the next attack would come, but it pervaded everything.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

It was also good at putting relentless pressure on the player- in the early phases of the game you’ll be dealing mostly with alien scout ships with small crews and relatively basic equipment and weapons, but their technology greatly exceeds yours and even “basic” enemy weaponry can cut your squads to pieces in short order if you’re not careful. As the game proceeds, you’ll begin capturing and researching alien technology and adapting it for human use, narrowing the qualitative gap between your troops and the enemy, but meanwhile the aliens will be coming in greater numbers, bringing more firepower to bear, and periodically introducing new species of alien soldiers with new capabilities that force you to keep adapting.

Happily, what’s been shown of the so far seems faithful to that idea. Graphically, it looks great- a very far cry from the simple characters and isometric environments of the original game. Being able to view the 3-D environment from many different angles is also a nice improvement over the fixed, fairly distant overhead view of the original. From the screenshots shown so far, this should really add to the atmosphere- seeing hostile aliens in the darkened streets of a given city during a late-night alien terror raid from a birds-eye view is one thing, seeing the same thing up close with the point of view oriented as if you were standing at ground level nearby is something else.

The new multiplayer mode pits two players against each other with their own customized squads of up to six soldiers. An online mode for XCOM is an excellent idea, though I wonder if the strictly one-on-one nature of it will hurt its popularity in an environment where strictly one-on-one multiplayer is pretty rare even in strategy games. It makes sense given the nature of XCOM, so that’s not a criticism, but I wonder how people who didn’t grow up with games like this would take to it. What I will criticize, however, is the fact that the multiplayer allows for only six troops per side, which is disappointingly small. I can understand what was probably at least part of the reasoning behind it- the more units each side has to manage in a turn-based game, the longer each player has to sit and do nothing every time it’s the other player’s turn, which gets tedious. It’s still disappointing to me, though. On the plus side, players can select their forces from alien as well as human troops and weapons, which expands the possibilities for each battle quite a bit.

In any case, I’m quite looking forward to this game. XCOM: Enemy Unknown comes out for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on October 9th.

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