The original X-Com was released in 1993. It was based on themes of fear and uncertainty, all propped within a strategy framework.
Today, 2K Marin, the developers of the BioShock series, demonstrated XCom for us. Like its predecessor, XCom is a game about fear and strategic decision-making, but the reboot has shuffled over to the first-person shooter camp.
Set against the backdrop of idyllic 1950s America, XCom tells the story of Special Agent William Carter, who has discovered an alien artefact. Carter has been charged with command of the newly-formed XCom, a shadowy organisation that “exists to fight the unknown,” says 2K.
XCom is headquartered in an aeroplane hangar. This area serves as an information-gathering, research and strategy hub. In it, Carter can speak with his research engineer, Mal, who can provide him with upgraded weapons. These are composed of alien tech found in the field and enhanced with the powers of the very artefact Carter has discovered.
In the briefing room, Carter can select his missions. He needs to balance three requirements: alien energy, soliciting State support for capital, and taking the fight to “the unknown.” Selecting one mission usually cancels the opportunity to complete the others. By selecting to respond to a blood-curling emergency call in California, the energy mission in New York will no longer be available, for example.
In the demonstration, Carter visited Mal to collect two new items, a lightning gun and the “blobatov,” a flammable grenade composed of a black tar-like substance.
Out by Carter’s car, two field agents wait to accompany the boss on his call-out.
The setting for this mission is picket-fence suburbia. The streets are empty, but for the sporadic desperate scream coming from out of sight. 2K remain masterful at teasing out action sequences.
Carter is free to investigate these optional side quests. Doing so, he discovers a smoking body covered in black tar. Back out on the street, another man stumbles from his car, retching on the same substance before the source reveals itself.
The “blobs” are amorphous puddles of black. When shot, they disperse, revealing a hardened central husk that must also be destroyed before they reassemble. Carter chases them into the call-out house.
On the front doorstep, the husband falls dead. 2K Marin have borrowed from BioShock’s playbook, including a camera for research. The more information he can provide Mal, the better his upgrades. He swaps out for a shotgun and sets to redecorating the household.
In short it’s pandemonium. All three field agents are guns blazing as blobs come out from taps and drains, under doors and through vents. The sustained fire of Carter’s lightning gun makes quick work of the blobs, but to really dispatch them in numbers, he can use the blobatov. Blobs, it turns out, are particularly susceptible to fire.
Upstairs the agents discover the wife, who phoned in the call, about to succumb to several blobs. The agents open up.
With a tip of the hat and a “no thanks required, ma’am,” the agents file out the front door – the house itself is in ruins: black tar covers the walls – where it doesn’t, it’s peppered with buckshot. Don’t trip over Dad on your way out the front door, lads.
Really though, we were very pleasantly surprised by XCom. Before E3, we marked XCom’s announcement with a nod, but it looks like 2K are set to deliver another highly engaging thematic shooter.