XCOM (2012) and why it’s not as good as the original…but still good.

I loved the original UFO and it’s sequel Terror From The Deep…the games after that sort of fell off a little, but were still good games.
I have played and replayed the first 2 games countless times since the mid 90’s and I used to play Laser Squad (of which UFO was originally planned as a sequel to) in the 80’s.
I love this style of game. I still play the original even today.
People talk of putting in 30-40 hours into a good, open world game like Skyrim. I have no idea how much time I’ve collectively spent playing the first 2 XCOM games over the last 20 years….several months maybe?

In 2012 we finally had a “proper” XCOM game and it was a long time coming as we had been starved of a good XCOM game for years.
Which brings me to my list of niggles with the remake…

It was rushed out: Clearly it had been rushed out to appease fans after the dismal FPS version (which was changed to a 3rd person game later) which was first shown but kept getting “delayed”.
You can tell it’s been rushed out as the graphics were unappealing. They were not bad, they are just kind of “meh”. However, the voice acting was horrendous and the game seemed to have been massively dumbed down over it’s original concept. So many things missing that makes XCOM, XCOM.
XCOM has always been a game of thinking and strategy but this version it seems to be more a game of luck. More on this later…

Lack of control of your soldiers: In the original game, you had full control over your guys. You could make them move one square at a time (if you wanted) and sneak around the maps. You have a variety of different types of shots to use when firing a gun. You could prime a grenade and throw it at just the right time an element of strategy missing with this new game. You could crouch and increase your shot accuracy, etc. So much control over each soldier you had.
With this new game you have only 2 moves you can make. Either 2 movements. Or you can make 1 movement and take 1 shot. Or you can use both movements in one go and run to a point on the map within a certain distance. Plus shooting ends your turn regardless of whether you move or not. This, while does not ruin the game. It’s clearly been “dumbed down” to make the game more “accessible” to other people. Your soldiers stop being highly trained soldiers and just become inane drones that seem to lack any skill at all.
Now there are specific abilities you can upgrade to get more out of your soldiers, but they are class specific..and I’ll get to that problem later…

You can’t surprise an alien…ever: Going back to the original. If you spotted an alien you could effectively sneak up and surprise it. You could get a cheeky well aimed shot in before it knows you are there…not with this game. As soon as you spot and alien here, it gets a free move and runs away into cover. You can not sneak up on anything in this game…removing the interesting stealth style gameplay from the original.
You would and could be rewarded for taking a more tactical approach in the original XCOM. You have no chance of this here.
Now does this also apply to your guys if an alien gets the drop on you, do you get a free move to run to cover? No you do not, you just have to sit there and get shot to death. Now there is an “overwatch” option where you can have your guys sit there, weapon ready to fire a shot if an alien comes into sight. But this takes up one of your only 2 moves, plus remember this will end your move too…and the aliens also have this option…so they are still up on this deal and hold an advantage.

The questionable AI: Sometimes the AI in this game is really impressive. From aliens running to cover, to them trying to flank you and actually use tactics and teaming up. But then there are times when the aliens just run around in the open right in front of your guys wasting all their moves and making for very easy targets to pick off.
Then there is the questionable move your soldiers make…a lot. When you move one of your guys into an area and it spots an alien. Now with the original, when this scenario occurred your guy would automatically stop in their tracks and allow you to rethink your plan. Not here, your guy will spot an alien and just keep running directly toward them and 9 times out of 10 into death. The AI is just so inconsistent going from really clever to just plain dumb to the point where it becomes detriment to the game.

The cover system & glitches: There was a kind of cover in the original game, it was not a “cover system” that we are familiar with today. But you could get behind a wall, car or other obstacle and use this to block enemy line of sight and fire.
They have built on the idea here and now implemented a full cover system where being behind certain scenery does provide cover and reduces the chances of being hit…however, there are some rather nasty glitches which mean you (and the aliens) can shoot through the cover anyway, making the cover system completely pointless to begin with.
I was remember playing a mission where one of my snipers took a shot through (and I counted) 4 walls of an alien ship and hit their target. Not through gaps, or doorways, or windows. Through 4 solid walls.
So if it’s possible to do this, then why is there a cover system in place if it does not work? Now shooting the cover to reveal the target would make sense (as you could do with the original), but shooting through the cover or even sometimes several pieces of cover at the same time is stupid. Even more to the point, how did the alien get spotted through 4 solid walls anyway? Yes, this also works against you and for the aliens too.
Other glitches I have noticed. Sometimes the animation of the fire fights will show the attacker (you or alien) aiming the wrong way to it’s target but still the projectile goes the right way.
Then there are times when the animation clearly shows a connecting hit…but it counts as a miss. Plus I’ve seen times when someone has a high chance of a hit (95%) but the animation shows them miss by a mile.

Weapons, no inventory, unlimited ammo and no free aiming: The weapons of the original had more of a point to them. Some were heavier, some were more accurate, etc. They each had +’s and -‘s Which lead to a level of strategy in terms of what weapons you give to which guys for each mission.
Here, this is not the case. Basically each time you come across a new weapon, it’s just more powerful than the last. It becomes a no brainer which weapons to use as outside of the power, as they are all the same. Yes I know, class systems (I’m getting to this).
Having to choose which weapons to arm which guys with in the original was part of the tactics approach that made the game so damn good. You had to think about the fight before it happened.
Why is there no inventory system? Again, this was an element of the original where you had to think about what you took with you. Heavier weapons may have done more damage, but they slowed your guys down an impeded their movements. Lighter weapons did less damage, but you had more points to spend of actions. This made a more tactical game and each soldier became important for very specific reasons as each one could play a part. In the new game, there is no inventory and just a basic loadout screen where your guys are limited not only by what that can or can not carry, but also limited via their class too.
Unlimited ammo: Yeah sounds great, never run out of ammo. You have to reload your weapons, but you’ll never run out of clips for the weapons. Again an element of the original that was important was how much ammo do you give each soldier? Give them too much and it adds to their weight restricting moments, don’t give them enough and they could be in serious trouble. Add this to the fact each weapon was different holding different amounts of rounds per clip, again a part where you’d have to think before you arm your guys up. Not here, does not matter as you have endless ammo. Something that ties into this factor was that when you took out an alien in the original you could loot its corpse and use it’s weapons (provided you had researched it). Again tactics, your guy is low on ammo in the middle of a fire fight. Do you risk running out of ammo and hope you come out OK, or do you risk going for that alien corpse and grabbing a new weapon/ammo?
As there is no inventory system and you have unlimited ammo, you don’t have to worry about this any more. The fire fights do become no brainers with this game, as long as you are standing in the right place…you can’t lose.
Free aiming was so damn important in the original. Now you can free aim in this, but only with grenades and rockets. Your rifles, etc can not free aim. Why was this important? As free aiming meant you could shoot down walls/cover (if your gun was powerful enough) but do you want to risk wasting ammo to do so? You could aim at the gas pumps at the gas station and take out several aliens at once if there were standing near by. Again, the free aim provided another level of strategy sadly missing here.

Single base, single skyranger and six soldiers: I loved the base management of the original. Having the think about what you build, where you build it and the fact you could have multiple basses around the world each doing different things. I would segregate my bases and have one just for research, one for building weapons/air craft, etc, one for major storage. Then I’d have 3 basses that would be my attacking bases each with several interceptors and a skyranger.
Then when I first heard that you can only have one base in this…I was fuming. One base…ONE? So I can no longer plan my bases out, I can no longer create a worldwide XCOM project…just one base? This is stupid…or so I thought.
Having played the remake, I love the single base idea. Yeah it’s restrictive, but now means you have to be more resourceful and put a lot more thought into your base. Careful what you build and where as you have limited space.
But the single skyranger thing is terrible. This highly funded that has highly trained soldiers Earth defence force can only have one form of attack/defence against a worldwide alien attack? When you get an alien attack it’s normally three countries that need help and you can only help one. This is implemented to force difficulty instead of actually making the game itself difficult. It’s a cheap piece of programming.
Onto only having six soldiers per mission. This makes no sense. Again, worldwide alien threat and I can only send out six soldiers in one skyranger at any one time, despite the fact I have 30 soldiers back at base raring to go? In the original you could have loads and loads of soldiers in each skyranger and as many skyrangers as you could build and hold. This was a little extreme I admit and it did need scaling down yes. But to only six soldiers and one skyranger? Too much scaling down, way too much scaling down.

The maps: We do get “random” missions yes. This meaning that my game will be different to yours as which and when a country is attacked, which missions the council was give is all different each game. The type of missions given will be different and so on. Even where the aliens spawn and where you start from will always be different.
However, the maps are always the same. Each alien ship has it’s own map and it’ll always be the same map no matter where the alien ship lands/crashes. The urban map(s) are always exactly the same with the same buildings in the exact same spot each time. The wooded map is always the same, etc. You get the idea. While the missions are randomly generated, the maps never, ever change.
In the original, not only were the missions random, but also were the maps with each one randomly generated. The buildings would be in different places each time, the scenery was randomly generated. Each map would be different not just in terms of it’s locale but also the details of the map would be random too. Meaning you’d never play the exact same map twice. Basically each tile of the map could be random within the locale of that map. Whenever you when down to investigate a crash site, terror attack, etc. You had no way of knowing what was coming up…this added a sense of dread and fear.
Here there’s only a handful of maps and after playing for a few hours you’ll know each map like the back of your hand, there are no surprises outside of where the aliens are. You’ll know where each building is, where the best cover spots are.
In the original, exploring each map was part of the game’s charm, you had to learn your battlefield. Here, this does not happen as the maps repeat ad nauseum.
Another niggle about the maps. While I like the fact they have included some more mission types (yet removed one of the best mission types…more on this next) like having to rescue a single VIP/HVT, bomb disposal and even escort missions. Again, each map is the same and where the VIP/HVT/bomb is is always the same. If there is one thing that should have been random (as the maps are not) it’s where your main target is at least.

No XCOM base attack or alien base attack: OK, there is one alien base attack. But it’s story specific and only happens once in the entire game.
While I previously mentioned the new mission types, I also said the removed one of the best mission types and this was base attacks. Both the alien and your base(s) could be attacked.
If you didn’t take care of a country well enough they would pull their funding (this also happens in this version) and side with the aliens (this does not happen in this version, they just pull their funding). When a country would side with the aliens, the aliens would build a base in that country. If you could find that base via tracking a specific ship to the base. You could then attack the base and get that country back on your side. This was a great addition to the original as attacking an alien base was very risky and one of the toughest missions in the game. Again a level of strategy missing in this version. While taking out an alien base meant getting that country back on your side and it’s funding too…it was tough. You had to risk losing your best soldiers and weapons. It was a tough choice to make. With this version, if a country leaves the XCOM project…it’s gone for good.
Then on top of that, in the same way you could track an alien ship to an alien base. The aliens could do the same to you and your base(s). XCOM base attacks were brutal as the aliens could destroy your base if you were not defending well enough. What was also a great little touch was the fact the map of your base represented how the base was built. The one instance where the map was not random but born from how you built it.
The base attacks (both alien and XCOM) were brutally hard and the success or even failure of such a mission was detriment to the entire game.

Class system: It’s an idea I both like and hate in equal measure.
Now there was a kind of class system in the original. It was not an implemented and restricted class system as it is in this version. But depending on what weapons you gave to a solider and the more they used said weapons, they would get better with them. You could create a solider best suited to their own stats. So while there was no specific this guy is a sniper, this guy is a medic, etc. You could craft your soldiers to become whatever class you wanted them to become via experience with the weapon(s) and gadgets of choice. You had freedom of character development and it felt much more organic.
This is how the class system works in this game. Start off as a “rookie”, take said “rookie” on a mission and after the mission providing they lived and they got some EXP, they will be given a class.
Each soldier is just assigned a class and you have no control over it. Now I’ve tested this several times in fact as I first thought that depending on how you make a soldier act/react in a fight this determines his/her class…no does not work that way. I wish it did, but it does not.
For instance: I had a mission, the first one when starting a new game so only had four soldiers. One soldier I had go in all guns blazing hoping he’s become a heavy. One I had up high “sniping” so as to turn this one into a sniper. The other two I had holding back offering support. The sniper guy made some great shots/kills via sniping (despite not actually being a sniper…yet) and got most of the kills. The heavy guy worked as I wanted him to via breaking down doors, etc and going in. He got one kill and a couple of hits. My two support did just that offer cover fire and support my other two guys.
So we have the set up of a sniper, a heavy and two supports. What classes where they given? Well my sniper that got some great long distance shots in and most of the kills became a support. The heavy who when in guns a blazing only killed one and got some hits became a sniper, as did one of my support guys that stayed back and just got a few hits in. The other support also became a sniper despite not doing any sniping at all during the mission.
Why are the classes handed out so damn randomly?
Once your guy is assigned a class that you have no control over, which brings up the question of why include “rookies” to begin with if they are randomly given a class…just start them out with the class? You can upgrade their skills via a very, very limited selection of skills. With these skills you’ll often have to chose one over another within said class. Most of the time the choice of skill is a no brainer as one is clearly far superior to the other, and as the skill selection is so limited this makes character building pretty damn pointless.
Again, going back to the original. Each soldier had plenty of stats you could check and then mould that soldier into whatever class you wanted via weapon loadouts, etc. It was a more organic way to class your soldiers and added tactics. Each soldier would be unique to each game. Here each sniper is the same, each heavy is the same, etc.
The class system here is a good idea…but it’s just been implemented so damn badly it becomes inane.

Difficulty: The original games were infamous for being so damn brutal. You want to talk about hard games, the classic Ninja Gaiden, etc gets thrown around…nah, not even close. Get hold of the original XCOM, play that on it’s hardest setting then come back and comment. XCOM was brutality in it’s purest gaming form. It didn’t just come from cheap difficulty like you have less health and the enemy had more, weapons are hard to come by, etc. The difficulty came from you and how you played the game. Yes there are harder setting granted, but if you invested time into XCOM and learnt the game, and learnt is the correct and important word here. XCOM became this tough as nails game that was massively rewarding. Even though playing on the hardest setting meant you were going to be killed on a regular basis, the fact that knowing and learning the game also meant it offered a rough, but fully fair fight. If you could not be bothered to learn how to play XCOM properly then the hardest setting would ruin you.
However ,the difficulty with this remake comes from cheapness, an example I mentioned earlier was the fact you can only have one Skyranger with limited soldiers and only help one country at a time when three require assistance. This is not “difficulty”, this is just plain unfair. Once a country leave the XCOM project in the original you could fight to get it back, it was a big risk but it could be done. Here you lose a country and it’s gone. Again, not “difficult” just unfair.
If in the original you lost a soldier, or lost a base it was due to your own poor strategic choices and lack of attention. The beauty of the difficulty of the original was that is was a fair difficulty and it never felt “cheap”.
This version is not difficult, it’s cheap. The complete antithesis to what the original was. You fail as you can’t send out more than one Skyranger or that you only have six soldiers to work with.
If I lost a country to the aliens as I made bad strategic decisions or I equipped my guys badly (like the original), etc. Fine I can live with that as it was my fault. If I lose a country just cos the game simply will not allow me to help them when needed (like this version)…this is not difficulty, that’s just being unfair.
However saying all of that. I played through on harder “classic” (not THE hardest “impossible” setting) and I did not find the game hard at all. It’s just “normal” to me.
Pro tip: Concentrate on getting the world covered is satellites, get satellite links built, research the nexus, make 16 satellites ASAP. Don’t worry about soldiers/weapons yet. Once the world is covered, you get so many bonuses and bonuses on top of bonuses with money and workers the game is a breeze from that point on. The more coverage you have the less attacks occur. Then get your fighter craft upgraded so you can take down even the biggest UFOs. Is this an “exploit”? No, it’s part of the game you are supposed to get those satellites up, however Fraxis have decided that once you do the game will be easy. They still could have offered a harder challenge even when you have the world covered. If only there was some feature where the aliens could attack your base and hinder your progress…oh wait…
Again, I’m playing on hard and it’s not “hard” at all.
I was excited when I saw the game had a “classic” mode. I thought maybe they would bring back some of the classic elements of the game that are sorely missing (many of which I’ve listed here)…nah it’s just a slightly harder (which is not that hard anyway) setting.
I’m aware you can play this with the “ironman” setting which disables continual and multiple saves. But again this is not making the game itself hard, it’s just forcing difficulty upon the player.

I think I’ve pretty much exhausted my views on this game.
But overall do I think it’s a bad game? No, it’s great one of the most refreshing games I’ve played in years. It’s just that I love the original XCOM and this has removed so much of what made the original such a great game. It is dumbed down, this is “XCOM For Dummies”, it’s “XCOM-lite.” and it’s a real shame too.

It works as a great intro to the series and it’s a worthy return. But it’s still not quite what XCOM should be. There is a lack of depth and control over the original.
They are clearly trying to make this game appeal to a wider audience which is both a good and bad thing.
It’s good as many more people will learn what XCOM is and hopefully enjoy it. It’s bad as it does disappoint the long time fans (of almost 20 years) like myself.
I just do not understand why they could not have had two settings for the game. One in which the game plays as it already does. One that brings back the depth of the original. Classic mode really could have been “classic mode” for the old-timey XCOM players.

I know a full sequel has recently been announced, and I’m looking forward to it.
But I hope they bring back many of the missing features and make the game more strategy heavy like the original and less “idiot proof” like this remake.

Xcom

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was good and worth the wait…but it’s not really XCOM as I know it.

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