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Default XCOM - Review @ GameBanshee

October 23rd, 2012, 09:41
GameBanshee reviewed XCOM: Enemy Unknown resulting in both positives and negatives:
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a frustrating game to review, because there are a lot of very good, very smart design choices in it, but it's impossible not to compare it to its forefather. It's clearly a love letter to the franchise, but it's also one that hasn't been afraid to make changes. Unfortunately, in my opinion, not all these changes have been for the better, and I think that they strip out layers of complexity in favor of accessibility. While the original game was very much targeted towards hardcore strategy fans, this new one is geared towards more casual, pick-up-and-play audiences, and that's why I question its longevity - will people really still be singing this game's praises and debating the finer points of its gameplay 15 years later? I can't see that happening
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October 23rd, 2012, 09:41
Nice review. But disappointing. In particular the all or nothing movement and console UI.
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October 23rd, 2012, 09:42
An awesome review, can't find anything I don't agree with.
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October 23rd, 2012, 15:15
It was a good game, but my main complaint is that, even on classic mode it was far too easy. And holy crap are the psi powers overpowered, lol. To the point of making the game a cinch if you play even just one psi guy.


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October 23rd, 2012, 15:48
An excellent review. Spot on.
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October 23rd, 2012, 16:05
Aye. Spot on. Fun game, but lacks the variety and replayability of the original.
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October 23rd, 2012, 16:08
My opinions follow.

- The 2 action critique isn't very good. I recall time units essentially forcing two actions. The recollection is so strong that I'd bet money the number of actions taken by all players of the original would spike at two, occasional actions taken without moving. The new mechanic is a very useful abstraction and functionally (and probably statistically) identical to the original.

+1 to the new game


- There are more kinds of actions that can be taken that are presented better. An improvement on the original.

+1 to the new game


- The original did a reasonable job with cover. Formalizing the mechanic, though, was a good move and eliminated "but she was behind the *$%^ing wall!!" <controller flung at television> frustrations. That's merely an emblem of the march of good game systems design. Good went to better.

+1 to the new game


- No facing in the new one, but replaced by flanking. I like flanking better, especially the clear feedback of the implementation. Would both have been better? I'm not sure. It could have created inept complexities that the game just didn't need.

+0 to the new game

- No intentional terrain destruction by rifle. Minor issue. Rifles don't explode walls, so that was silly in the original when it happened. Plasma rifles might, but it's not a lot of skin off my back.

+0 to the new game


- Limited inventory. A very good idea with an ok implementation. I really disliked the inventory space in the original and thought that while not as bad as your average RPG inventory, soldiers could carry too much. Likewise I enjoyed the tactical economy the limitations created. I had to think long and hard about who took what and when: "man, arc thrower or medikit, arc thrower or medikit?" But it would have been nice to reload the launcher and have more than one grenade. Surely some of the area effect mechanics could have been manipulated to accommodate that. And then they have the heavy carry two large weapons. ??? So much for the "carrying too much" point. Yeah an ok implementation.

+1 to the new game and -1 to the new game


- 6 soldiers. Eh. I get the game balance decision, but I don't think it was a good one. Yeah, 4 is a fire team but you need around 8 to have a credible squad, especially if you're talking multi-role. Enemy generation could've scaled to match easily. Also, 4-6 dramatically increases the effect of mind-control and death. Of Noah Antwiler's many critiques of the game, this is really the only one I wholly agree with and not a good design decision.

-1 to the new game


- The depth of the strategic base building was far greater than the original and I very much enjoyed it.

+1 to the new game


- Single base isn't a big deal after thinking about it. The only advantage multiple bases offer is time proximity and the ability to have more than one team in transit at once. Neither are major complaints. The only highly time-intensive response required are the interceptors and there you have lots of bases. Not a major point of contention honestly.

+0 to the new game


- Plot. Good and bad. It's great that they provide solid and clear direction early on, something I thought was a weakness in the original. It's also campy, pulpy, and over-the-top which I appreciated. The on-rails linearity was too much. It limits replayability because it imposes too much narrative structure. There's lots of emergent gameplay but the plot's forced march only allows the gameplay to hang off the plot in about the same order. So I essentially play the same game twice. That was a clear design mistake and a clear regression from the original in my opinion. Also the ending was forced and clunky; on the order of less good Star Trek episodes with some silly deus ex machina stuff.

-2 to the new game


- Economy. The difficult choices were well executed and eliminated my greatest critique of the original: cheating by selling manufactured equipment. You still can, but it's mostly luck of the draw in your shady member country dealings. Yet the feel of it is kind of artificial. Why do member countries want munitions less than their insatiable need for alien bodies?

+0 to the new game



TL:DR: There are critiques to be made, sure. Yet most of the game design decisions, especially in tactical that people presume to be made for "accessibility" are simply good design based on modern theory. Of these decisions, I'd really only call plot linearity, squad size, and grenade/rocket inventory my true criticisms. It's a very good game and definitely an "XCom".
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October 23rd, 2012, 16:17
this new one is geared towards more casual, pick-up-and-play audiences, and that's why I question its longevity - will people really still be singing this game's praises and debating the finer points of its gameplay 15 years later? I can't see that happening.
Just a musing. But I wonder if some of the "dumbing down" criticism comes down to a gap in expectations between highly-grainy gameplay grognards and modern game design theory (ie- what you find in books and Digipen) in which a lack of clarity and expectation is considered failure. It's not that something is being "dumbed down", it's that according to modern theory, that complexity was originally presented in poor ways that the grognards enjoyed and now call abstractions of presentation "hand-holding".

Dunno, maybe it's patently obvious and I only now just noticed or maybe it's silly. Merit to the idea?
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October 23rd, 2012, 16:28
i like the new xcom quite a bit, as an evolution of the old game. i can also easily go back and play the old xcom for the old system which i also endear.

i feel the same way from civ 5 and civ 4, the changes are drastic enough that i consider them two different games all together, not something that is supposed to be wholly better that you would never go back.
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October 23rd, 2012, 17:53
I'm enjoying my second playthrough right now, beat it on normal, now playing classic. Disclaimer, I enjoyed the original but I'm not one of the rabid fans of the series.

I like there's only one base. I remember getting sick of constantly managing multiple bases, interceptors and squads in the OG. This was a good design decision IMO. No base attacks: it seems a little odd if you think about the aliens would never counter-attack your base but I don't miss it not being in the game.

The gameplay mechanics work for me, I would prefer it if you could move multiple times up to the existing close/far distances, allowing me to pick my path and stop if I see an alien a lot better but it works.

The UI is generally fine but it's got a bad case of console font-size-itis. The camera is fine for the most part and I really don't miss free rotation but the pathing issues inside big ships is well documented. The double confirmation buttons are obviously leftovers of the console controls but I got used to them pretty quickly. That annoys me more from it being a console leftover than it being a pain to use.

Some of the cutscenes ( finding aliens especially ) gets more than a little repetitive. The "more aliens" music and watching them scramble for cover after the first time seeing the video each playthrough would have been better.

I think my biggest complaint of the game is the loadout screen before launching a mission. It's way too many clicks and way too much management swapping equipment between characters. 4 or 5 equipment icon boxes under each character name, where if you click it pops up a menu allowing you to choose any other available equipment would really have removed a lot of pointless tedium.

There are bugs but they're not show stopping (for me). Overall, I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys TBS.
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October 23rd, 2012, 18:28
Originally Posted by Bedwyr View Post
Just a musing. But I wonder if some of the "dumbing down" criticism comes down to a gap in expectations between highly-grainy gameplay grognards and modern game design theory (ie- what you find in books and Digipen) in which a lack of clarity and expectation is considered failure. It's not that something is being "dumbed down", it's that according to modern theory, that complexity was originally presented in poor ways that the grognards enjoyed and now call abstractions of presentation "hand-holding".

Dunno, maybe it's patently obvious and I only now just noticed or maybe it's silly. Merit to the idea?
This is definitely true. Game designers have got much better at presenting the rules of a game world in intuitive ways. That's why I lament the lack of functionality in combat (can't target the environment with guns, only explosives) and not the presentation (throwing grenades and having the game auto-select enemy targets works great).

However, there are far more strict limitations in the new XCOM which the original game did not have. This isn't the result of obscure rules, but on making more clearly defined roles and predictable systems which are simply easier to understand for new and more casual players. It doesn't make for a worse game - but it does make for one with less depth to it for those who really want to take the time to learn the ins and outs.

Let's face it, XCOM is up there with Civilization as one of the most-discussed games ever - any sort of reduction on the mechanical possibilities in the game is going to diminish it. The less gamey, more simulation-oriented rules of UFO Defense are simply more open-ended and allow more variety, more options, and more random, crazy stuff to happen. That's why ultimately this new XCOM is geared towards a very different sort of audience, one that is less concerned with exploring a system and one more concerned with "winning" in a much more traditional, gamist sense.
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October 23rd, 2012, 18:45
Basicaly the game is artificialy dificut in the geoscape part, leading the game into a min/max tunnel vision strategy in order to suceed :

a) get enginneers to the max
b) build satelite control buildings (i lost the name now) to the max
c) build satelites and launch them when a country is threatening to leave
d) control panic levels with the abduction "barrier".


In the original game and in any realy good strategy game, you must have a much better freedom to make your own strategies and experiment diferent aproaches and react to diferent "surprises".

X-Com 2012 is a nice game that basicaly makes an artificial barrier called "abduction triple jeopardy" and its basicaly the only real important thing that makes you think strategicaly. Its almoust like the game was 99% over and when they playtested it they reached the conclusion it was too easy and long and they had to "insert something weird to make players feel pressured every month".

I won't touch the other problems like the cover system, the limited squad size, the repetition of maps, the "walk on rails" feeling that every time you start a new game the same things happen over and over, etc.


All in all, a good game, but i'll wait for xenonauts, thank you


P.S. It seems there's already a mod out there that seems to go into the right direction and fixes some of the problems, let's see how that evolves!
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October 23rd, 2012, 19:43
Originally Posted by sea View Post
However, there are far more strict limitations in the new XCOM which the original game did not have. This isn't the result of obscure rules, but on making more clearly defined roles and predictable systems which are simply easier to understand for new and more casual players. It doesn't make for a worse game - but it does make for one with less depth to it for those who really want to take the time to learn the ins and outs.
That's kind of what I mean. Grognards love "mechanical discovery". Most other players dislike it. The true marriage of the two worlds comes when you build a system that has elegance and simplicity (you can pick it up in < 20 minutes) but with combinations of sub-systems in which the old-schoolers can sink their teeth (asymmetric design).

I think even in the case of "old school" kickstarter RPGs underway, we'll see no mechanics that require either a) extended tutorials or b) reading a manual. It's just modern principles that appeal most people and the rules that the current corps of designers grew up under.
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October 23rd, 2012, 19:46
Originally Posted by KnightPT View Post
X-Com 2012 is a nice game that basicaly makes an artificial barrier called "abduction triple jeopardy" and its basicaly the only real important thing that makes you think strategicaly. Its almoust like the game was 99% over and when they playtested it they reached the conclusion it was too easy and long and they had to "insert something weird to make players feel pressured every month".
I agree that there were a number of artificial limitations they could have worked on more. The funding economy didn't bother me a whit as that's easy to design, makes sense to most people, and usually just works. The combat economy, especially the abductions, certainly do seem forced and could stand some more work. I like the premise of the other missions though.
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October 23rd, 2012, 20:56
Originally Posted by LuckyCarbon View Post
The UI is generally fine but it's got a bad case of console font-size-itis.
This is awesome news and I'm downloading the demo right now. Usually, strategy games come with tiny fonts that I can impossibly read in a comfortable manner because I have my PC hooked up to my TV. Personally, I can't complain that it supports gamepad neither, because it seems a game like this would be a joy to play laid back on the couch.

Never played the original, but the big font is actually a huge plus for a lot of people. When searching forums for possible font fixes, I usually find a lot of people complaining of unreadable fonts on PC monitors for a lot of games, too. As far as I'm concerned, every PC game should have that configurable in some way.
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October 24th, 2012, 02:02
Originally Posted by Bedwyr View Post
That's kind of what I mean. Grognards love "mechanical discovery". Most other players dislike it. The true marriage of the two worlds comes when you build a system that has elegance and simplicity (you can pick it up in < 20 minutes) but with combinations of sub-systems in which the old-schoolers can sink their teeth (asymmetric design).

I think even in the case of "old school" kickstarter RPGs underway, we'll see no mechanics that require either a) extended tutorials or b) reading a manual. It's just modern principles that appeal most people and the rules that the current corps of designers grew up under.
The thing is, unlike most game designers, I think that to a large degree, the differences between the two schools are impossible to fully reconcile. Designers like to go on and on about "easy to learn, hard to master" but this is not really possible without making sacrifices one way or another. You can hit a good balance, and XCOM does this, however, to insist it has anywhere near the depth of the original is really quite silly.

The fact is, too, that the franchise has a lot of expectations from its fanbase already, and so the changes can come across as dumbing down rather than "good for what it is." Although I also think that 2K and Firaxis were taking advantage of the fact that X-COM is one of those franchises that everyone has heard of but very few people have actually played, especially under the age of about 30 - expectations about the game, but no hands-on experience to disprove them.
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October 24th, 2012, 14:32
I enjoy playing XCOM and never played the original, but it's definitely for consoles. Even a middle complexity squad-based strategy game, like Silent Storm, far eclipses XCOM in strategy, variety and non-linearity.

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