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XCOM E3 2011 Preview

The original XCOM: UFO Defense (or Enemy Unknown) is one of the most highly regarded PC games of all time, and some people still go back and play it's turn based strategy to this day, 17 years after it was first released. That being said, there was a bit of hesitation at last year's E3 about a new first person XCOM experience, developed by 2K Marin, creators of Bioshock 2. XCOM: UFO Defense was and still is a game of strategy, and many fans felt that XCOM couldn't translate that strategy into a first person shooter. Well, from what I've seen and heard about the new XCOM at this year's E3, I can safely say that it will feel a lot more like the old XCOM than you might think, with more deepness and complexity than was shown last year.

In XCOM, you play as an agent of the XCOM squad William Carter, tasked with investigating alien threats, and if necessary, destroying them. With the 1962 setting, XCOM is set up to be a prequel to XCOM: UFO Defense, and with the transition from global strategy to first person shooting, the game focuses more on America than the global setting. 
The demo starts out with the player watching a film reel of a recent alien attack, and after the reel is over, the player meets Leon Burnes.  Burnes is an NPC designated to help the player manage his squad of agents before each mission out of the XCOM facility. The player also has the ability to have branching dialogue conversations with Burnes, but 2K Marin has not said whether or not this dialogue will have a purpose. With the managing of your squad, and how deep that customization goes, it's apparent that XCOM is not going to be a one-man army game, unlike 2K Marin's last game, Bioshock 2. 

2K Marin admittedly had some trouble snapping out of the Bioshock mindset, with run and gun gameplay, over the top weapons, and cool atmosphere. They said they were focusing less on the squad and tactical deployment elements back at E3 2010, but that's changed with the presentation at E3 2011. 
The agents you manage have a set of customizable classes and abilities to help you during a mission, similar to an RPG. Over the course of the game, agents earn more and more experience points, allowing them to upgrade core abilities or go down different skill branches. You want the agents to play off each other in your squad, with somebody to take plenty of the damage, and someone to research any alien technology you find in-mission. 
After the player has customized his agents adequately, he walks further in the XCOM facility to meet Angela, an agent NPC who helps you choose your missions. There are many missions available at a time, allowing the player to play in any order he/she wishes to. Each mission has different core objectives, such as securing territory, or holding off territory from the aliens, or purely scientific endeavors to increase research points. There will, of course, be certain missions which will simply move the plot forward. 
The player has chosen the "Find Dr. Weir" mission for this demo, where a scientist you need to find in order to counter the aliens more effectively, has gone missing. So, your team heads out to a quiet rural town which has been taken over by the aliens, named the Outsiders. These guys look like cubes put together in quite awkward ways, with some other geometric elements as well. The in-mission combat is shown here, which has some strategical wrinkles of it's own. You can order squad mates to certain cover points, and take cover yourself, in real time. There's also a tactical view which, when activated, slows down the gameplay and gives you an overhead view of the battle. While in this view, you can also assign different movements, abilities, and attack patterns to your squad.

The demo showed how this tactical view could be used effectively within the levels. The Outsiders have a shield, that when the player flanks, simply moves to face the player. So the demoer ordered his squadmates to fire on the shield and distract it while he moved past the shield. Simple, but effective. Hopefully that is just the tip of the iceberg of what your squad can do, but it showed the tactical gameplay that 2K Marin was talking about. 
You'll also find alien technology throughout the missions, and with your tech engineer, you can either use these or bring them back to the XCOM facility. In the demo, the alien technology was a turret, which could be re-deployed in the same mission, but then couldn't be brought back to base. 
This demo touched on some of the same points as last year's E3 demo, but there was a lot more depth on display here than before. This is looking more and more like an XCOM: UFO Defense game re-interpreted on a smaller scale and from the first person, and that is something to look forward to indeed. XCOM will be released on March 9th, 2012, for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.


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