BioShock 2 Creator Revives XCOM After More Than Decade
By Matt Peckham
XCOM, the X-Files-meets-miniature-wargaming tactical puzzler, is returning after years in IP limbo courtesy BioShock 2 developer 2K Marin, but not as you might have imagined.
The original X-COM was an isometric turn-based strategy game for the PC (and eventually the PlayStation) that thrust an extraterrestrial combat squad, i.e. X-COM, into blind drop zones bristling with creepy alien invaders. Battlefields ranged around the globe from tangled jungles to desiccated flatlands to sleepy suburban neighborhoods. Intel from salvaged alien artifacts fed technology upgrades that bettered your squad and allowed for global resource expansion, culminating in all-out assaults on alien HQs.
The new version, dubbed simply XCOM (that’s not a typo–they’ve dropped the dash) will involve picking up a weapon and pulling the trigger firsthand instead of directing someone else to. As 2K puts it, the game will meld “the strategic core” of the original with “a suspense-filled narrative” distilled into “a tense and unique first-person shooter experience.”
“With BioShock 2, the team at 2K Marin proved themselves as masters of first-person, suspenseful storytelling, and with XCOM they will re-imagine and expand the rich lore of this revered franchise,” said 2K president Christoph Hartmann in a press statement. “Players will explore the world of XCOM from an immersive new perspective and experience firsthand the fear and tension of this gripping narrative ride.”
According to 2K, XCOM reimagines the original’s “classic tale of humanity’s struggle against an unknown enemy.” But unlike the original, which saw you directing squads of super-soldiers, you play an FBI agent “tasked with identifying and eliminating the growing threat.” Less Starship Troopers, more X-Files, in other words.
Lest you fear they’ve dissolved the strategic angle entirely, the press release suggests a hybrid approach, noting “players will be placed in charge of overcoming high-stake odds through risky strategic gambits coupled with heart-stopping combat experiences.” Subtract the clichés (“high-stakes,” “heart-stopping”) and you get the gist.
Why first-person? Because it’s more accessible. Because it’s what sells, for better or worse–not, as 2K claims, because “players will be able to feel the tension and fear that comes with combating a faceless enemy that is violently probing and plotting its way into our world.” I felt that (and more, frankly) playing the original, with its low-res 320 x 200 VGA graphics and “detached” isometric perspective. Not that I’m saying first-person can’t work here–think of what these guys did with BioShock and BioShock 2, after all–but first-person isn’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to “immersing” players. Anyone who’s played the original knows that.