The shroud has been lifted from 2K Marin’s new first-person shooter, the re-imagined XCOM. Several magazines hitting the shelves this month contain the first details and screenshots. PC Gamer’s article briefly surfaced online courtesy of Games Radar, but has mysteriously disappeared since. The damage has been done, though, the details are out.
You play as FBI agent William Carter, tasked with combating an invasion of alien forces on idyllic 1950’s America. The tranquil and perfect suburbia setting is only a cardboard-thin façade that is set to be torn apart in the brutal destruction to come.
It’s a world where people feel comfortable and everything is optimistic, they feel that there is a great future ahead.
- Jonathan Pelling
The screenshots are raw and unpolished, and the game is obviously still early in development. But already the distinctive style of the era is starting to come together in the art direction.
Your campaign to eliminate the alien menace will involve gathering intelligence and investigating sites of reported activity. The mission structure is non-linear, it will be up to you which locations to tackle next, at the possible cost of missing out on other missions. Upon selecting a mission you will be driven out to the site, and you have the choice of leaving it at any time and returning to headquarters. So each mission involves careful resource management and decision-making, with you having to weigh the choice to either leave with what you have accomplished and collected or to press on and risk your dwindling manpower and resources. You will accompanied by AI-controlled fellow agents who are expendable; as of right now it is unclear how much control you will have over them but I’d be surprised if some kind of tactical command system à la SWAT 4 was not implemented.
A number of different objectives can be pursued, such as wiping out the threat, gathering evidence and scavenging for precious resources. Confronting the aliens may land you in a tough battle especially early on when their technology is vastly superior to yours. Researching the alien tech will allow you to produce more effective weaponry and defenses. This can be achieved by gathering evidence at the sites with your camera, a mechanic borrowed from the BioShock series. In the demo shown to the press, the player had researched the black goo-like aliens and was able to produce two new items as a result: a kind of detector that points you in the direction of the nearest blob of goo, and a flame grenade that is more effective against the organism than the standard-issue shotguns and revolvers.
Another important goal is to collect Elerium, a valuable energy source that powers your underground HQ and weapons development. Searching for this substance can be your highest chosen priority, and yet prove to be the thing that turns a hopeful mission into disastrous failure.
With each new piece of information it’s becoming evident that the game is not a remake, and perhaps shares little more with the original series than the branding. If anything, the aliens and government agency aspects are more like something out of The X-Files. Hardcore fans craving for the traditional turn-based gameplay are going to have to look elsewhere for their fix, maybe in the indie effort Xenonauts. But it looks like 2K Marin are trying to retain the spirit of the series while crafting a new kind of FPS experience. The OXM preview focuses on describing a harrowing mission, beat for beat in a manner suited to an atmospheric, story-oriented FPS1.
We’re forging a new mythology, but what we’re retaining is the core elements that made X-COM X-COM. The strategy, the base, the research, agents, being in charge, and dealing with this problem as you see fit. You are the one that’s driving the investigation – those elements remain but we want to create a new world with a new set of enemies that’s genuinely compelling for players to learn more about.
- Jonathan Pelling
I surmised earlier that XCOM could be very much like what Irrational Games’ Division 9 was planned to be. That is, tactical action in randomly-populated levels as in SWAT 4, with additional over-arching strategic gameplay involving base and resource management and tech research. The OXM and PC Gamer articles don’t elaborate much on this, but Australian magazine PC Powerplay does offer some information2. Choosing exactly where to focus your efforts will determine the outcome of the campaign.
Optimising your operation is the heart of XCOM’s strategy.
- PC Powerplay
2K Marin are tight-lipped on the possibility of multiplayer as well, but as Martyn remarked to me, this game seems like a perfect opportunity for some co-op action.
So while diehard X-COM fans may have reason to be disappointed that a true successor to the series is not in the cards, 2K Marin appear to be onto something that, if everything falls into place, could be a great title in its own right.