XCOM Classic Ironman

I recently got into XCOM. I saw Day9 playing it and it made me catch the XCOM virus again. It was a good thing too. The game came out around when my dad passed away. I bought it when it on release, played a map or two and forgot about it. I was glad to re-discover it now. I attempted a Classic Ironman and recorded it. The result is a YouTube series. Here is the first episode:

I’m really enjoying the game. It is very different from the original and it misses out on a lot of things that made the original great. But its game design is also a lot tighter, the experience a lot more controlled and dramatic. It is a good attempt a remake. One that brings in its own flavor rather than just copying the original.

So for example, one thing that it constantly does is to put players in front of these very clearly defined decision. The very first thing you do is to select between multiple regions to put your base in. Each region comes with it’s own advantages. Throughout the game, you get those so-called abduction missions. Multiple cities are being attacked by aliens simultaneously. The game forces you to decide which city to help. Each city has a different difficulty level and different rewards. Also, helping a city will lower it’s panic level while the cities that you leave behind will freak out more. Compared to the original this feels forced and artificial. The original allowed you to maintain multiple teams, so you could be attempting multiple missions simultaneously. Cases like this used to be rare anyway. This new approach feels less natural. It is clearly a setup by the game’s designers to put players into this difficult choice. But it is also a clear execution of modern-day Firaxis philosophy: Games as a series of interesting choices. I have my problems with that philosophy. But I appreciate that they actually have one and stick to it.

One thing I really dislike so far is the way UFO/Alien lore is treated. The original drew upon a lot of real-life UFO folklore. The team seems to have thrown a lot of that out of the window by making some pretty peculiar artistic choices. The grey aliens scour on the ground and move on all fours like monkeys. They don’t look like the mystical, enigmatic beings we know form the X-Files. Equally troublesome are the obnoxious, cartoonish characters in the base. Dr. Vahlen doesn’t seem to be able to decide on which european accent she wants to speak. Audio transmissions are unskipable. The cut-scenes are generally ham-fisted and cringe-worthy. The game fails to convey the kind of atmosphere and setting the original was famous for.

On the other hand, it feels refreshing to have a modern game that will actually allow players to live out their mistakes. Playing on Ironman, the game might put you back to square one even if you are already 8 hours in. At least in this regard, it is an entertaining remake. I might write more about it soon. Stay tuned!

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

One response to “XCOM Classic Ironman”

  1. John Krajewski

    Great review, for me I noticed the same problems but they bothered me more. The game felt like a dumbed-down version of the original, replacing a really interesting simulation you could get your hands into with a simplified ‘A or B?’ series of choices. I suppose it’s indicative of the general direction of the games industry and not something we can specifically blame XCOM for, but it is pretty stark when you compare the two in my opinion. The point I quit the game was when the game told me I have a 89% chance of hitting an enemy that was completely behind the corner of a brick wall, I took the shot and got it. All the interesting aspects of the original with tactics and positioning was erased in favor of a faked system, making every attack plan I do irrelevant as the game fit me to a ‘difficulty curve’ and fed me the right numbers to ‘optimize my play experience’. I want to play something real.


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