I was a computer network instructor for a major training company in 1994. My dial-up Internet was fast becoming a bore, so decided that a new game for my PC was in order. I stumbled upon a title called XCOM: UFO Defense (MicroProse, 1994). I brought home the packaged game, but for some reason never got around to installing it. The following year XCOM: Terror From the Deep (MicroProse, 1995) caught my attention. As with its predecessor, it wound up being thrown into a drawer, never to be installed. Twenty years and a host of sequels later, I’m happy to report that I have indeed installed and played XCOM 2, developed by Firaxis and published by 2K Games. What we have is a turn-based tactical simulator. Essentially, you lead a team of specialists into battle, position them where they’ll do the best and then let loose their fire upon the enemy. Once this is done, the opposing team (a group of mind-bending aliens) gets a turn at doing the same to you. The mission ends when one side has obliterated the other. To make things more challenging, small sub-quests accompany many of the missions. Perhaps you must place an explosive device somewhere on the map, or hack into a computer console located deep in enemy territory.
As you assign orders to your soldiers, I find it helpful to think of the map as an obstacle-laden chessboard. Each unit has a specialty that works well in some positions; less so in others. The trick is to place your pieces out of the enemy’s line of sight while capitalizing on their own best attack options.
At the conclusion of combat, you’re presented with a status report. You see the general condition of each team member. Green is good, red is bad, and dead is really bad. You can heal your wounded soldiers but you can’t revive those killed in action. So if you’re the type of player who grows attached to your characters, you’ll be restarting missions often in this game. Also, don’t forget to use points earned in battle to promote your worthy combatants. High-ranking squad members are sturdier and can outperform lower-ranking enemy counterparts. This is especially useful when aliens attempt to confuse your troops with their mind-control ability.
As your adventure continues, you’ll be taken to exotic locations all over the globe! The world map fills in as you reclaim each area, freeing our planet from the alien scourge!
As clean and time-tested as this series is, the game is not without its bugs. On several occasions, one of my soldiers was standing point-blank before a foe, with an 80% or greater “chance-to-hit”. He missed. Granted, 80% is no guarantee, but it happened a bit too often not to suggest a peek inside the RNG calculator.
Without giving away vital story elements, it may be important to note that this game begins where another XCOM title left off…well, sort of. Games in this genre often have multiple endings, and of course, players strive for the best and happiest. But that wouldn’t work here. XCOM 2 wouldn’t be much if it opened with an influx of bunny rabbits and rainbows. The notion is that XCOM: Enemy Unknown (2012), the first to be offered by Firaxis/2K Games, concluded with a “bad” story ending; the humans losing their battle against the aliens. So now, here we are.
XCOM 2 is a “Triple-A” title, and as such it’s priced on Steam at $60 (USD). Is it worth it? Yes, it is. Of the many entries in this long-admired series, this is certainly the most refined and enhanced. Additionally, there are 50 Steam achievements to go for right now, with potentially more on the way via upcoming DLC.
I still have those original, unopened boxes from ’94 and ’95. I even have an old pre-Windows PC to play them on. Perhaps I’ll boot it up and give the games a try…that is if the data on those floppy diskettes is still there!
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