Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year and some thoughts on XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Happy 2013 to everyone. We had fireworks in Dublin last night at an unusually family friendly 8pm which meant that we could catch them and still be safely ensconced in our own home for the turning of the year which suited my young family just fine. it also meant that I managed to fit in an hour of gaming while waiting for the count down and I used that time to finish the last battle of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

XCOM has been my main game over the last few weeks and Steam records that I spent 78 hours playing it. It is a great game that I heartily recommend but I am currently feeling the inevitable anti-climax that results from finishing a game that I have invested a lot of time in. The few negatives stand out more in my mind at present despite that fact that I heartily agree it is a brilliant  game overall.

Gripes first:

1. I encountered a few silly bugs none of which were game breaking. They are annoying though and it is surprising to find such obvious bugs still present in a AAA title several months after release. Chief examples of bugs I remember:
- Mousing over red enemy heads almost always shows the wrong hit chance percentage.
- Misaligned mouse cursor in menu screens (sometimes).
- Save games sometimes disappearing and sometimes appearing in wrong sequence. Can usually be solved by exiting the game and restarting.

2.Campaign mode is badly explained. The game's tutorials gave me a good idea of how combat works but really didn't prepare me for the campaign mode at all: What to build?  In what order? What to spend money on? What to do about satellites? Which encounters to choose?.  I lost five countries (out of eight allowed) before I figured out what was going on.

3. Campaign mode has a poorly balanced difficulty curve: Hard at first getting dramatically easier afterwards. I mentioned above that I lost five countries while I tried to figure out what was going on and build some basic infrastructure. Then it all clicked and suddenly I was on top of campaign mode. Once I got on top of things campaign mode quickly became trivial and I never came close to losing another country. Starting off hard and then getting much easier as you become familiar with the game is doing things backwards in my opinion.

4. I have seen some folks complaining about the "free move" aliens get when you first spot them but that didn't really bother me at all. In fact I think it is a necessary consequence of the fact that most of the aliens do not move at all until you stumble across them.  It it wasn't for the free move it would be too easy to catch aliens out of cover and kill them in the open. I do think it would be better if the aliens were more autonomous though and actually moved independently before you spotted them.

5. I have a minor gripe about the camera and line of sight in interior scenes. Interior scenes are handled using a kind of X-ray transparency but sometimes key features  remain stubbornly invisible  regardless of how you try to position the camera. The very last battle of the game had a particularly bad example of this with a narrow corridor which was completely invisible to me but which still restricted my soldiers line of sight.  More flexible camera controls might have helped here or perhaps  an option to select first person view for any soldier.

Positive Stuff:

Despite my gripes this is a brilliant game that combines genuine thought provoking challenge with high entertainment. Even though it is the spiritual successor of a 19990's classic it feels refreshingly new in the sea of relatively bland AAA titles. In fact it has the spirit of an indie game wrapped in the finery of a big budget title. I hope it spawns more of this sort of game in future.

I should confess at this point that my play through was on normal with saves allowed. I realise that many have said that Ironman (permadeath) mode is the only way to fully experience the game but I do not have the time or the  patience for permadeath in a game that takes me several weeks to complete.


Jayedub said...

I've got my sealed copy of Xcom sitting here beckoning me to play it soon! I've heard it was difficult so I'll have to keep what you said in mind when I do finally play the game.

mbp said...

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did JD. There is some advice I wish I had before starting the campaign but I can't tell you in case it would be a spoiler. Perhaps you are meant to struggle like I did before figuring things out.

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