E3 2010: XCOM PreviewBy Patrick Klepek - Posted Jun 17, 2010
What We Already Know
Rumors of a new XCOM have been swirling for years. For a while, everyone had pegged BioShock designer Ken Levine as the mastermind behind a new alien invasion, but if that was true at one point, it's not anymore. 2K Marin, the spin-off studio that developed this year's BioShock 2, was actually tasked with rebooting XCOM. You're still fighting aliens in this new XCOM, but it's not a tactical strategy game -- it's taking place in first-person.
What We're Seeing Today
2K Marin started their demo by addressing XCOM fans directly, knowing purists were going to be immediately suspicious of this radically different XCOM. There are elements of XCOM that are staying, including having a home base of operations, researching technology to fund new gadgets and weapons, being forced to make strategic decisions that forces players to live with directly impacted consequences and having a squad.
Other than that, however, with the game shifting perspectives, XCOM is headed into an entirely new direction. Fortunately for fans, it's looking like a promising one. 2K Marin stressed the balance between fear and strategy as a central tenant of the new XCOM experience. You're supposed to be scared of the aliens in XCOM, as the game picks up when the XCOM division is formed and beginning to grasp the alien threat. Engaging players on that level would be much more difficult with a top-down, turn-based game. The game's iconic 1950s setting is perfect.
The E3 2010 started at the XCOM headquarters, showing off the various areas players will return to over the course of the game, including the research department studying the alien tech. 2K Marin then jumped into an early mission set in suburbia. You're trying to investigate the first signs of alien activity throughout North America, snapping pictures of the devestation (which fuels new research projects) and fighting off oily alien blobs intent on your killing fellow humans. The only way to truly defeat them? With fire, obviously. And lighting guns, of course.
There are still some unknowns, as the XCOM design isn't totally set in stone yet. 2K Marin admitted they are still evaluating whether multiplayer would work. It could happen, but it might not (though we'd err on the side of it happening). 2K Marin's also working out how the Agents system will work. In the original XCOM games, you went through squads a number of times, with a fresh batch fighting alongside you. It's possible this XCOM will follow that model, but 2K Marin wants players to establish a personal relationship with their Agents, so that could change.
Even though it seems like XCOM is a ways off (right now, 2K Games will only say it's shipping sometime in 2011), the E3 2010 demo suggests they're on the right path with a clear new vision. It's apparent BioShock profoundly impacted 2K Games' approach to game design, with each of their titles paying close attention to the implementation of narrative and player choice.