Saturday, December 12, 2015

XCOM: Enemy Unknown - 20/20 hours

Time for me to confess a minor personal embarrassment. It was not until hour 18 or so that I first noticed that "XCOM" is not hyphenated. I can't say for sure why I thought it was. Possibly because you pronounce it as two words. It wasn't until I did a Google search for how to activate the Gollop chamber that I learned that I'd gotten it wrong. Oops.

Anyway, the last three hours were not as bad as I feared. It turns out that I was basically at the end. I had two more story missions and a couple of random missions left to do. So the fact that I almost immediately lost Argentina and Mexico to the alien threat had no effect on my effectiveness.

Of course, the primary reason for that is that a large portion of my effectiveness was due to my habit of saving at the beginning of every combat mission and reloading if I didn't like the result. Most of the time, it was unnecessary, but I did save a few of my squadron's lives that way. It was only in the final level itself that I saved and reloaded multiple times while in the level (and it's lucky for me that I did, because I only barely survived the final boss' area attack).

I think, in retrospect, that I may have been playing the game wrong. At the very end, you're give a list of your statistics, and a comparison to "world" statistics that I assume are the average of all the other players out there. Now, some of the stats are clearly in error (like the one that said the average player had thousands of scientists), but of the ones that seemed reasonable, I found that I got through the game having acquired much fewer resources than average, in less time than average, and with fewer losses than average. I expect that reloading whenever I lost a soldier screwed up my statistics, and that had I played the "right" way, I'd have had to spend a lot more time grinding levels for my new recruits and attempting to gain total satellite coverage over the world.

Having gotten to the end of the game, I think I understand the plot. Basically, the aliens were trying to create a perfect superbeing who could achieve the ultimate in physical and psychic potential, and they were testing human beings to see if their genetics could provide the raw material for their experiments. With one exception, all of the enemies you fight in the course of the game are their previous failures.

In the end, they get their ironic comeuppance when XCOM succeeds at achieving their goal, using stolen research, and then proceeds to use the psychic superbeing to blow up the alien mothership. Which, you know, is an entirely predictable consequence of their plan, and something they really should have taken better precautions against.

And for that matter, why all the terror, coercion and kidnapping? The thing they were trying to do was achieved by a volunteer using pirated research. Surely, if they had just stated their intentions outright and then asked for volunteers of their own, plenty of people would have taken them up on their offer and they'd have gotten the same results in less time and with less deadly, power-armored hit squads being dispatched to assassinate their leaders (indeed, if they'd just stayed on their ships and not attacked, it would have been unlikely that humanity would have unlocked any of their technology at all).

And it was never adequately explained why XCOM and the Council were so secretive. Maybe it's because they have access to cutting-edge research into dangerous alien technologies, but then, I sold so much stuff on the "grey market" that access couldn't have been exclusive (at least, not for long). Indeed, the very fact that it was a grey market means that XCOM's secret research was not illegal for civilians to possess. I have to conclude that it was purely done for the sake of genre feel, and that the apparent secrecy of the anti-alien coalition doesn't exactly map to any concrete thing in the game's setting.

Story nitpicks aside, I greatly enjoyed XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If I didn't have a hundred other games to play, I might be tempted to start this one over from the beginning in ironman mode and do it right. It was an interesting and challenging strategy experience, and it would be satisfying to actually get good at the game. However, since I'm on a schedule, and I got to the end of the main campaign, I'll save that for another time (although, at this rate, I'll probably have to start a second blog about all the games I've resolved to replay over the course of the first blog).

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