GameSpite Quarterly 2, #34: X-Com – UFO Defense

My final printed copies of GameSpite Quarterly 2 and the subscriber bonus book have arrived. And they look so, so good. I hadn’t seen the final color cover in print until just now, but it made my eyeballs explode in happiness. Especially the matte “imagewrap” hardcover. If you ever wonder why we do a separate hardcover deluxe edition, that is why. The non-glossy color looks so rich and amazing. Thanks again to Mr. Armstrong for the phenomenal cover art.

I’d like to show off how amazing the books look, but… the sickly lighting in my storage closet “office” does terrible things to the iPhone’s camera. Sorry about that. Please take me at my word when I say the book is utterly and completely gorgeous, though. (The contents ain’t too bad, either.)

I will be mailing out the bonus books, along with the comped copies of GSQ2 I owe various special contributors and the last few hardcovers of Year One, Vol. 1 I pawned off a while ago, just as soon as I return from PAX next week. If you’re due a bonus book and will be at PAX, though, please leave a note in the comments and I will hand-deliver your copy in Seattle, assuming you can find me. I’m sure you can track me down pretty easily if you know where to look.

And now, for something completely not different at all:

X-Com: UFO Defense
The reader-defined nature of this issue of the magazine made for a few surprises, and X-Com is one of them. I know of the game, and I know it has a great reputation, but I didn’t realize it was held so dearly by so many people. Too bad I suck so bad at RTS games and world-building sims. I can only imagine how terrible I would be playing X-Com, which combines both.

17 thoughts on “GameSpite Quarterly 2, #34: X-Com – UFO Defense

  1. Because it’s my favourite game of all time, I feel the need to be picky about this post: X-Com’s only real-time element is the world-building mode; the actual combat is all turn-based.

  2. Ownership of X-com’s rights has changed hands a few time and 2K games currently owns it. Word is they’re working on a new X-com game. ^_^ but the rumor is its an FPS T_T

    Geez, with how good of a game X-com turned out to be, its strange nobody has taken that formula to work out a proper sequel or 3d remake by now. All the imitators inspired by x-com are total weaksauce compared to the original which is almost 20 years old and still a super great game.

  3. Before reading this article I always figured X-com was just a Starcraft-esque RTS. I might have to pick this up on Steam seeing as it’s only $5.

    Sorry if this gets posted twice. I keep getting a time out error.

  4. As the world’s #1 Soup Hamster fanboy, I sincerely hope that it will be possible to order the bonus book at some point in the future. That would be boss.

  5. Yeah, X Com is turn based combat with a semi real time (variable speed) base building part. In fact its so variable it might as well be turn based.

    If many JRPGers want to know why PC gamers tend to turn their noses up even at the SRPGs, X Com is why. Its still so much more advanced than most JSRPGs its not even funny. Admitted, its interface is not as simple and combat is much more complicated and brutal, but its utterly sublime once you get it down. Multiple level battlefields, massively destructible environments, overwatch fire, support vehicles, morale..

    The only problem is Terror From the Deep lets your troopers engage in close combat which is awesome, yet almost everything else outside of a few interface improvements is superior in the original. (Those undersea bases… OH GOD. Trying to find that one last Lobsterman or Aquatoid who found some corner to hide in and you then spend 2 hours hunting the little SOB down and hoping it doesn’t spot you first, chuck a sonic grenade, then go find a new hiding spot.. And then the floating brain guys who pop out, turn your troopers into a zombie and fly away again. Oh.. and the zombies when shot become another floating brain guy! ARRGH!!)

    Someone really just needs to remake the original X Com 1 and add in the close combat options from 2 and the interface tweaks. Up the resolution to 1900 x 1220, and maybe give difficulty options for money, recruitment, finding those last hidden aliens, and such.

    As is I am still bitter I never bought the original on the PS1. It, Shining Force 3 on the Saturn, and Lunar 2 on the Sega CD are games I let get away, and friends all but encouraged me not to buy. No wonder I don’t speak to them anymore. >_

  6. Hey Rufus, you might want to give the PS X-com version a look. Microprose tweaked it slightly with code from TftD. Notably the alien behavior where the AI is improved and some missions would drag due to that one jerk alien hiding in a tiny closetspace somewhere.

  7. I’m not sure if you ever tried out Jagged Alliance 2 (I think you and many other people mentioned it when they talked about Valkyria Chronicles) but the combat in X-COM is very much like that. Jagged Alliance 2 lacks the base building and researching of alien tech, however.

    P.S. I don’t think the comparisons between Valkryia Chronicles and Jagged Alliance/ X-COM hold much water btw.

  8. I’ve plugged it before, but GamersGate has the complete X-Com series for $14.99. Considering I’d easily pay four times that much for the first game alone….

    (Oh, and I think the “definitive” version is the Windows version – X-Com Gold – but that’s buggy as all hell in XP and Vista.)

    And this shows the slant of this site more than anything else: anywhere else, this would be considered SHOCKINGLY LOW for X-Com. It’s the rarest type of game – namely, one whose reputation has improved as time has gone by (CGW, for instance, only had it ranked in the mid-30s when they did their Top 150 a couple years after the game’s release; I don’t think I’ve seen a PC “best games ever” chart that’s had it outside the top five in the past decade or so, and it’s usually #1a to Civ’s #1).

    As has been noted, the Japanese have been turning out weak-kneed versions of the tactical game – which is only about 1/3rd of the meat of the game – for the past fifteen years, and they’ve never even gotten CLOSE to what made X-Com so magical.

    That might be why I always cede Japan to the aliens. Retribution.

  9. Oh, and I think the “why hasn’t someone come up with a good sequel for this?” issue is the main point in its favour as the best game ever made: it was so perfect that no one’s been able to improve on the formula in spite of what I think are a half-dozen legitimate commercial attempts. You tweak ANYTHING about X-Com and it’s no longer perfect and therefore inferior to the original.

    There simply aren’t many games that you can say that about. Heck, I certainly can’t think of any.

  10. Jeremy: I little tip when going to PAX: Take a look at the Ankama-booth and ask for a guy called David Calvo. He´s the lead developer of the absolutely gorgeous XBLA-title “Islands of Wakfu” which he´ll be showing to an american audience for the first time. He told me that many european journalists found it “too childish and too 2D”, so I think you´re probably the right guy in the US to give a proper evaluation of the game. I think it´s one of the most promising XBLA-Releases next year.

  11. The thing is that X-Com, even when you set aside the woefully-underrated base management and limit the discussion to its squad-based tactical mechanics, isn’t really related at all to the SRPGs of today.

    Sure, they share some mechanics, but virtually everything else – from the scope of the maps to the nature of the combat – is completely different and much more in line with something like ASL or Warhammer 40K. When I’m playing FFT, I’m not worrying about establishing a perimeter or setting up coverage around a breach; when I’m playing X-Com, I’m not worrying about cutting down that Archer before they get off their charge attack.

    The “X-Com Experience” (which I’ll cheat and say crosses both of the first two games in the series) has a very comfortable seat in my Top 5 or 10 all-time gaming experiences. That being said, I think the UFO Defense model has plenty of room for improvements, enhancements that later sequels hinted at, but never really delivered:

    – Building entry, which is a huge factor in modern squad-based tactics, is a bit of a mess in UFO Defense, since you can’t enter a ship/base without literally sending your guy walking all the way through the door and it takes *forever* to get sufficient firepower to actually do proper breaching. Terror From The Deep kind attempted to fix this by allowing your guy to open the door without walking through it, but that still leaves your guy in front of the doorway, open to all sorts of reactive fire.

    – Character movement is, in a word, stiff. You can walk (or, later on, fly), squat, and stand up – that’s it. There isn’t a lot of flexibility for evasive maneuvers – crawling, running, taking cover – and, since control is completely limited to a single character, you can’t perform any suppressive fire or other diversionary tactics to dissuade reactive fire. As a result, the game occasionally devolves into this bizarre “walk ‘n gun” pace where you’re methodically combing the map and always leaving time units for your own reactive fire (which is the game’s closest facsimile to a suppressive fire, since it can pin down or outright kill an opponent on their turn); very heady tactical gameplay, but also *very* slow and, at times, risk-averse to a fault. X-Com Apocalypse opened up some possibilities for player movement, but also completely wrecked the series in almost every other conceivable way (wonky hybrid strategy mechanics, departure from Lovecraftian alien design, unnecessary personnel micro-management in base building).

    Anyway, long story short, UFO Defense isn’t perfect, but it’s doesn’t have to be, since it’s still somehow the gold standard for squad-based tactical video games sixteen years after its release. You can do far worse than dropping a couple of bucks for UFO Defense on GamersGate or Steam.

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