Contrary to what you might think, I didn’t outright condemn the FPS XCOM “update” when I first saw it. I was sceptical about how good it would be, yes, but unlike some old classics there’s definitely room to adapt the basic tenets of X-COM gameplay to a first person game. Hell, game developers recognised they had this latitude over a decade ago when FPSes were still a hot new thing and not the tired old warhorse of gaming. Unfortunately after the screenshots and videos revealed scripted alien encounter cutscenes along with an uncanny proliferation of waist-high cover rather than the Rainbow Six-style tactical shooter I’d envisaged, any hopes I might have had for X-COM were dashed barring 2K Games suffering a sudden rash of sanity and also giving the licence to a dedicated strategy game developer like Firaxis.
Which is why I was somewhat surprised to discover, upon getting out of bed yesterday, that they had done exactly that.
Let’s be clear about this. There are still several significant question marks hanging over what exactly Firaxis are eventually going to churn out onto my hard drive. For starters there’s the parallel console/PC development issue, which means they’re going to have to make some concessions to the consoles even if it’s just in terms of controls and UI. For seconds, Firaxis’ prestige is somewhat dented after the bug-ridden release of Civ V –and whatever you might think of the game now I think everyone agrees that it was in a sorry state on release – while their previous updates of classic Microprose strategy games haven’t exactly had the best results. Even Pirates!, the Good One, suffered in comparison to the original because Firaxis failed to adequately disguise the fact that it was essentially a collection of minigames this time around. Based on their track record of the past few years their true update of Enemy Unknown is by no means guaranteed to be a surefire hit.
But then there’s this. Even though the cynical side of me is screaming that this is exactly the sort of marketing gambit you’d open with given the amazing level of grumpiness die-hard X-COM fans displayed over the FPS version, even though I can probably find a similar video of Jon Schafer saying the same kinds of things about Civilization V, I can’t help but be somewhat enthused that these three guys, at least, seem to hold Enemy Unknown in high regard and – far more importantly – cite many of the facets that made it such an engrossing strategy experience as critical gameplay elements. It gives me some hope that the final product will be something regarded as being a worthy continuation of the series a la Apocalypse, even if it doesn’t quite manage to bottle the same lightning the original did.