What makes XCOM work?

Having spent about 20 hours or so playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown (and recording a “Let’s Play” video series of my efforts), I’ve been thinking about what makes it work. There are two distinct aspects to this question — one, what makes it “work” as a modern game; and two, why does it have such appeal — as simplified as it is — to a fan of the original X-Com series like me?

First off, turn-based strategy games are not exactly a thing of the moment. It’s true that new iterations of Civilization do fairly well, but they’re certainly not the games industry darlings that, say, modern military shooters like the Call of Duty games are. In terms of audience share, turn-based strategy doesn’t have the appeal it did in 1993, when Microprose released the original X-Com: UFO Defense.

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My first YouTube “Let’s Play” series!

“Let’s Play” series are a thriving subgenre on YouTube. They’re basically videos or video series where gamers record themselves playing a game and providing commentary. Well, here’s my first entry into the fray, and I’m very excited that it’s a great one: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ spiritual successor to 1993’s X-Com: UFO DefenseThe latter is a classic by MicroProse that I spent countless hours playing as a kid, and the former is a big-budget reboot that makes some concessions to modern game conventions while keeping the tension and core of the original game intact. Give it a watch and see what you think.

Warhammer 40K – Dawn of War II

I picked up the masterful 2009 THQ title Dawn of War II (along with expansions Chaos Rising and Retribution) on a Steam sale for about $15 USD last weekend, and have been having a wonderful time with its tactical real-time Ork-blasting goodness. You don’t need to take my word for it — the critics agreed that Dawn of War II was not just a worthy successor to the original game, but a brilliant RTS in its own right.

My Blood Ravens fire on an Ork squad in the Dawn of War II campaign.

What’s depressing about the whole experience is that it underlines how clearly Bliz- zard’s Starcraft is a complete design ripoff of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which came to fame in Games Workshop’s still-popular (well, among grognards) tabletop miniatures-and-dice game. Each faction in Starcraft’s universe is virtually a cosmetic carbon-copy of a Warhammer 40,000 faction — Starcraft’s “Terrans” look suspiciously like the Space Marines, the Protoss are similar to the Eldar, and — perhaps most damningly — the Zerg are Tyrannids with new paint jobs.

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