GeekDad Retro Gaming: X-Com: UFO Defense

Geek Culture

While at Maker Faire this last weekend, I got into a conversation with a couple of other geek dads who tracked me down to talk about LEGO robotics. As we stood in a food line, we discussed our hobbies, our kids (all three of us were sans children at the event), and growing up geek. The talk ended with us discussing our various gaming backgrounds as kids, specifically early video games and computer games. I wrote last week about my renewed interest in the Infocom games and we all enjoyed sharing our favorite moments from some of those great text-adventure games. (Apologies to Tyler for spoiling the ending of Infidel… I can’t believe I griped about it without checking to make certain they’d played it.)

After we all had written down some games we’d missed and would be checking out, Sam mentioned X-Com. All three of us yelled so loudly that we got funny looks from the other families enjoying their lunch around us. Who knew a 20+ year old game would still have such an effect on three grown men?

Real Satellite View – Honest

If you’ve played X-Com, then you likely know the draw to it and can understand. If you’ve heard of X-Com but never played it, you’ve likely heard a dozen or more arguments why you should go hunt it down and play. And if you’ve never heard of X-Com, I wish I could trade places with you and enjoy the game again as a completely new and unaware player.

X-Com doesn’t have the modern day graphics as you can see from the included screenshots. It’s turn-based, too — meaning that in combat game mode you specify the actions you wish to take (or more accurately, that you wish for your soldiers to take) and then after the characters have moved, fired their weapons, ducked behind cover, or lost their minds… well, then it’s the aliens’ turn.

Run away!

The game is about alien invasion and Earth’s attempt to fight back. But the game isn’t all about fighting the aliens. This game has so much more: base building, tech researching, manufacturing, dogfights between UFOs and fighter jets, and even money management practice! The game simply doesn’t let up while you’re playing. Once you build that first base, you’ve got to buy ammo and missiles for your jets, build new facilities (tip: get an alien containment facility up fast for captured alien prisoners), select the best alien technology to research, assign engineers to duplicate alien tech, load up your transport, and, oh yeah… intercept and shoot down marauding UFOs and then send the soldiers in to mop up, collect any prisoners and weapons, and head home to rest for the next battle.

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

Once a month, however, you’ll find the aliens mounting a more aggressive Terror Attack. You’ve got to send in your best soldiers, arm them to the teeth, and hope they can exit the transport and get to cover before being ambushed by the surprisingly good and sneaky computer-controlled aliens. (I’ve renamed my soldiers after GeekDad contributors — sorry, Ken, but you were quickly taken over by alien mind control and started shooting at your buddies. You had to be put down.)

As the game progresses, the aliens get more powerful and the governments of the world raise their expectations and reward successful missions (and sometimes ally with the aliens if results start to slide). You’ve got to keep researching, keep manufacturing, and keep building new bases. I’ve just started a new game, but one old game that sticks out in my mind had a final count of 10 bases spread over the globe — the most fun attacks are the base attacks where you’ve got to defend your base from the aliens. Failure is not an option, so SAVE frequently!

Seriously?! I just deplaned!

Over time you’ll discover a large assortment of aliens with all sorts of surprises, including hints of a bigger conspiracy that will lead to the endgame that is out of this world.

X-Com: UFO Defense is, and always will be, one of my all-time favorite games. It just doesn’t get old. You can play a bit, save your progress, and come back later to pick up where you left off — no checkpoints, no multiplayer, and no in-game purchases required. It’s old school fun.

If you like the game and haven’t played the sequel, X-Com: Terror from the Deep, it’s just as good (some argue that it’s even better). I can remember spending hours sending my soldiers to the various nooks and crannies of a cruise ship that was the site of a Terror Landing — those aliens were devious and always hiding in the smallest rooms or circling around to surprise you from behind. (There are even more sequels but I haven’t heard much good about anything beyond X-COM: TftD – any readers want to chime in?)

Why is Ken acting funny?

X-Com: UFO Defense can be purchased from Steam ( for $4.99, an unbelievable price for a game that will give you hours of enjoyment.

And for those of you who have finished X-Com: UFO Defense and are looking for more, I’ve got great news for you — an homage to X-Com called Xenonauts is close to completion. I’ll be putting up a detailed review in the weeks to come, and I’m going to have to try really hard to remain impartial. It’ll be a tough assignment, but I’ll push through and try to keep a smile off my face as I play.

Sharing time — geek dads, any great experiences to share about X-Com games? Please remember to label spoilers or just avoid them altogether if possible. (Sorry again, Tyler, about Infidel.)

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