I am a mega X-COM fan. Have been since I played the first game, X-COM: UFO Defense, in 1994 on (I believe) my IBM 486 PC. I loved that game — carefully planning my squad’s movement, researching all the alien weapons and tech, manufacturing armor for my soldiers, and so much more. (For extra cash, I would manufacture Plasma rifles and then sell them off for mega profit, keeping my stores filled with missiles, RPGs, tanks, and every other specialty item I desired.) I was successful in capturing a live alien commander and getting the location of the Cytonia base from it before launching the best of the best (of the best) soldiers from my base on the final assault. It was (and still is) a great game.
Then came X-COM: Terror from the Deep, the worthy sequel that took the alien invasion beneath the oceans (and brought the monthly Terror Site to cruise ships which were SO FUN to explore as I hunted the aliens). I was once again successful in researching alien tech, capturing live specimens, and finding the location of T’Leth and destroying it. Of course, this set up the cataclysmic events for the third X-COM, Apocalypse.
I didn’t really enjoy Apocalypse all that much and found myself drifting from the game (although I’ve found myself replaying the first two games many times over the years) until 2012 when Firaxis Games and 2K released XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a reboot of sorts (the name was taken from the original name of the first game, UFO: Enemy Unknown before MicroProse republished it as X-COM: UFO Defense).
XCOM: Enemy Unknown brought all my favorite aspects of the original game back — research trees, turn-based squad movement, an engineering department to make stuff, the Skyranger transport, and all the original aliens plus a few new surprises. The game offered its own version of the monthly Terror Site attack (with the player being able to choose from three sites with three different levels of difficulty and suitable rewards), and even had its own endgame that you had to piece together from research and interrogations of the live aliens you occasionally had to capture. Instead of the top-down base view, this new version had a side view but the idea was the same — you had to excavate and have enough funds to build new areas (such as an alien containment pen or a new power generator. You had to carefully balance the number of satellites you launched to keep the funding countries happy, and you couldn’t ignore any region of the world for too long or you might find one of the coalition members leaving and possibly even helping the aliens. You had to manage your soldiers and sort them based on how brave they might be in combat or how open they might be to Psi research. Firaxis Games NAILED it. I’ve since played through the game a few additional times, each time finding it just as challenging and enjoyable.
Of course, the news that XCOM 2 was in the works made me do cartwheels when I heard about it. Due out in February 2016, the game will once again use turn-based squad management and pits you against the aliens. But this time… something has changed.
NOTE: I did finally play the XCOM: Enemy Within expansion which pits an anti-XCOM team (EXALT) against you in various skirmishes, but after finishing it, I reverted back to the original XCOM 1 game for later plays. The Enemy Within added some fun new elements, but ultimately I prefer the vanilla version. And yes, I played The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but it didn’t hold my attention. Not a bad game, but the first-person narrative and gameplay just wasn’t my thing.
With XCOM (1), I won the final battle and defeated the alien invaders. My top dog Psi soldier made the ultimate sacrifice (or… did he?) and the alien Temple Ship high in orbit above the Earth was destroyed in a black hole. But now… things on Earth in XCOM 2 are slightly different.
With XCOM 2, the story picks up twenty years after XCOM 1. In this timeline, the XCOM force was not successful, and the council of nations slowly but surely abandoned XCOM and allowed their respective countries to collaborate with the various alien races to create new cities on the Earth where humans are herded, watched over, kept in control… and possibly other darker activities are going on. For all practical purposes, the final battle at the end of XCOM 1 didn’t happen and the XCOM force was unable to defeat the aliens.
But what happened in those twenty years between XCOM 1 and XCOM 2? if you’re an XCOM fan and would like to find out, there’s a new book from Insight Editions called XCOM 2: Resurrection that seeks to provide a few answers and hints about what’s to come in XCOM 2. If you’ve kept away from rumors and teasers and even flat-out spoilers for XCOM 2, stop reading here if you don’t want to learn a few things about it.
XCOM 2: Resurrection takes place a few months prior to the events of XCOM 2 (the game). While small pockets of resistance continue to fight the aliens, most of the Earth’s population have given up and accepted the “protection” offered by the alien forces. These humans live mainly in New Cities — these urban locales all look the same, and spew propaganda 24/7 about the dissidents and how they wish to destroy the shiny-happy place that has been created for humans. Outside of the New Cities are settlements where humans who haven’t yet accepted living in more contained cities reside, and it’s from these settlements that the propoganda gets its fuel — rebels rescue humans who are frequently kidnapped from these settlements during alien raids. The aliens, however, show videos of their attacks on these settlements and spin it as dissidents attacking innocent humans who haven’t yet had the time to relocate.
In this world, XCOM is long gone and the dissidents manage to scrounge by and survive as best they can. Amar (KB to his squad mates) and his squad have been fighting the aliens for a year or more now, picking up new rookie recruits whenever possible from the settlements they visit for supplies and news. During a routine encounter with alien forces, they find a survivor who hints at a large secret related to XCOM — the location of a crashed alien ship that might give a fragmented XCOM staff (who are still alive) a chance to fight back against the aliens once again.
Many of the original aliens are here in the story — Sectoids, Chrysallids, and even the much feared Snakeman is spot — and they’re just as devious as they were twenty years earlier. Tracking devices, routine patrols, and mind control are just some of the ways that the aliens not only keep the humans under control but also use to uncover dissidents. Who can Amar and his team trust when every person they encounter is a possible collaborator? And is the rumor of this crashed ship worth the loss of lives that will ultimately have to be paid to hunt for it?
As an XCOM fan, I loved the book. It’s got all those elements that players enjoy — random encounters, uneven combat (human weapons versus alien tech), scientists and engineers doing their best to try and close the gap in tech, and a squad that the reader will come to know just as they do with their own squad in the game. It’s well-done and stands on its own, with no real experience with the games needed. But fans will be pleased with the many nods to the XCOM 1 game (as well as to the earlier 1990s games).
I’m anxiously awaiting XCOM 2. It’s only a few months away, and XCOM 2: Resurrection managed to give me just what I needed to hold out a bit longer. Author Greg Keyes (a fellow Georgian!) has done his homework with the XCOM universe and delivered an origin-story that provides the sacrifices and the successes of the squad that helped ensure that XCOM will live again.