X-Canonical Enough

Though I had nearly twenty years of opportunity to do so, I never completed the 1994 X-COM: Enemy Unknown because the game is damn hard, and I simply got discouraged sooner or later at just how impossible it was to keep my favorite squaddies alive.  Yet, just two days after getting the 2012 re-imagining, XCOM: Enemy Unknown's "normal" mode lay completed before me.  It was a blast.

When I look at the Metacritic review compilation, Fixaris' re-imagining has certainly fared well with professional reviewers, but there's apparently quite a few players that felt it was a dumbed-down version of the original and they dislike it for that.  I respect their right to have an opinion, and hopefully they'll be as respectful of my opinion that their opinion is stupid...
The thing is, I've recently replayed the original, and I have to say that there's very little to revere about the game mechanics.  By today's standards, it's a frustrating, kludgy mess of a game that was drastically in need of the right kind of updating.  The balance was not fair.  Managing time units was not fun.  Inventory management was a chore.  About the only thing I miss about the original is being able to pick up gear and use it on the field - something that would have saved a great many squad members before they bled out in this remake.  I could complain that I've only got one "Skyranger" troop transport and thus can only address one alien emergency at the time, but that's the point, it's done deliberately by XCOM to introduce yet-another hard decision.

That said, Firaxis certainly threw those who prefer a frustrating experience a bone with the "classic" difficulty: it is not just hard but very hard, and it's amazing they've the audacity to include an "impossible" mode even above that.  I really wish they had included a difficulty in between "normal" and "classic."  Simultaneously, I sort of enjoy the punishment it delivers, as it introduces a few things I missed on "normal" difficulty:
  • Stealth is a thing.  To most players, it's going to seem as though XCOM is a game where there's a lot of static enemy encounters waiting to be "sprung" by walking too close to them (at least, it certainly seemed this way to me).  However, I eventually learned that enemy encounters have already spawned and do wander the map before they are discovered.  What happens is they don't become combative until they detect your team, this whole extravagant animation basically a visual indicator you've been spotted.  More interestingly, that line from the tutorial about how kicking open a door alerts them to your presence is true: making noise will cause enemies to become combative outside of your line of sight, often jumping behind the nearest cover and going into overwatch mode.  If you want to succeed at higher difficulties, you do need to try to be stealthy, eliminating the enemies piecemeal instead of all at once, to the point where you might want to bug out (or reload) if far too many enemies spot you at once.
  • Explosives even the odds.  You don't need to use explosives much in "normal" mode because the difficulty is manageable enough that you can get the more lucrative salvage that comes with taking them down with other weapons.  However, in "classic" difficulty, a well-placed rocket or grenade that takes out 3-5 of the enemy is vital to survival of particularly difficult missions.   Those peashooters you're given at the start are certainly inadequate for the task of one-shot killing enemies as they were in "normal" mode, an weakening the four-to-six health point enemies with a three-point-damage grenade first may be quite necessary to finish them off with your two-to-four damage assault rifles.
  • You're going to have to sacrifice things.  XCOM forces you to make some difficult choices, even in "normal" mode, but I still managed to get through the game without a single battle or country lost, but this may be an impossibility on "classic."   Squaddies will have to be sacrificed to attempt daring shots that may save the rest of the squad, and when those shots fail and the squaddies get squished it's heartbreaking.  Resources are tight on "normal," and "classic" even moreso, thus certain privileges in your base equipment or facilities will have to be sacrificed to bring up vital satellites and interceptors to keep the cash flow going.  It may not be possible to save the whole world on "classic" mode, and whole continents may need to be sacrificed in order to keep the alien terror levels to acceptable levels on the remaining ones.
I hate to say it, because it's a very stressful experience, but "classic" is the way the game is meant to be played.  "Normal" will have you cursing at times, but it's generally a relaxing experience.  "Classic" is an edge-of-the-seat experience where the fate of the human race is not so very easy to salvage.  When push comes to shove, this higher difficulty level really makes you think, makes the game much more gripping, and boosts the appeal through the roof even as it sends your heart plunging through the floor.


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