X-Compounded

Last weekend, predictably, went to X-Com 2.  While I generally revile clones, there's something to be said for the value of making incremental progress on a deserving idea.

X-Com 2 builds on the first game on just about every front, ratcheting up the tension with tweaked game mechanics, refreshing all of the enemies and equipment, and providing a new setting:

You lost the war of the first game; aliens have conquered Earth.  Humanity's subjugation is in the form of an uneasy utopia of open alien benevolence in the form of a global police state.  In X-Com 2, 20 years after your defeat at the end of the original, the X-Com initiative is resurrected as an underground rebellion.  You are cast as leading humanity's second chance. 

If you played the first game, what more needs to be said?  This sequel was a safe gamble that the Firaxis team had plenty of talent to pull off.

Some would argue that all games are about meaningful decision making, but I would say some games are better at it than others.  X-Com 2 excels in the decisions it offers you to make, as presented two layers:

Layer 1: the overmap layer, presented as a globe of the world and a cross section of your base.  Here, you make the vital choices of the logistics behind the resistance movement
Choices include where to go to expand the influence of the resistance, which research to perform, which personnel to acquire, where they are assigned, which equipment to spend resources building, and how to expand your flying base of operations.

This layer of the game mostly involves careful management of resources in the form of supplies, recovered alien materials, and the most precious resource of all: time.  Dawdle too long, and the aliens complete a mysterious project that spells the end of the game for you.
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Layer 2: the squad-based combat layer, is presented as a 3D isometric map.  Here, you manage a squad of up to six elite soldiers in direct armed confrontation with the aliens. 

For the most part, your decisions here involve choosing where to move each member of your squad (being flanked or out of cover is a death warrant) and which shots to take against the enemies.  Each member of your squad will have access to unique skills and equipment, introducing a plethora of choices about where and when to use them.

Success or failure on the squad-based combat layer has dire ramifications, both on the overworld layer of the game and also for the virtual lives of your squad.  You will be able to customize your squaddies in intensive detail, grow to depend on them, and then watch them ripped the mortal coil by perilous combat with the alien menace.  For experienced players, this despair is synonymous with the X-Com brand. 

 For a video about how it looks in action, TotalBiscuit provided his usual objective excellence in his look at X-Com 2.

Cementing the bonds of this brilliant decision making game is a rich presentation of top-notch graphics, sound, and a riveting dynamic music score.  This ties together an almost seamless package that proves Firaxis is at the top of their game.  In my mind, X-Com 2 pretty much overshadows everything else going on in the PC gaming world this month. 

Granted, I am not going to say it is a perfect game.  Many people's computers are encountering mysterious slowdown irregardless of beefy specs.  There are also a few bugs, mostly strange calculations and animations involved in clipping or attacking through walls.  With any luck, these issues will be patched out in time.

On a final note, the random number generator in X-Com 2 is a conniving bitch.  You have been warned.

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