As-I-Play XCOM: Final Battle! (Part Nine)

by Kristin Bezio

So, as the title suggests, this is about the final battle. I was anticipating a horrible, long, drawn-out slog requiring a lot of restarts. I had a few issues with accidentally sending my soldiers to places I didn’t want them to go (because the room has multiple levels, I had some issues with clicking on the top level – or so I thought – and they’d run into the middle of the mess), and rather than deal with that, I just restarted from my previous save.

But I only spent a half hour before killing the three Ethereals and one of the two Mutons (because I killed the Big Bad Ethereal before I killed the second Muton, and then it was over). As is often the case, it was a little anticlimactic. Not the battle, specifically, as that was a bit of a challenge which I was very carefully pussy-footing through (so it isn’t like I just charged in and killed everything… I was sneaky and spy-like and crept around the outside of the room picking the aliens off), but the aftermath.

SPOILERS BELOW Just in case you care, which I’m guessing you don’t, since you’ve been reading a series in which I regularly spoil all the things.

No epic Mass Effect-style cinematics of my team hauling ass back through the ship (I saw three of them leave the room), then Moira stopping and looking back at the purple ball. Then going “Oh, gee, it looks like it’s going to do something upsetting. Maybe I should stay and poke it, since it looks like it’s about to explode rather nastily and it’s right over Brazil.”

And then physics breaks.

The ship develops some sort of ultra-gravitational pull, sucking water up from the Atlantic and pulling cars and parts of skyscrapers from… I have no idea where. Apparently even the XCOM base back in Germany is feeling the seismic repercussions of what I’ve just done, although the ship is still just hauling glass and cars across some undetermined metropolis.

And then the German Scientist announces that the ship is turning into a black hole, and “at this distance” the Earth is about to be destroyed.

Moira, being the champ that she is, decides that she’s screwed either way, and uses her newfound mind powers (I’m a little sad I only tested her new psionic vortex power once) to steer the ship, which occasions the fabulous interchange:
XO: “Which direction is it going?!”
mook gives a blank stare
XO: “Which direction?!”

And then, somewhere in or just beyond the Earth’s upper atmosphere, it explodes.

To paraphrase Morbo: “Black holes do not work that way!”

If a black hole had exploded in the upper atmosphere, the Earth, the solar system, and a huge portion of the outside ring of the Milky Way would have been obliterated by the event horizon and ejected in a lovely plume of epic destruction. But okay. I’ll accept that Moira-the-Magical somehow kept that from happening.

And then the same ship-returning animation played and my stats popped up. I click through those, and the credits appear. If you sit through the credits, you are kicked abruptly back to the menu screen. The end. No final scene of celebratory victory, no seeing your five (or however many) surviving squad members coming back to base. No partying in the cities around the world a la the end of the digitally remastered Return of the Jedi. Just blip and you’re staring at the open car, the archaic cell phone on the ground, and the little alien scrabbling down the road.

That’s where it was underwhelming. Now I know I’ve been spoiled by games like Mass Effect and Dishonored and Dragon Age and BioShock to final cinematics that show me resolution of some sort (please reserve comments about the ending of Mass Effect 3, since that’s a very extended post that I made back when it came out), but even a “hurrah!” would have given me some closure here. Other than “Up?” and some shooting-star-spaceship-debris. But that’s really a minor gripe, all things considered.

So my final consensus on the game? It was okay. If you like combat strategy – particularly if you’re a minis gaming kind of person – you’ll probably really like it. If you like micromanaging your team in RPGs like Mass Effect (rather than more or less letting them do whatever they want), you’ll probably really like this XCOM. If you’re still obsessed with Civilization, you’ll probably also like it – meaning that had I played this a decade ago, I would have been as obsessed with it as I was with Civ III.

But I’ve grown by and large too impatient for turn-based play, even strategic play. I don’t even have the patience for most tower defense and RTS games anymore. Every now and then one of them will keep me occupied for a good long time, but they just don’t grab me the way RPGs do. And that’s okay.

Taking that into consideration, for all my periodic whining about grinding, I never really considered giving up on XCOM. I never actually thought “Ugh. I’m only playing this to finish this blog series.” I did occasionally wish that my soldiers would level up faster, but I never really contemplated quitting. For me, that means that XCOM had enough challenge and interest to keep me wanting to play a type of game I wouldn’t ordinarily want to play. When I sat down to play, I wanted to play – I wasn’t ever excited to play, but I wanted to keep going, to do the next thing, to level up my psionic soldiers or see if I couldn’t get another Assault or Sniper up to Colonel.

I’m not going to give it stars – I don’t have enough experience with the genre (or like the genre) to pass that strict of a judgment – but I will say that I liked XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Once I decided to try to keep my soldiers alive (and I lost six total), I started to like them, despite their apparent lack of inherent personalities. I enjoyed the challenge of flanking aliens, of keeping my new soldiers alive long enough to make it through the ranks, to build a squad of all psionics, etc.

Long story short, if you like strategic, turn-based play and/or RTSs, you’ll probably really like XCOM. If you liked the old XCOM, you’ll like this one. If you’re going to give this genre a shot, I’d recommend trying this one. Thumbs up. Worth buying (especially since I got it on Steam sale). Will I play it again? Probably not. But maybe. And for me, that’s pretty darn good.

Next up in the As-I-Play queue: Borderlands 2: Game of the Year Edition.

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