by Kristin Bezio
So I haven’t played very much in XCOM: Enemy Unknown yet, about forty-five minutes, and most of those I spent horribly confused. XCOM is the first game I’ve played that seems to be a weird hybrid of a real-time-strategy (RTS) game and a shooter, and it’s also turn-based, none of which I actually knew before playing it (although I’m sure if I’d gone through the process of reading more about it, I would have).
What this means is that I have no familiarity with the control system or with how I’m actually supposed to interact with the game at all. I’m playing on PC (yay Steam sale!), so I’m using a mouse-and-keyboard system, and while the game will nicely pop up the hints to tell me that to quietly open a door I need to hit [V], I’ve had to just sort of figure out what I’m doing as I go.
It didn’t help that my training mission was more of a “follow orders and choose the only option available” mission in which I had no idea why I was doing any of what I was doing, nor was I terribly clear on what controls actually made things happen for the first several commands.
The premise of the game is rather predictable, with the opening cinematic showing some sort of alien probe landing in the middle of a street, curious humans approach it, and then it opens and horrible things happen to them. I like sci-fi as a genre, I like the idea of aliens, but I’m not actually terribly keen on the “all aliens are evil and want to enslave humanity” genre. I’m more of a District 9 or Mass Effect kind of girl, really, where my aliens are no more or less intrinsically evil than my humans. But okay, that’s the premise we’re going with, so I’ll go along with you and shoot the aliens. After all, they did eviscerate that guy in the bus stop in Germany.
My first “real” mission began with a choice – deal with an alien abduction in Hong Kong or deal with one in Dallas. I could only choose one. My penalty in either nation was a +1 panic. I’m still not really sure what that means, other than “bad.” I would get 4 scientists if I helped Dallas, and §200 for helping Hong Kong. I don’t know what § actually is, either, although I assume it’s money of some variety. Not sure what the relative worth of § is to scientists, either. So… let’s be unlike the vast majority of good American gamers and go help Hong Kong.
For what it’s worth, I was shown the “panic meters” for both China and the US after I completed the mission, though, which kind of annoyed me, since it turns out that the US started with 2 already and China only had 1, so now the US is up to 3 (and China is still at 1). It’s all very Pandemic. Wish I’d known that before I made my choice. Oh, well.
This is the point where I start to wish I’d checked the little box at the beginning that says “Iron Man.” It’s an option where the game autosaves for you in a single save slot and doesn’t let you go back on any of your decisions. Normally when I play games with complex choices, I’m paranoid about screwing up the narratives so I’m very careful to save before making decisions. Since I have no idea what I’m doing here, I decided not to click it. But now I can see the horrible temptation to go back and redo everything, and I wish I hadn’t given myself that option. I’m going to try to pretend I can’t undo things, though. We’ll see how long that lasts.
Anyway, Hong Kong. Kill the aliens. Okay. I have a combat veteran from the training mission from Argentina who has a rocket launcher. Except he was clear across the map so I had my nice lady from Saudi Arabia kill them with grenades. The German guy got shot, but not killed, so he’s out for four days (I anticipate this will become more annoying later). My two women performed admirably in combat and received promotions (the other is from the US).
This leads me to a happy point about my soldiers. As generic as the idea of a global Council dealing with an alien invasion might be, I do like that all my soldiers are from different places and that they’re (so far) pretty evenly distributed between men and women – even my training mission had one woman and one black man (I don’t know if he was African or African American or African European…) among the four (along with the nice man from Argentina, who is my surviving veteran).
So even if Ubisoft can’t be bothered to include women in its games, XCOM can and did, and I approve of that. Even if they have no personalities. Of course, the men don’t have personalities, either, so that’s pretty egalitarian of them.
The people I “talk” to the most is an American dude who keeps telling me to pick missions and use certain weapons (which I mostly ignore), a nice German scientist who is very curious about the aliens and happy to research things for me, and a shadowy Council figure who reminds me of Mass Effect’s Illusive Man in appearance but sounds like Admiral Hackett. Generic Council is generic.
So thus far I’m not impressed and I’m mostly still confused. I’m not disappointed, either, mind you, just confused. I’m not sure who these people are, who I am (beyond the ubiquitous “Commander” without a face who maybe telepathically orders my soldiers around? I don’t know), or what I’m doing. Call me Ishmael. Or Marlow, I guess.
I am curious to see where this goes