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E3 2012: The Big Question:
XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Posted on June 5, 2012 AT 11:47am

Will XCOM be the game to get shooter fans into the real-time strategy genre?

There’s no question that the once-mighty real-time strategy genre has fallen on hard times. Part of it has to do with the fact that PC gaming’s roller-coaster ride of popularity with gamers over the last decade saw strategy games take a direct hit to sales in favor of blockbuster MMORPG and FPS titles, but part of it also had to do with the rise of console gaming and the general difficulty these types of games have in translating to Controllerville. And, either way you slice it, there just aren’t that many big-ticket RTS games on consoles these days.

So, one has to wonder why publisher 2K Games thinks that XCOM: Enemy Unknown has a knife’s chance in a lasergun fight—much less why they’d bring one to market that essentially targets the exact same demographic as Microsoft’s Halo 4 and Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines. But after going a few rounds with the xenophobic thinkfest at the show, I have to say I’m starting to get why they think they might make a dent.

For starters, the game takes much-needed cues from some successful console RTS control schemes like EA’s Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II and Halo Wars, offering up friendly navigation that offsets the genre barrier somewhat. It’s a snap to move characters around, make use of special equipment and abilities, and position your squad on various rooftops as you carefully progress through environments, meaning that, if nothing else, the basics are here—and they’re enticingly playable.

Another aspect that weighs heavily in developer Firaxis’ attempt at a console invasion is the franchise itself, which has always been megapopular with its fans. But in finding itself in front of a new audience, there’s the sense that Enemy Unknown will probably do a lot more for the average gamer than the historical or unit-micromanagement festivals we typically see on the PC. The game’s alien-invasion theme (as seen in Resistance, Halo, Gears, et al.) is familiar to most gamers, the character design and progression look both intriguing and addictive, and the mid-mission management of the XCOM organization itself is extremely well done, even in this early state.

Beyond that, what works in Firaxis’ favor is the fact that XCOM’s this well-polished fish, and the rest of the RTS pond is essentially empty this fall. That means that gamers who are sick and tired of first- and third-person shooters and the like will finally have an escape from the same-ol’, same-ol’, and that alone could be major in light of how well-tuned Enemy Unknown looks already.

It won’t exactly talk me out of skipping 343’s first entry into the Halo saga, but if this demo’s any indication, there’ll definitely be room for both in my gaming library this holiday season—and that’s as good a start as any, right?

What about y’all? Will a sci-fi theme and solid controls be enough to get you to take the strategy plunge, or would you rather control your shootouts against the alien masses in real time? Let your voice be heard!

Brandon Justice, Executive Editor
Brandon Justice spent the last 17 years in the game industry wearing hats as an annoying retail weasel, an overly opinionated journalist, and game-development ninja—until he got tired of the all the caviar and groupies, returning to the ring as a rowdy, rambling writer in 2010 for EGM Media. Follow him on Twitter @jokeontheworldMeet the rest of the crew.

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