Reboots and remakes aren’t anything new. Some people even go so far to say that there are no new or original ideas. We simply remake, reskin, and generally reconfigure the old method into something new…ish. Given enough time, there are the outlying contenders who manage to make people forget the “original,” such as the Hunger Games and it’s countless homages to Battle Royale from the 90’s. This further cements the idea that no idea is ever original anymore, and that we are simply destined to repeat the past, no matter what we do, or how far apart in time those two instances might be.
But sometimes an original idea returns, faithful to its roots, but with enough new polish and strong renovation, that it doesn’t feel tired, already-been-chewed, or same-y. Such can be said of the sequel to Firaxis’ Xcom: Enemy Unknown.
Xcom 2, set in an alternate timeline where the aliens won the war for Earth, is a prime example of the exception to the reboot rule. Giving enough nods to the predecessors that made Xcom a long-standing hard drive filler for the original hardcore crowd, it ups the ante with customizable characters, more missions of varying types, stricter timelines for mission accomplishment, more intelligent enemies, and a base and world strategy management system that gives every decision considerable weight and impact, regardless if they are good or bad calls.
In Enemy Unknown, players were given funding from world powers, garnering certain levels of money and supplies from these agencies, and over the course of the story, the aliens would attempt to cause elevated levels of terror, which would, in turn, cause these agencies to withdraw their funding from Xcom, weakening it’s ongoing support. Inevitably, it became a race against time to quell the menace before terror levels around the globe reached higher levels, otherwise the funding requirements for Xcom would supercede monthly incoming, causing a financial collapse and a slow death for the origanization. It created a strict timeline in which players had to constantly move foward. It was an organic way to keep the game going without growing stagnant in repetitive standoffs.
Now that Xcom has lost the war, and the aliens control Earth, Xcom is forced to resort to guerilla tactics, instead stealing supplies and personnel, taking what they can to usurp the alien menace. More on this later, however, as I’d like to cover a personal favorite highlight.
Most games these days give you a box-standard character. A set hero or heroine that you can customize to a degree, but in general, remains the same throughout the entire game. This leads to a certain degree of burnout, as the character can become boring, tired, or unoriginal.
With Xcom 2, the sky is the limit.
Every soldier brought into the fold can be deeply customized, from gender, skin color, eyes, hair, and gear, down to the minutiae such as voice style, language, back story, tattoos, weapon skins, and personality. Weapons can be named as well, giving each soldier an identity that players can become attached to, but can be a soul-crushing loss if they are lost in combat. It creates a genuine desire to preserve each one, and cherish both their value, and their identity in the squad.
Missions received a revamp in Xcom 2 as well, expanding from the few types in Enemy Unknown into a broader range such as supply theft, hostage rescue, bomb disposal, and several other types that keep side missions feeling fresh for longer. Also added to missions across the board are turn limits, where if the player doesn’t move aggressively, or resorts to overwatch leapfrog that was a staple in Enemy Unknown, time may run out, leading to losses, enemy reinforcement, mission failure, or any number of other penalties. In the case of a story mission, it could mean the end of the game.
Standing in the way of the player, the aliens have taken on stronger humanoid personas, allowing them to integrate into society and advance loyal human hordes genetically thanks to bioengineering and other fun science ventures. These present in the course of the game as ADVENT troopers, genetically engineered soldiers with enough human features to make them seem “normal,” but giving them advanced combat abilities with which to fend off the Xcom guerilla fighters.
Base management returns this time around in the form of an alien ship that was hijacked by Xcom before the game begins. Players will assign staff to clear out alien debris, thus allowing the ship to accommodate more facilities and staff as the game progresses. Timelines persist as well, forcing the player to make intelligent, calculated decisions about their base, as well as the technologies they want to implement in order to keep pace with the alien threat.
Overall, Xcom 2 has continued to improve an already impressive remake. With build-in mod support, an active community, and support from Firaxis after the critical success of their original title, and the mod-induced frenzy born of the Long War, Xcom 2 will be that nostalgic hard-drive filler I mentioned previously, with people learning to love and re-love Xcom all over again.
Having already been a fan of Sid Meier’s Pirates and SimGolf, I hope Firaxis will continue to provide smash-hits like this one, giving me reason after reason to keep my faith high in their ever-continuing development of titles we can never truly forget.