So I’m also an avid PC gamer above all else and the console leanings this site’s taken have begun to raise my ire, especially the retro angle. Now I know that retro gaming is all the rage because modern game developers have their heads up their asses and are constantly confusing graphics for quality. Yeah, yeah, fine, so you got Kasumi’s breasts to flow about her torso in ways that go beyond realistic physics and are now something akin to flubber. And yes it’s nice that they’re in HD and best only on a 1080p screen and you can make out every sensuous drop of sweat that rolls across ‘em. But what about making the god damned volley ball game actually fucking work, or the game longer than 4 hours!?! My god people, I remember when we mocked “The Bouncer” for being so short you could beat it in the time it took to make a baked potato! When did it become the industry standard!!
Point being I became a PC gamer because console retro gaming sucked while it was new. Yea Super Mario 3 was Da Shit, but that’s all you had. And Megaman 2 is a long arduous game of pain and suffering when there was no casual alternative.
(On a side note, I hate that Mother fucking, dolphin-licking, chimp $%#@ing, ass of a syphilitic orc’s $#@%gobbling, #@$^#$@ son of a @##$%@ Dragon!!!)
And Crash Man can (2 paragraphs deleted for content).
At that time, the PC brought us amazing games. Games that could be modded, and cheated on. Games that were long and full of varied and interesting content. Games that filled the dark hollows left in my heart by Castlevania 2.
With that in mind I would like to introduce to you an old, old friend of mine. X-Com: UFO Defense. One of the top PC games of all time.
X-Com: UFO Defense is based on the premise that at some point in the present era, UFO sightings rise at an unbelievable rate. As do abductions, animal mutilations and general probing. Well someone starts complaining, probably Switzerland or Uruguay or one of those other small countries (I'm Texan, if it can fit in my state it's a small country). A proper country would cover it all up and start threatening its own citizens to keep quite, or at least blame it on the commies… Anyway the UN gets involved and creates the international military organization known as X-Com, which is short for Extraterrestrial Combat (yeah I know, but appearantly E-Com had already been taken).
As the commander of this organization it’s your job to build it up, recruit soldiers, intercept UFOs, kill aliens, steal technology and generally do all the stuff Mulder and Scully were too pansy to do. Things involving grenade launchers, machine guns, and cold steal, electrical probin’ for starters.
Now while you are granted a near endless supply of new recruits from the armies of the world. They don’t provide you with a single damned clerk. So the game is divided into 2 parts. But it starts with you picking any spot on the damned globe to build your base. And given the limited range of your starter Radar equiptment, and jet fighters, where you put that first base can influence the rest of the game.
In the first part, you are the CEO of X-Com and it’s up to you to micromanage every facet of the company from base design, to manufacturing, to research and budgeting. There’s enough detail to let you realize that you are in TOTAL CONTROL of this organization, but not so much detail that you get bogged down in flowcharts.
On the downside you get monthly funding from the UN and it’s based on how happy each country is. Fail to shoot down that saucer over Bolivia. Whoops, they’re cutting funding. You learn to hate the UN as they seem to forget that your job is to SAVE THE WORLD and they go about nit picking your every failure via your pocket book. However as with the real world, you can tell ‘em all to go fuck themselves and do just fine catering to the whims of the USA, China, and the EU. And if that fails you can sell alien weapons and corpses on the black market. No really. There’s not a single bit of regulation going on. Muahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!
So you can build much needed bases and pay your scientists and soldiers from your sideline selling advanced bone melting energy weapons to 3rd world countries. If El Presidente isn’t willing to fund your efforts, then there’s probably a Generalissimo under him who will. ^_^
The second half of the game takes place once you locate a UFO with your radar stations. You send off some jet fighters to shoot it down, and one minigame later you either have a downed “weather balloon” or a dead fighter pilot (hint: invest in more pilots and better missiles). Well then you toss a team of soldiers on a transport, equip them with weapons and send them on their way. When they land the game enters a complex, turn based tactical war game. X-Com’s original manual included a section on squad based tactics. Fail to learn the lessons and your soldiers DIE. Well actually, learn the lessons and they die as well. Hell, really there’s no reason to pay attention to them until they survive 10 missions or so. You can hire ‘em by the truckload and each has a page full of stats and abilities and his/her very own randomly generated name. But on most missions expect to loose about 70% of your men, so don’t get too attached. Aliens have plasma rifles, robot tanks, snakemen, psychic powers, antimatter grenades and this thing called a Crysalid (don’t ask…just don’t ask). While you have…a M-16 and a pistol. This isn’t helped by the fact that the AI is a cruel, merciless bastard who will mock you with ambushes and sniper tactics. It’s a rare game that’ll let you loose half a squad to a sniper you can’t see. But then that’s the point of a sniper isn’t it.
Now this might not seem like a great combination of game styles at first, but you’d be wrong. The two play styles merge to create one of the most addictive old school PC games of all time. The micromanaging of the Base modes influences the Combat mode and what you do there influences the Base mode. You eventually have to start trying to take aliens alive in the hopes of interrogating one and learning something of their evil plan. You’ll find yourself planning complex strategies involving raiding alien ships for fuel and ammo while selling off the rest to the highest bidder. You have to plan attacks on massive alien bases and defend your own from random revenge attacks during which you fight in the base you just designed. Put a choke point in every base you design and you might have a chance. And that’s all before you learn you can activate your own troops’ psychic powers. This is one of those games where you can easily log in over 100 hours and not realize it.
Well X-Com: UFO Defense was a critical success, so much so it’s still being played avidly today. And it was soon followed by X-Com: Terror from the Deep, an undersea version that was more of a full conversion mod of the original but HARDER.
And then X-Com: Apocalypse, which just lost the whole point of the series. You were in a city and it was real time and…you know what? Never mind, it’s just not worth it.
Sadly Apocalypse opened the door for a lot of really crappy sequels. X-Com: Interceptor (a bad Wing Commander rip off) and X-Com: Enforcer (which was so bad it’s wanted for statutory rape in Tennessee). And so the series went the way of all old greats. It’s promised “Great Sequel” that would fix everything got delayed and delayed, then canceled, resurrected, and canceled again. And now it’s dead.
If you’re interested in giving it a go, the original X-Com games are available for purchase via Steam. There are a few other “spiritual successors” to the series (any PC game titled “UFO: Whatever” but in general they all suck mightily. Both X-Com: UFO Defense and Terror From the Deep are old enough that in some cases they can be downloaded for free online depending on the site. However these are DOS games and the one thing that makes buying the Steam version of either worth it is that they come with all of the patching required to get them to run on windows, which is well worth the price (ie: $5 per or $15 for every game in the series).
Then only gleam of hope/joy in this miserable existence of X-Com fandom is that the X-Com IP is currently owned by Take-Two Interactive Software and Bioshock creator Ken Levine is rumored to be working on a new game based off of the series. This falls somewhat under the heading of "Oh sweat and merciful god please let it be so!"