Best PC Game Ever
X-Com is one of those rare games that gets just about everything right. I've always thought this was one of the best games I ever played for the PC, but recently began wondering if nostalgia was simply making it out to be more than it was. I've been playing it recently for a week straight, and have quickly come to the conclusion that this IS my all-time favorite PC game. I will tell you why:
The game combines both a strategic and tactical game in one. Both are equally complex and important, and FUN in their own right. As a strategy gamer, running the operations of my X-Com bases is pure delight. One portion of the game is ran from the Geoscape. This is a real-time view of Earth from outer space. It shows locations of your X-com bases, major cities, detected UFO's, crashed/landed UFO's, alien bases and cities being terrorized. Some things, such as Alien bases, you need to find before they appear. Once a UFO is detected, you send out your interceptors to shoot it down. Once it's shot down, you then send out your Skyranger filled with X-Com operatives to secure the landing site. This is where the game turns into the tactical portion of the game.
At the start of the battle, all your X-Com operatives are inside the Skyranger which has just landed at the crash site. As you exit, you may or may not run into aliens in the vicinity. Eventually, you will, and this is where your soldiers take the fight to the aliens. Most of the game you will be behind the aliens in technology, so will need to use a lot of tactics and heavy firepower (grenades, rockets, etc) and some luck to fight the alien menace. As you win fights and secure alien crash sites, ALL their technology is captured and taken back to your X-Com base. From there, you can assign scientists to research ANYTHING. Alien corpses, live aliens, alien rifles, grenades, UFO power sources, UFO navigations, etc. Everything researched has value, whether it's tangible or just information. Do you research alien plasma rifles so your troops have better weapons, or UFO craft equipment so your fighters can shoot down bigger UFO's? You'll constantly be making these decisions throughout most of the game. The research and discovery aspect of this game, especially the first time playing it, makes X-Com one of those games where you catch yourself saying, "I'll go to bed once I researched...".
Then once a new weapon is researched, for example, you get to actually use it in the tactical combat. In X-Com you are always progressing, and seeing the benefit of this progression in actual gameplay is a real joy. Throwing your first alien grenade and seeing it do much more damage than your own grenades, or seeing a soldier survive multiple hits because of some new armor he donned due to the research you've done is great!
The tactical portion of the game is almost like an RPG. You hire new soldiers from your base screen, in the strategic portion of the game. Each soldier has about 8 statistics that can increase the more missions he/she goes on, and how many aliens they kill. They not only gain skills (Like accuracy and strength), but also rank. What happens to soldiers in a tactical fight is how their skills raise. So if you load a soldier up with a ton of equipment each mission, their strength increases, allowing them to do more with more weight. If they fire a lot, and kill aliens, their accuracy increases. The detail is amazing! Each soldier has a first and last name, so soldiers who survive a lot of missions you'll begin to get attached to. You'll see someone like Alan Davies, and remember some of the heroic missions he went on where he barely escaped death and killed the last three aliens with a well placed grenade. Then, unfortunately, some day he'll die and you won't be losing a generic soldier. You'll be losing a veteran who you grew accustomed to and counted on to be the leader on every excursion. Now you have to get a replacement who may panic the minute a friend dies next to him.
The tactical combat, even though the graphics are dated, are still very atmospheric and creepy even to this day!! Especially if you haven't played the game before, the first time one of your soldiers turns a corner or enters a new room and sees an alien for the first time your heart will jump. "What the hell is THAT thing??" you'll ask, and notice the soldier that just saw the alien doesn't have enough turn points left to fire at him. The detail in the tactical combat is amazing. Objects can block weapon fire, smoke and objects can block line of sight, smoke can knock aliens/humans unconcious, explosions can rip holes into the sides of buildings, etc. Each weapon/item has a lot of uses as well. Equip a motion detector, and you can see movement 'blips' around that soldier. Use a medikit on a soldier, and you can use three different things: Painkiller, Stimulate or Heal. Different body parts can be injured to, so you choose the body part and heal it. I can go on and on about the level of detail of this game, but these are just some examples!
The game is highly addictive, and is rightly seated in gamers' minds as one of (if not THE) best PC game of all time. Play it for yourself and find out. Even for being so old, the gameplay is still golden!
While X-Com has gameplay second to none, anyone worth their salt can tell you it has its problems as well. Graphics are old, but they don't affect gameplay. There are plenty of crashes in X-Com, even the Collectors Edition, and especially so now on WinXP. You have to save quite often, but the game is SO good, this will become second nature, and getting back into a game takes a matter of seconds. the only time you'll get pissed about this is if you had forgotten to save in a long time, or after a very long and important battle that you had won. An auto-save feature would be nice!!
Equipping your soldiers before each battle is also a big hassle. It would have been terribly useful if you could assign equipment loads that were automatically saved, so your soldiers would be equipped properly before each battle. For example, some soldiers I designate as (Hvy), which I typically give the heavier loadouts too (Rocket launcher + rockets, medikit, extra grenades, etc). It'd have been very useful if they started with that loadout at the start of each mission. Instead, you have to manually load each soldier every time. A nagging issue that you never truly get used to.
Lots of general bugs, such as loading a saved game that was in tactical combat and had proximity mines down. They are now gone and useless once you loaded the game.
Some weapons/research aren't very useful, such as most HWP's as they die in a few shots and are very expensive, and pistols.
The difficulty can sometimes be very frustrating, especially to casual players. Aliens are generally very accurate, and in the early to mid game you will experience a lot of casualties, even if you win a fight. Especially terror missions! Another thing that is frustrating, especially on terror missions, is that you can sometimes barely get off your Skyranger before half or most of your squad is killed. You get half your guys off, four aliens are waiting right outside, and either blast them all before they can get a shot off or just throw a grenade there and annihilate your entire team. Would have probably been smart for the X-Com team to land a 'wee' bit away from the terror site and then work their way to it.
There's other problems, and annoyances with X-Com that I can't fully document here. They are experienced after heavily playing the game (which most people will!), but ultimately NONE of these problems will deter you from playing it. X-Com proves to the current industry you don't need high production values to make a classic game. Even with the dated graphics, sound, music(which is actually still kinda creepy!) and bugs this game is a shining achievement in gameplay!
The Bottom Line
X-Com is a strategic and tactical game where you defend earth from an alien invasion. You control everything about X-Com, from purchasing weapons and equipment, building new base facilities, intercepting UFO's, researching alien technology, manufacturing new equipment, investigating crash sites and ultimately finding a way to eliminate the alien invasion once and for all!