Only at the turn of the year has it been announced that there will be another game based on the X-COM franchise. This one much more pleasing to the conservative nerd faction who doesn’t like things that deviate from the way things were in 1994.
A quick refresher: XCOM is in development at 2K Marin, the fine folks who brought us Bioshock 2. It’s going to be an interesting hybrid game of first person shooting, research, planning and tactics. Set in the 1950s, it features a quite unique art style, especially when it comes to the alien menace that’ll be fought.
The newly announced XCOM Enemy Unknown is being developed by Civilization developer Firaxis. It promises to be the same game from the 90s only with better graphics. It's just what the hordes that bemoaned the treachery of 2K Marin demanded.
Judging by the screenshots, XCOM Enemy Unknown looks boring and uninspired. A bald, grizzled space marine in hockey pad power armor is duking it out with cardboard cutout aliens. Yawn. Thematically, this game has already put me to sleep. Everything about it screams tried and true. It’s taking the safe path, offering the people that hate change just more of the same drivel that they’ve been playing for the past umpteen years.
Yes, there may not be that many turn based strategy games out now. But even that genre has evolved, there are several modern day (spiritual) successors to the X-COM heritage. There is Frozen Synapse. There is Atom Zombie Smasher. Is it really necessary to re-heat this franchise by the numbers (as opposed to the re-imagining 2K Marin does)?
This seems like an obvious money grab. X-COM (or XCOM) as a brand lives by being generic. It’s a brand that doesn’t have much of an own identity beyond featuring cheesy aliens on a thematic level.
Essentially my problem isn’t with the game per se. It’s mostly with the tired rehash approach, especially when there’s another game in the pipeline that really takes the ideas of the original formula back to the drawing board. Reheating XCOM like this seems to me a lot like the downpour of franchises from the 80s that are now rediscovered and remade without taking into account that the world has long since moved on. I have no problem with what’s commonly called a reimagining, with the approach 2K Marin is taking to this franchise, or with the approach Starbreeze is taking to Syndicate. Those look like great, interesting games that take the essentials of the original IP and roll with them in a creative, interesting and new way.
XCOM Enemy Unknown itself however seems more like the dreadful remake of Turok that appeared some time ago and disappeared again shortly after. I have no doubt that the game will be the far superior game to the likes of Turok, however I don’t think it’s necessary to basically just go and reskin a game from the 90s to appeal to a hardcore fanbase.
To top it all off, I am a bit afraid that Enemy Unknown might steal the thunder of the much more interesting and daring game—the one set in the 1950s. This situation is a bit like having the Battlestar Galactica of Ronald D. Moore compete with another, more faithful and by the numbers remake of the same material. One is a daring step in a new direction. The other is just playing it safe, with less interesting ideas to offer and less overall artistic merit.