Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Xenonauts - initial impression

(screenshots all from Steam)

Yesterday, I inhaled a bacon and tomato sandwich - literally - and as I was coughing and gasping for breath, all I could think was that I didn't want to choke to death right as I was downloading a new game!

Luckily, I didn't. :)

That game was Xenonauts, a "strategic planetary defense simulator," which is still in development, but available - and playable - on Steam for $19.99. To say that it's an X-COM clone understates the case. In everything but the name, it is X-COM - which, of course, is absolutely wonderful!

Obviously, I'm talking about the original X-COM: UFO Defense, not the recent remake, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. As I said then, I would have been happy to buy the original game all over again, if they'd just updated the graphics slightly and added more combat maps.

Well, as far as I can tell from a few hours play, that's Xenonauts in a nutshell. To avoid legal issues, the names of everything are different, but the game is pretty much identical. The graphics aren't cutting edge, but you don't play this game for the graphics. And you'll never run out of combat maps, because the community is already developing new maps.

If you're not familiar with the original X-COM, check out this post. Yeah, it's three years old, back when I'd first started this blog, and some of the illustrations are missing. But it still describes the game well enough.

And Xenonauts is all that, plus it's made to run on modern computers, plus it adds a few additional refinements. These aren't things which change the gameplay at all, but just improve on the whole experience. For example, you can create and save default equipment loadouts, and your troops will automatically equip themselves that way before each battle.

Also, there's suppressive fire now. Even if you don't hit an enemy, you can throw enough lead - or plasma - its way to affect its abilities. The game has flashbang grenades now, too, which will do the same thing.

Note that you decide which soldiers to hire and what equipment they'll use. If you want a sniper, you decide who takes on that role and you decide what equipment he'll carry. And you've got all the information you need to make intelligent choices.

Keep in mind that I've barely started this game. And note that it's still in development, still in beta, so not everything has been implemented. But so far, everything I liked in the original X-COM is in this game (only better). And everything I disliked about the recent XCOM remake is fixed in this one (meaning, mostly, that it's just like it was in the original game).

You can build multiple bases, and you decide the layout. (As in the original game, the first one starts with the buildings you need right away.) Your soldiers all have stats, and when you hire more, you can choose among many applicants. Right from the start, you can fit eight soldiers on your transport (with luck, there will be even bigger transports later).

Ground combat takes a long time, and it's very strategic. But you don't have to track down that last remaining enemy on the map. If you want, you can merely capture the enemy vessel and hold it for five turns. (That's another improvement over the original game, though I haven't take advantage of it, myself.)

Keep in mind that I've barely started the game, so these are just my initial impressions. I've only seen one alien species, so far. I have no idea how the difficulty ramps up, what alien equipment we'll be able to research, or anything like that.

And, as I say, this game is still in development. There's no tutorial and not much in the way of instructions. (Search for "Xenonauts" on YouTube for some examples of the gameplay.) I don't know what the final game will cost when it's released, but if you buy this developmental version, your game will be updated with each new release.

But so far, this is X-COM, one of the best computer games ever made. Xenonauts isn't fancy. It's been developed by an indie game developer, with funding from Kickstarter, not by a huge corporation. (From Kickstarter, it received more than three times as much in pledges as it asked for, which shows you how much gamers love the original.)

OK, if you know me at all, you'll know that I needed a new game like I need a hole in my head. I don't have time to play the games I've got now. But I couldn't pass up this one. I missed the Kickstarter campaign, or I would have pledged then. Come on, this is X-COM!

PS. Check here for more comments on this and other games.

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