XCOM: Terror from the Deep

Released in 1995, the sequel to the original XCOM: UFO Defense was the first game of it’s kind that I had ever played. Part tactical squad game, part planetary defense simulation, and part RPG, the game put you in charge of a global defense initiative fighting against an invading alien force. The aliens are using submarines and advanced weaponry to terrorize the seas and ultimately take over the Earth. You have to build up from a poorly equipped defense force into a global initiative that will fight back and defeat the alien threat.

One of the first things the game does is throw you head first into the deep end of the pool with no life jacket, no water wings, and little to no guidance on how to swim. It them pummels you with choices, invasions, and brutal tactics that cause you to lose half of your squad in the opening minutes of play. It is this thoroughly merciless approach that makes the game feel so real and then so rewarding when you finally figure out what to do and how to repel the alien threat.

Geoscape-2013-09-02   Base1-2013-09-02

Surviving the First Month

When you first enter the game, you’ll be looking at the Geoscape. This is a virtualized globe that you can navigate either by right-clicking or using the controls in the bottom right of the screen. The game asks you to select where you first base will be. Since XCOM:TFTD is about fighting an aquatic threat, the base must be placed underwater. I recommend somewhere in the middle of a big ocean (see the geoscape screenshot above and the placement of my first base; the pale blue dot). Once you have constructed your base you must then recruit some personnel and build a few facilities. Click Bases from the main menu (top-right in Geoscape display) and then select Build Facilities. You’ll want some additional living quarters and an alien containment. Choose a location for the new pods by clicking over an open tile in the overhead base layout view. You have to connect new pods to existing ones. You can see my alien containment facility in the base view screenshot above. Once you’ve started construction, you’ll want to being researching some weaponry. Click Research from the list and select the Gauss Rifle, then assign scientists (I’d recommend all ten) and begin the research project. Finally, click Purchase/Recruit and order some new aquanauts (your combat units) and some more scientists. You’ll need a lot of scientists to perform more research in the coming months. I’d recruit 5 new aquanauts and 5 new scientists for now.

Return to the Geoscape and advance time at a rate of 1 hour. This speeds things up and lets some of the projects you’ve queued up begin to occur. Sooner or later you’ll spot an alien submarine contact. Once you encounter aliens you’ll need to first intercept a submarine, shoot it down, and then dispatch a triton filled with aquanauts to investigate the enemy craft. Combat is a whole other topic and one that takes practice and patience. Don’t get discouraged if the first few fights are a mess. This game is designed to be brutal. The aliens are supposed to overpower you at first. They have better technology, greater numbers, and don’t care how many units they lose. As you kill a few and research their technology, the fights start to become a little less one-sided.

If I get the time, I might try to post a few more screens and detail combat mechanics. If you haven’t tried the early XCOM games, they really are worth the few dollars they cost these days. If something new is more your speed then check out Xenonauts. It’s a new revisiting of the old classic games and looks to be incredibly faithful to their original designs. Be aware that it is still only an early access preview, meaning that lots of things probably won’t work right just yet.

For now, I’m returning to some more XCOM: Enemy Unknown; the new version from Firaxis that has me beyond addicted. It’s a bloody good game. Not as deep as the originals but still very, very enjoyable.

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