Thursday, March 28, 2013

Top 5: Things Lacking in "X-COM: Enemy Unknown"

            I love the video game, "X-COM: Enemy Unknown".  it is a turn based strategy game in which you lead an elite multi-national military strike force against alien invasion.  The game gets pretty hard and pretty much requires you to use the save game function to keep from making criminally stupid mistakes.  I find that alien enemies to be varied, colorful, distinct, and really fun to play against.  For the most part the game is hard to complain about.  Here are some of my complaints that I think they should fix with an expansion pack that I would gladly buy.

            1) Bigger Squads.  When the game starts out the strike team you lead is made up of four people.  As you play your squad members level up becoming ranks of Lieutenant, Major, and ultimately Colonel.  As they level up you unlock squad benefits which you can purchase.  All of these benefits are useful, and them most useful one of all is the ability to expand your strike team to five and then six members.  So the number of squad members caps at 6.  To fight alien invaders.  What?
            I can understand starting small but the cap should be a lot higher.  I know "The Avengers" only had 6 team members during an alien invasion... But they have a HULK.  I have guys in Kevlar with rifles (which I guess is a step up from Black Widow and Hawkeye but that is neither here nor there).  Maybe there are graphics issues and the enemy AI can't figure out how to prioritize targets if there are too many, but I want at least 8 guys, so I can have two of each class (Assault, Heavy, Support, and Sniper).

"Think maybe we should send more than just a half dozen guys."
"Think we should wah-wah-wah, I'm a little bitch.  That is what you sound like, Carl.  A little bitch."
"Fine, whatever.  Not like the world is riding on this."
            2) Class Assignment.  When you manage to kill a few alien monsters your characters advance in rank and gain different specialties.  Snipers get to use sniper rifles, have the best aim, best damage, and can see really far; Support can heal, move really fast, and can use performance enhancing smoke clouds; the Heavy can use a rocket launcher to damage a lot of opponents and terrain at a time, and a heavy gun to better pin down opponents and provide cover fire; and Assault can use the shotgun, shoot after doing a double move, and can generally blow through opponents in close combat.
            Here is the problem: you don't get to choose a units class, they are randomly assigned, and not in regards to the weapons they used (grenades for Heavy), the range at which they attacked (Sniper vs Assault), or whether they provided a bonus to an ally through effective tactics (Support or Heavy).  So you could have a unit kill all of the aliens in an encounter and then get assigned Support... "Thanks for the effective fighting kid, here is a med kit and smoke bombs."  Why not just have the player pick the class and show a chart that compiles how many of each class you already have so you don't end up with nothing but Snipers.

            3) More Locals.  There are several levels that call on your team to extract a VIP, or to stop a bunch of giant cockroaches from turning people into zombies (this game is awesome) but aside from people you have to rescue you do not get to interact with any non-X-COM personnel in the game.  No National Guard, No Cops, No First Responders of any kind.
            I think it would be cool to occasionally have to extract a VIP from an area that is under assault.  You have a ticking clock to work against (a clock that is not literal, but is dynamic) you can show how the alien fire power does overwhelm conventional military that don't have lasers and plasma weaponry at their disposal, and you could even take control of a small group of regular military to compliment your strike team.  They would be shitty and practically dead weight there to draw some alien fire away from your important long term squad units, but they would be there.

            4) Bigger Backpacks.  In the game your squad can carry, one suit of armor, one primary weapon (rifle, heavy machine gun, shotgun, or sniper rifle), one side arm (a pistol, though the types get upgraded, and this slot is a rocket launcher if you are a heavy), and one miscellaneous slot.  The miscellaneous slot can store a grenade (1 grenade), a super stun gun (which for some reason does not replace the pistol), a med kit (one time use), or a protective item (like an alien undershirt that gives extra hit points... Why is this alien undershirt not just a blanket upgrade to the armor of all your units, I have no idea).  Support characters get one extra slot.  This is stupid.
            Some of these things are just in the wrong slot, like with the stun gun not being a pistol replacement.  Some of these should be standard equipment for everyone; like the grenade, everyone should have one grenade.  Some should not be items at all, like the alien undershirt, that should just be a generic armor upgrade, increasing everyone's health.  Med kits should just be for Support units and should be multi-use from the start (a special ability for the Support unit later in the game is multiple uses of the med-kit, and it heals more per use).
            Maybe they could just give me more stuff.  Like mines, you set a mine and when an alien goes by it the thing goes off; Cameras that players can put down remotely and see through to cover their back; Thermal Imager allowing a character to see through walls; jet packs or grappling hooks (though those are types of armor later in the game, which I kind of get, I just like the idea that a character wears armor, and wears a jetpack, not just that they are wearing jetpack-armor).  There are things that can be done is all I'm getting at.

Don't even really know why I am complaining.  I never really used these things, they seem monumentally stupid in concept you are the single most visible target on the battlefield and have ZERO COVER.
            5) Branching Skill Trees.  Currently when a unit gains a rank they can chose one of two abilities (some levels only have one ability to chose... so you don't really chose it, you are given it).  These abilities are often of dubious use, but many are awesome.  I like the Holo-Targeting of the Heavy, he uses his machine gun to paint a target with holographic markers making it an easier target for everyone else.
            Why can't I just get multiple ranks of Holo-Targeting?  Why can't I have my heavy just not use his rocket launcher and instead is just the best guy to pin down enemies with a machine gun, and draw giant "THIS IS THE GUY TO SHOOT" signs over his opponents' heads?  If each class had a skill tree, that is to say each decision I made in regards to their abilities unlocked more advanced skills and shut out others, then two squad members of the same class could end up playing very differently from one another.  This is probably hard to balance, and it is probably very hard to imagine.  even with just 4 classes and 7 levels with two choices a level... that would be 512 different abilities to think up.  As is there are probably 60 and that is a lot.

This is a skill list for a very advanced and well armed sniper.  It is attached to a very well written full review of the game.
            And that is the bulk of my complaints, I have other nit-picky stuff that isn't with the game play, so much as it is with the bugs of the game.  Graphics, the ability for aliens to see through things and fire at things they shouldn't be able to, or how clunky moving from floor to floor is because the game freaks out about the concept of height.  Maybe this stuff will happen in the inevitable sequel, but I have no idea.  Still, you should play this game, it is totally worth purchasing.

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