Back in college, I learned about X-COM: UFO Defense from a friend of mine. It was confusing, it was hard as hell, but it was easily the most involved and all-encompassing strategy game I’d ever seen. “Defend the Earth from an alien invasion” is the premise and it includes everything involved in that mission.

It took me watching a YouTube playthrough to figure out how the game should work. Action points were killing me and the limited vision was strange. I learned how I should be throwing flares EVERYWHERE so I can see aliens before they can see me. I learned how doors are the ultimate enemy in X-COM. I didn’t learn that sending soldiers equipped with rocket launchers on missions involving Ethereals, who can mind control soldiers from anywhere on the map, was a bad idea (RIP Team Trek, you never saw that rocket coming).

It was a tough game and had a hell of a learning curve. It’s also one of the greatest gaming experiences I have ever had. Each research felt unique and exciting. Even if they had no practical applications, learning about the aliens felt like I was gaining intel on my enemies. The permadeath made me attached to my teams and losing soldiers was hard, especially when I knew a sacrifice had to be made.

Some players may not be willing to overcome the learning curve required to enjoy this game. YouTube thankfully makes it much easier to learn than it was in the 90’s but it’s still a lot, especially considering the newer XCOM games are much easier to get into. And for that, I say, go for it. The new XCOM games are great games and I highly recommend them. But the originals have their own, unique charm and if you’re willing to put in a bit of effort to learn them, I think they’re still worth it.

4/28 – X-COM: UFO Defense

Hello and welcome. My name is Katosepe and I’ll be your host for today’s Video Game of the Day.

Today is the first game of DOS week where we’ll be talking about some popular and some obscure DOS titles released in the 80’s and early 90’s. Today, let’s talk about UFO: Enemy Unknown, known as X-COM: UFO Defense in the US. For continuity with the later games in the series, I will be referring to this game by the US title, X-COM: UFO Defense. X-COM was developed by Mythos Games and Microprose and was released on MS-DOS and Amiga in 1994.

X-COM: UFO Defense sees the Earth faced with imminent invasion by unknown alien forces who have been abducting citizens. After several nations try to mount attacks and fail, the world comes together to form the X-COM unit, a world-united force managed by the player. It is the player’s job to defeat the aliens and protect the Earth by any means necessary.

X-COM gives players full managerial control over this organization. Games start with the player determining where on Earth they would like to set up their headquarters. Once chosen, players must manage their base, soldiers, vehicles, research and other resources to mount a full campaign against the alien invaders. Players receive money from the various partner nations at set periods of time but this requires players to maintain adequate relationships with those nations, otherwise they may pull out of the agreement. This is done by watching a global monitoring system for alien attacks or vessels. Players can then send their own soldiers to combat the aliens as they land. Ignoring an attack for too long will lower the attacked nation’s opinion of X-COM. In order to watch for attacks, however, the player must make sure they are maintaining satellites or secondary bases around the globe, otherwise, attacks may not be noticed until it is too late.

When sending troops on a mission, players are also expected to manage the individual soldiers on the field. Battles play out as turn-based strategy missions where each soldier has a number of action points which allow them to carry out a number of actions such as moving, crouching behind cover, using items or firing upon enemies. Players can move all of their soldiers before the aliens then move their own. Battles carry long-term consequences so soldiers who are hurt must recover before they can fight again and anyone who dies, is gone for good. Alternatively, soldiers who fight well in battle can level up and gain access to new abilities and powers which they can use in future fights.

X-COM: UFO Defense received extremely high critical and fan reviews, with many praising the immense depth of the game’s many varied mechanics. It was even called one of the best PC strategy games ever made. The game spawned several direct sequels although none were as well received as the original. While the modding community lived on, the X-COM series ended in 2001 after releasing four more games. That is, until Firaxis Games bought the license and brought the series back in 2012 with their highly acclaimed XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The series is still ongoing with the latest release being the expansion to XCOM 2 titled: War of the Chosen.

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