X-COM - What You Need to Know

 X-COM (or X-Com, or XCOM, depending on which decade the individual game is from) is a storied franchise. UFO: Enemy Unknown, which debuted in 1994, got the series off to a strong start. The game was very positively received and remains a highly acclaimed tactical strategy game, even topping some recent "Best PC Game" lists.

The X-COM series envisions a near future in which aliens have begun an invasion of Earth. It is a highly strategic game that places you in command of an organization called the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit (X-COM). You develop your base of operations, research alien technology, and direct your squad of fighters to protect Earth from the alien attack. The Geoscape view lets you direct all affairs of the organization. This comprises assigning research, selling recovered alien technology, managing relations with member countries, deploying satellites, and directing aircraft. It is an impressively complex challenge in base management that could play as a standalone game. But when you're on the ground, you get the other half of X-COM, a turn-based isometric tactics game. Called the Battlescape, this includes many strategic features, such as morale and line of sight based on cover and illumination.

After the wild success of Enemy Unknown, the series began to see diminishing returns. The second game, Terror from the Deep, focused on an underwater threat and was also well received. The third and fourth games, Apocalypse and Interceptor, started to shake things up with mixed results. Finally, a third-person shooter called X-COM: Enforcer was released on PC in 2001 to a disappointing Metascore of 65. Two more games, Genesis and Alliance, were scheduled but later scrapped. For all intents and purposes, it seemed like X-COM, which premiered as a milestone in strategic gaming, had fizzled out of existence.

Then, "like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the X-COM disaster," according to Julian Gollop, a creator of the game, the game was revived by 2K Studios. Firaxis released XCOM: Enemy Unknown in January of 2012. It held close to the original game, with its two-tiered gameplay of real-time base management and turn-based tactical combat. The game, likely as a result of its respect for the original game, was a rousing success. It revitalized the franchise and was very favorably reviewed.

With the series now seemingly back on its feet, 2K Marin (developers of the Bioshock series), are releasing The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. This game will take us back to a Don Draper-esque era, when X-COM was first being established in 1962. You play as a field commander on the ground. This means that you're playing a third-person shooter but with the ability to pause the game and give tactical commands to the members of your squad. It's a departure from the winning formula of Enemy Unknown--and the last departure of this magnitude, Enforcer, was reamed by critics and seen as the ultimate low point in the franchise. Will The Bureau retain enough tactical elements to impress fans of the original? Will the darker, creepier 1960s vibe add to the appeal of the game? 

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified releases on August 20, 2013.

Update: Once again, it looks like straying from the X-Com formula has not paid off. Early reviews have The Bureau sitting at a 68/100 on Metacritic, a far cry from XCOM: Enemy Unknown's 90.

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