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    There are a lot of reasons not to like the Xbox One. It’s pretty ugly, representing the boxy design favored in 1980s electronics more than a modern, sleek look like what we’ve seen popularized in recent years. The name? Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. Those are things I can get past, though. It’s not like “Xbox” was a cool name to begin with, and you can argue that “Playstation” only sounds alright because we’re so used to hearing it. Anyway, that’s all superficial stuff.

    Ladies and gentlemen...the Xbox One!

    It’s not even the expected lack of backwards compatibility. I can deal with that. In fact, I don’t hate it so much for any specific feature (or lack of feature) that’s been shown so far. I think the reason why it’s hard to like the Xbox One is that it doesn’t want to be liked. The Xbox One knows it will succeed, whether you like it or not. The Xbox One knows what you want more than you do.

    The Xbox One: the first console not to give a fuck.

    Not the best slogan, right? It’s fitting, though.

    How else can you describe some of the crap that’s being included as part of the new Xbox? Stuff that you or I never asked for, like mandatory installation of discs, a required Internet connection, the ability to have a bunch of windows on-screen with a bunch of crap going on at one time, and being able to control your Xbox with your voice?

    Sure, you can counter that with, “Well, somebody out there is going to be really excited about all of that.” Yes, and somebody would have been really excited if Xbox One could make grilled cheese sandwiches, too. That doesn’t mean it should have been included. This brave new world of game consoles that are no longer game consoles is not a democracy, though, and popular vote doesn’t matter.

    Instead, what we’re looking at is a console that is full of features that seemingly nobody asked for, but represent a future that Microsoft has already imagined and is doggedly sticking to, whether we like it or not. In this future, what we care about is:

    --Not having to get up and put a disc in the tray (so hard!),

    --Not having to switch TV inputs (the HUMANITY!),

    --Being freed from the oppression of controllers and remotes.

    Pictured: the enemy

    So, in order to fulfill the demands that we never made in the first place, Microsoft went and made a console that creates a whole host of new problems in the process.

    What we’re seeing is the future Microsoft imagined with the Xbox 360, which was responded to with lukewarm enthusiasm at best, is being force-fed to us with the Xbox One. Kinect, which resulted in a grand total of zero classic gameplay experiences that we will remember for the rest of our lives, is mandatory with the Xbox One. You can’t even turn off the speaker.

    Microsoft championed digital downloads of games, and although Games on Demand never really took off like they probably expected, we’re being thrust down the all-digital path, nonetheless. You see that’s where this is going, right? If you don’t need a disc to play the game, why buy the disc? If the console requires the Internet anyway, what’s to stop publishers from only releasing games digitally?

    Please tell me how that benefits me as a consumer, by the way. Now, I don’t own the product that I could have bought cheaper at a retail store by taking advantage of a sale than I instead bought at the ridiculous Games on Demand price. Umm…woo-hoo? Yes, just imagine a world where console games are digital-only! No more annoying retail sales where you can get games for 33-50% off within months of release. Instead, buy them from one source that has no competition and give up all of the perks and rights of physical ownership in the process! Sign me up!

    "Why, when I was your age, we used to OWN stuff!" "Shut the fuck up, Grandpa."

    Microsoft continues to tell us that we don’t want physical discs on our shelves, that we aren’t satisfied with having a cable box AND a game console, and that we want less controllers and more flailing around and/or yelling at our game systems. When we respond with, “Actually, we’re fine with those things…” they scream back, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, DUMMY!” and toss the Xbox One in our general direction.

    But the problem- the problem is not THEM, dear reader. It’s US. The writers, gamers, and fans that make up this wonderful, dysfunctional family that we call the gaming community, we’re refusing to evolve, you see. Why are we so stubbornly clinging to these stupid controllers, after all? Why do we insist that our game consoles focus on games? Why won’t we just want the things that they want us to want, which would make this whole deal a lot easier?

    This business of selling gaming systems would be so much easier if it wasn’t for having to deal with gamers, right?
    Photo Photo Photo

    I'm definitely in the minority when it comes to my complete and utter lack of excitement over what most consider to be a huge month for videogame releases. I'm unswayed by the prospect of jumping into the moonboots of Master Chief, uninterested in pwning noobs or shooting zombies in another Call of Duty, and unmoved by the prospect of assassinating colonial fools in the most recent Assassin's Creed, which just missed the November release window. I won't be getting a Wii U yet, so the only thing I'll be anticipating regarding Nintendo's latest system will be the reviews.

    You can toss December's releases in there, too. Far Cry 3? Meh. I know this may seem crazy, but my most anticipated game for the rest of 2012 is not the sequel to any blockbuster FPS. It's likely Midway Arcade Origins.

    Coming in a close second, the ToeJam and Earl Collection

    Yes, I'd rather have my childhood sold back to me in a nostalgic cash-in than venture into any science fiction shooter or dystopian future where I must infiltrate the something-or-another and make sure Nefarious Bad Guy 32 doesn't do various acts of terrible villainy that will endanger the world as we know it somehow.

    What does all of this say about me as a gamer? Well, like so many of us, I'm sick of first person shooters. I've never been a huge fan of them anyway, but I've gotten jaded enough that even the most excellent representatives of the well-worn genre don't excite me very much. Of course, under the right circumstances, I'll happily plunk down some cash for the latest cynical sequel or soulless blockbuster (*cough* Gears of War *cough*), but these particular franchises leave me feeling as bored as an unsatisfied housewife, though without the accompanying desire to read the Twilight novels.

    The games of the rest of 2012 are asking a lot of us, though. Even a game like Hitman: Absolution, which despite its puzzling marketing campaign promises to bring some creative thrills to the usual videogame tasks of murdering lots of people, has a hard act to follow after we just saw the "stealthy murderer" genre get turned on its head by Dishonored.

    Anyone who reads my blog (all four of you, in other words) knows of my love of all things XCOM, too. How am I supposed to get excited for games like Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 when no matter how much further the quality of the gameplay, visuals, and writing (ha!) get pushed, they will still have an unmistakeable sameness to them? Even a great Halo or Call of Duty sequel is still very much more of what you played the last time out, and for a guy like me who has never been particularly enamored with either franchise, that spells doom. Or at least, it spells "apathy".

    It's a good start, but um, where's the rest?

    Even the Wii U features a launch lineup that is unlike any that we've seen before in that many of the biggest games coming out with the system have already been featured on other systems. Batman: Arkham City, Assassin's Creed III, Skylanders Giants, Madden 13, FIFA 13 (which is really FIFA 12 dwarf the original exclusives like the unfortunately-titled ZombiU, which are in short supply.

    The message from the release schedule the rest of this year seems to be, "Okay, original IPs and genre-defining reboots: you've had your fun. Now it's time for the big boys to play." Well, in my case, anyway, the big boys don't elicit much more than a skeptically raised eyebrow and a weary yawn.
    Photo Photo Photo

    MAJOR SPOILERS for Episode 3 of The Walking Dead follow. If you haven't played it, please, stop reading and do so. Bookmark this page or something and go experience it yourself instead of letting me ruin it for you. If you haven't played any of the episodes, please do so. They're great. And yes, this is the only time I will ever tell you NOT to read something I wrote.

    Like anybody who has played their share of videogames, I've sometimes doubted my ability to control an on-screen character with the agility, timing, or accuracy needed to beat a tough boss or make a difficult series of jumps. Still, I've never had the urge to just hand the controller over to somebody else because a task was too hard or too frustrating. I've never wished that a game would literally take control and go on auto-pilot for a minute or two...until recently. Even then, it wasn't because the game was too difficult- at least, not in the usual sense of the word.


    Standing in the woods, Lee has already committed to taking care of the situation at hand. So far, Kenny has been the one with the reputation of handling the difficult decisions, which in the post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world of The Walking Dead generally means “killing people”. Never mind that I chopped a guy's leg off to get him out of a bear trap without even flinching, or that I offed the family of farmers who turned out to be cannibals.

    He's even started to give me crap about not having what it takes to make the hard choices, and why? Because I thought we should try a little CPR before smashing a guy's head with a salt block? Sure, I admitted that Larry was a “racist asshole”, but bashing his brains in while his daughter was trying to revive him was a bit much. Still, I'm not trying to prove anything; that's not why I offered to fix the situation.

    Even in a screwed up world like this one, no father should have to kill his own son.

    Duck sits against a tree, staring off blankly. His breathing is labored. While Lee talks to Kenny (who is suddenly a widower) on my TV and assures him again that he will take care of Duck, I find myself surprisingly moved by the whole scene. It has all affected me more than I expected- the slowly building sense of dread and inevitability that has been mounting as we traveled on the train and the denial that Kenny was stuck in, thinking that even in this hopeless situation that there was no way he was going to lose his son.

    Even with a funny little glitch that momentarily ruined my suspension of disbelief as we got ready to board the train (Katjaa was suddenly holding empty air instead of Duck), the game has gotten to me. I'm closer to tears than I thought I could ever be from playing a game. Still, I take solace in the fact that while there are few lines that don't get crossed in videogames, killing kids is one of them. It's why you can't shoot children in Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. It's why there are no kids at all in the Grand Theft Auto series.

    “There's no way I'll actually have to shoot him,” I reassure myself. “They'll cut away and show Lee's or Kenny's face and it'll happen automatically or something.” Now, it's time. Duck's breathing is labored, and he's got to be put out of his misery. Wait a minute...there's the reticle, and I'm supposed to aim it at Duck's head. They're actually going to make me do it.

    “You've gotta be fucking kidding me!”


    I've done a lot of bad things with a controller in my hand.

    I've murdered prostitutes in dark alleys, assassinated politicians, and run over innocent bystanders on sidewalks. I've ripped the heads off of fighters from exotic lands, destroyed buildings, and looted dead bodies. I've lied, cheated, and stolen. Even in cutesy all-ages games, I've kicked little keflings around for fun, made Sims pee themselves for my own amusement, and bred adorable pinatas only to rip them away from their parents and sell them for a profit.

    What's worse is that I've done almost all of those things without any feelings of guilt whatsoever (except for maybe selling the pinatas- I felt a little badly about that). Since I generally don't go around killing hookers and blowing up post-nuclear war shanty towns in real life, I figure that the reason for my lack of empathy has more to do with the games in question not making me feel anything for my victims than with my being some kind of sociopath.

    As I did all of those dirty deeds, I rarely felt bad at all. I never really thought that a videogame could make me feel bad about killing an in-game character, especially if it was something that I needed to do in order to fulfill a game's objectives or move the story forward.

    Then, I played the third episode of The Walking Dead.


    I didn't realize that I gave a crap about Duck one way or another until I was tasked with figuring out what had been happening to the camp's food earlier in the third episode. I reluctantly allowed him to help, and his Batman reference made me smile. When we finished the investigation, he put his hand up for a high five, but I chose to investigate further before slapping hands with him. He put his hand down and the game informed me that I had left him hanging.

    So, I reloaded from the last checkpoint and did a bunch of stuff over again just so I could high-five Duck. That's when I first realized that the game was working its magic and actually making me care about the characters.

    Watching Duck get worse and worse after he was infected wasn't easy. Still, I never thought twice about being the one who would eventually pull the trigger when his health eventually hit rock bottom. You can't let Kenny do that, right? To me, it wasn't even a matter of choice.


    The Walking Dead series so far has already been a triumph in many ways. It has successfully brought episodic gaming to consoles and used quick-time events to make a control scheme that blends adventure gaming with elements you'd find in regular action games and shooters. It has made player choices matter in a way that they rarely do in a videogame, all while making those choices more interesting than the usual binary moral choices of whether to throw the cute kitten off of a cliff or give it to the orphan boy after rescuing him from a blazing house fire.

    The best thing it has done, though, is make players care about the characters. After I played the third episode, I read reviews and found that other people cared as much about Duck as I did. He wasn't even my favorite character in the game, but he was part of the group, he deserved a better life than what he got, and most importantly, he mattered.

    Having the characters matter has not only been the coolest thing about The Walking Dead series, but has been absolutely essential to its success. Think about it: if you don't care about the characters, why would you care about the choices you make? If you don't care about the choices, why play the game? If killing Duck doesn't make you feel anything, how has the game succeeded?


    Even in a zombie-infected dystopian wasteland, Duck was in many ways, a regular little boy. His big grin and freckles could have belonged to any number of kids I knew in elementary school or have seen playing around town now as an adult. Now, though, he sits there against the tree, looking pitiful as he struggles to complete every breath.

    It would be one thing if he had already turned; I don't think I'd have a hard time shooting a monster that is essentially already dead. To shoot him when he's alive, though? That's a different matter entirely.

    I sit there for about thirty seconds, doing nothing. I know I have to do it, but I'm dreading it. I get that feeling that I talked about earlier, wishing that the game would take over and do this one thing, just this one thing for me. Even as the feeling comes over me, I'm surprised that it's happening- that the moment feels so significant. I know it has to be done, but moving the reticle toward him, and especially to his head, just feels wrong.

    You don't play videogames without learning to shoot a lot of things. Animals, monsters, bad guys, even innocent people. There's no telling how many times I've pulled the figurative trigger of an in-game gun or the literal trigger of my Xbox 360 controller. Thousands, for sure. Still, it's never felt like this before. It feels...heavy.

    People like to joke around about how we would survive in zombie apocalypses as if they'd be great; and so many movies and games make light of the situation. One of the reasons that The Walking Dead comic, TV series, and now game have been so amazing is that they all remind you that a zombie apocalypse would actually be awful. There would be no place for such simple things as trust or innocence. Even mercy would usually exist only in the form of a bullet to the head, like it does for Duck right now.

    I move the reticle over his head, and for the first time I can remember, I actually take a deep breath and hold it as I prepare to shoot.

    I pull the trigger.
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    I usually try to make my writing well-structured, if nothing else. This is perhaps as a contrast to my everyday life, which is a chaotic series of (only sometimes) hilarious, unrelated, unpredictable, and often horrifying events. Similarly, I seem to gravitate toward videogames that demand some level of organization, and when they don't outright demand it, I enforce it upon myself (see: my stupid plan to hoard every unique weapon in Fallout: New Vegas, my even stupider plan to collect every book in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).

    Even though both games provide plenty of choices to be made, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored both have enforced their own brands of rigidity and discipline upon me, even if they have done so in entirely different ways.

    Not pictured: XCOM, Dishonored, other things that are actually awesome

    I really enjoyed my playthrough of XCOM. So much so, in fact, that I didn't touch anything else until I had properly dealt with the alien threat, even if I got a few dozen soldiers massacred along the way. I'm a sucker for strategy RPGs, with Gladius, Valkyria Chronicles, and anything Disgaea being among my favorites. Therefore, XCOM was right in my wheelhouse, allowing me to devise strategies that ranged from "pure lunacy" to "somewhat effective" on the Strategy Scale (TM).

    My favorite? When I realized that you can't directly attack a mind-controlled enemy, I realized that I needed to do something to deal with my soon-to-be pissed-off mental captive in a couple of turns. So I placed my soldiers around the poor Muton in all directions, then used the Muton's last move while under my control to move him into the middle of them. I used my squad's last moves to place them all on Overwatch. When the Muton got control of his own mind again, he thought to himself, "What the shit?!?" and immediately went to move to some sort of safety, like any sane sentient being would, only to get mowed down by six soldiers simultaneously ripping him apart. I call that maneuver "Firing Squad".

    Anyway, while the game had its flaws: the pacing can be uneven (especially late in the game, since it can be controlled by the player). Late in my playthrough, I was just leveling my soldiers for the final battles without any regard to money (I had tons of money that I didn't need any longer), research (didn't really have anything to do there), building my base (ditto), and so on. Furthermore, I encountered a number of glitches, almost of all of which had to do with SHIV units.

    Multiple times, I couldn't assign active SHIVs to my squad for a mission. The problem would repeat until I dismantled the SHIV and built a new one. One time, I brought my SHIV in and it had no actions available. In the bottom right of the screen, no actions were shown where they normally be located; that part was simply blank. Pressing "Y" (Xbox 360 version) at the end of a turn wouldn't allow my SHIV to overwatch, etc. I couldn't do anything but move and provide cover. Another time, my alloy SHIV came into battle as a rookie soldier with an inability to take cover, provide cover, or do anything but move and perform normal attacks with an assault rifle.Weird, and since I was playing in Ironman mode, I simply stopped using SHIVs since I wouldn't have the option to go back to an earlier save if I had a SHIV glitch in an important mission. It was a bummer, since I really liked using them.

    Otherwise, I loved the game. Loved it. The strategy elements were great, and it may be the most challenging SRPG I've ever played. I'm looking forward to tackling the tougher difficulty levels and endangering the lives of my dearest friends and family again. I was even surprised by how much I grew attached to some of the generic soldiers that I inherited once I got tired of re-naming soldiers to replace my dead ones. Also, I loved the feeling I got that I improved so much at the game as I played through it. It's a challenging game, but a fair one. It just punishes you for doing dumb shit, and I love that about it. The only real reason I'm not playing through it again while we speak is Dishonored.

    Now, Dishonored has forced me to play intelligently, thoughtfully, and carefully, but a lot of the blame for that rests on myself, rather than the game.

    Sure, Dishonored heavily pressures players to play with their brains rather than braun- killing more people results in a "darker" ending (or so the game says; I'm not that far yet), the game's biggest achievements are for getting through the game while keeping killing to a minimum and not being seen, and getting into a fight with more than a couple of enemies at a time is just asking for a "game over" screen.

    You haven't seen me stumble my way through an undetected Dishonored run, Hand Person

    However, I take a lot of the blame for turning Dishonored into an obsessive-compulsive repetition of save->fuck up->reload (repeat), because for some weird reason it got into my brain that it would be fun to go through the game without killing or even alerting anyone.

    Yep, that's right- in the game where you can do over-the-top melee executions or summon a horde of rats to horrifyingly devour living foes, I figured the best thing to do would be to say, "No, I'd prefer to not check out all that cool stuff and instead give myself a massive case of Gaming Blue Balls by sneaking around and reloading saves non-stop."

    I can't be alone, though. When I did a Google image search for "reload save" to look for a picture that I could add a snarky caption to for this very blog, several pages in there was a picture used in a Dishonored review.

    Plus, I have ways to cope. Every now and then, I save, and then just freak the fuck out stabbing friends and enemies alike, slowing time and shooting as many dickwads as I can, or just flinging unconscious bodies to their deaths. It's strangely therapeutic.

    I thought about starting over and playing the game in a more natural way, using my tried and true "Stealth Until 'Fuck It'" playing style that has served me so well in The Elder Scrolls series (where stealth is laughably easy, mind you) and other games. Then, I could do my nonstop saving, reloading, sneaking, and loudly cursing in smaller intervals. However, for some strange reason I'm actually enjoying the more challenging, trial-and-error approach.

    I haven't felt this inadequate since algebra class, and yet I love it.

    XCOM and Dishonored may be different in a lot of ways, but for me, they're similar in that they both require the kind of discipline that a lot of games don't have the balls to ask of gamers these days. I don't know if it makes me a masochist, but I don't mind enforced discipline as long as the challenge doesn't feel cheap (and aside from unlucky dice rolls and those fucking terror missions in XCOM, as well as your usual stealth-related AI detection issues in Dishonored, it usually doesn't).

    Some play games in order to relax. Apparently, I often play them to have my balls busted, and XCOM and Dishonored are all too happy to oblige.
    Photo Photo

    I'll say it: I'm completely hot for XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It's been a long time since I've anticipated any game this much, and I'll admit that even I'm a little surprised by the development. Sure, when I first read about it, it sounded interesting. I love strategy RPG's, and killing aliens is always a good time, after all. However, something about this game has given me a game boner the likes of which I haven't had in quite some time. This list should serve two purposes, then: it will help me figure out why I have such an e-rection for this game and also give any of you holdouts plenty of reasons to jump on the XCOM bandwagon.

    "So then, we got together and said, 'What kind of game will make Jon Hartley instantly goo in his pants?'"

    10. It's Got Ridiculous Difficulty Levels

    Like just about every game made after 1995, it's got your typical beginner mode. That's cool and all. Let the uninitiated get in and obliterate some aliens to get their feet wet. Then, there's normal difficulty, whatever that means. I would assume it means “I know how to use cover and am not out to sadistically get my squad murdered by extraterrestrials.” But then...THEN...

    There's “classic” mode. Yes, the difficulty that would generally be known as “hard” mode on any other game is simply known as classic mode in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. “Oh, you're gonna step it up past normal difficulty? Well, that's cool and all, but don't expect us to be all impressed. I mean, you're really just playing 'classic' XCOM, noob.” Finally, there's the hardest difficulty level, suitably known as “impossible” mode. As we learned from Destructoid's own Allistair Pinsof's interview with Lead Designer Jake Solomon and Lead Producer Garth Deangelis, impossible mode basically exists to F you in the A.

    “We have one tester who beat that mode, so you can beat it!” Solomon said. See? It can be done...technically.

    9. Checking Out the “Ant Farm”

    The home base that you designate in XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not just a base of operations in name alone. No, it will give you boosts according to where you locate it (North American bases lead to 50% less expensive aircraft and aircraft weapons, while South American bases give you instant autopsies and interrogations, for example) and directly affect how your playthrough goes. You'll use the hangar, mission control, situation room, workshop, laboratories, and barracks, along with many other areas, all while using the new “ant farm” view to monitor what's happening.

    It's kinda like a real ant farm, only with less ants and more high-tech, alien-murdering weaponry

    8. It's Got Plenty of Style

    I love the art style in the game, which some of the team described as a look resembling real-life action figures. The aliens have kind of a retro look to them, and new aliens like the Thin Man (who noticeably resembles the Slender Man from the YouTube series) are creepy looking, too. The sound will add to the experience, with the sectoids having voices that were likened by audio lead Roland Rizzo to altered spider monkey sounds.

    The music will retain the eerie vibe that I experienced during my brief time so far with the original PC predecessor, which is good news, as Rizzo has worked on attaining a creepy, atmospheric soundtrack “with a pulse”.

    7. Good Ol' Fashioned Violence

    Sure, I love the idea of agonizing over decisions or coming up with perfect strategies in XCOM. Of course, I also love the idea of blowing shit up and shooting aliens RIGHT IN THE FACE. Hey, what can I say? I was stained by the horror movies and violent videogames of my uncaring, amoral culture. Also, violence is awesome sometimes.

    I'd be lying to myself if I said I wasn't waiting to rip through my enemies with advanced lasers or blow up clusters of alien dickwads with frag grenades. The active camera that highlights the most dramatic moments of battle will only make the action even better.

    The only good alien is a...nevermind, there is no good alien. Except Alf.

    6. The Soldiers May Be Doomed, But They'll Be Awesome

    Customizing your soldiers will be both a fun experience in XCOM: Enemy Unknown and another reason that the tension will be heightened when your favorite fighters are struggling to survive on the battlefield. With customization options that let you name your soldiers and alter their looks while building them up as they level, I don't think anyone will fail to feel some kind of connection with their squad members. That makes the perma-death that is one of the series' trademarks that much more meaningful.

    If your squad is injured, I feel bad for ya son, I got 99 problems, but a stitch ain't one

    5. Multiplayer That Actually Sounds Fun (!)

    I know this sounds completely fucking crazy, but in a world full of single-player games that have multiplayer modes hastily duct-taped onto them in order to add another bullet point to the back of the box and avoid whiny complaints about campaigns being “too short”, XCOM's multiplayer sounds pretty fun.

    The reason I hold out hope for XCOM's multiplayer is that it doesn't ask you to play a drastically different game than you do in the core single-player experience. You're still in a turn-based battle, but now, your opponent is a human being. Furthermore, in the multiplayer, you get to use both aliens and humans to make a squad with the power to force rage quits and angry messages full of homophobic slurs from your opponents.

    The intriguing part of the multiplayer is that you have a point allotment that you have to use to make your force up, so that theoretically nobody will be overpowered. In a way, mixing and matching different units sounds kind of like picking your squad in Ice Hockey for NES, and who doesn't like that idea? (By the way, one fat guy, one skinny guy, and two medium-sized guys is the way to go. It's not up for debate.)

    Pictured: Two teams who are doing it right

    4. Little Things Mean a Lot

    When I play a game like this, I'll enjoy the core gameplay features and the strategy involved, sure. I'll admire the pretty graphics and occasionally even notice the sound effects and background music, but what really turns my simple affection for a game into the kind of love affair that usually inspires stalking and ill-advised neck tattoos of another person's name are the details.

    I love hearing that if somebody gets hurt, your less-experienced soldiers will flip out and run for cover as if- well, as if they've just seen a fucking alien blow a hole in one of their buddies, I guess. When I hear that critical wounds can heal, but leave a soldier's “Will” stat permanently affected, I squeal with delight. Dead characters get a cinematic and end up immortalized on a memorial wall in your base. These are the types of details that make a good game great.

    3. Finally, Strategy Instead of Twitchy Gameplay

    Even with insane difficulty and migraine-inducing decisions to make at every turn, I find strategy games relaxing, in a way. I enjoy mulling over important choices and planning my next move. Feeling on edge as I turn around a corner with an itchy trigger finger ready to shoot whatever I see? Not so much.

    Hey, twitchy FPS gameplay has its place, but let's face it...there's plenty of that shit on store shelves already. It seems like really good strategy games that don't hold your hand and demand that you actually use your noggin are rarer with each passing year, though...especially on consoles. I love strategy RPGs, and the hand-crafted maps, random enemy spawns, destructible environments (blow down a wall so your sniper can get a clear shot, for instance), and weapon advantages/disadvantages sound like they're just what I'm looking for in a strategy RPG experience. Furthermore, since the strategic decisions about what to spend your money on, what to research and who to help actually affects what happens on the battlefield (and vice versa), this game has a rare unity in its gameplay that brings all of its systems together.

    To military strategists, this is known as "the direct approach"

    2. Your Choices Actually Matter

    If I play one more game where I have to choose whether to give an orphan a piece of bread or kick a homeless guy in the balls as some sort of supposed “moral choice”, I'm going to kick a developer in the balls, instead. Fortunately, that kind of tiresome choice will not be in XCOM. That's because in XCOM, you're making hard choices that actually matter.

    With the permanent death of your beloved soldiers lurking behind every decision, will you risk their safety to stun aliens instead of killing them, so that you can interrogate them for information? Will you throw a frag to easily dispose of a cluster of aliens, even though that will render their remains unusable for scientific research?

    Furthermore, when multiple attacks are happening around the globe, who will you help? I remember seeing a memorable Mass Effect 2 ad that showed Shepard looking at the galaxy map, seeing tons of distress signals but only obviously being able to help a few poor souls out. Unfortunately, none of the games in the series lived up to the ad's promise. Instead, just like with most RPGs and open world games, you could receive an emergency distress signal, fuck around finding people's lost personal items and flirting with cute aliens for 30 hours, and get around to helping those who were in trouble whenever you felt like it without any negative consequences.

    In XCOM, you have to choose who to help, knowing that those that you don't help will die and repurcussions (such as increased panic in the area or decreased funding from countries you don't assist) await. Games that ask you to make choices should make sure you actually care about those choices. Remember the time when Morrigan asked you to father her creepy witch baby and never talk to her again? Yeah, expect plenty of moments like that.

    That's a whole lotta Earth for one group to defend from anal probings

    1. Two Words: Ironman Mode

    Okay, three words: “Motherfucking Ironman Mode”!

    If you're going to play XCOM, I think this is the only way to do it. The game auto-saves for you at regular intervals, and you have no second save slot to use. No reloading when a bad decision doesn't work out for you. No saving to a second slot before you make a risky decision. Nope. Like in real life, you make your decisions and deal with them. Imagine the extra tension as you play, knowing that everything you do will be irrevocable.

    Favorite squad member dies? Too bad. A country pulls its funding from the program? Sorry.

    Ironman Mode sounds like XCOM personified. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
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    While Electronic Arts has suffered a seemingly endless string of PR nightmares over the years (most recently for slapping a new cover on FIFA 12 and releasing it as FIFA 13 for the Wii), some of their yearly sports titles have managed to deliver on a level that leaves them virtually immune to the criticism the publisher receives. FIFA has been one of those titles in recent years, with gameplay that straddles the line between realism and accessibility beautifully, as well as an absolutely ridiculous amount of game modes.

    This year, EA Canada set out to not only expand the ways that you can enjoy FIFA 13, but also to address issues with the core gameplay itself. The results have been even better than expected, and the result is one of the deepest sports games ever made.

    FIFA 13 (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC, Playstation 3)
    Developer: EA Canada
    Publisher: Electronic Arts
    Release: September 25, 2012
    MSRP: $59.99

    First things first: there is an endless amount of content here.

    It's almost overwhelming to turn on FIFA 13 and see all of the things there are to do. Inevitably, most people will gravitate toward a few game modes and try the others out a couple of times before moving on, but the sheer number of game modes and ways that you can play FIFA 13 left me unsure of where to begin.

    Career mode returns, along with tournaments, the popular FIFA Ultimate Team mode, a variety of online modes, and new game modes such as online seasons. Virtually every mode can be played online or offline, and no matter what mode you play, you will earn experience toward your football club of choice as you contribute your own earned experience to compete alongside fellow fans against those of other clubs around the world.

    As you play FIFA 13, you level up and unlock rewards in the new catalogue such as celebrations, career mode boosts, historical teams, and so on. This emphasis is part of what is an obvious effort to bring all the modes together and make them part of one cohesive package, rather than feeling like several vaguely-related games that are simply duct-taped together.

    Without knowing exactly where to start, I gave the tutorials, drills, and skill games a try. While tutorials are the bane of the antsy gamer's existence, I've always enjoyed tutorials as both a way to learn an unfamiliar game and a way to brush up on unused skills in others. Since I haven't played a FIFA game since FIFA 10, I checked them out. They were quite limited in a way, with tutorials being restricted to defensive controls, but they were helpful nonetheless in helping me acquaint myself with important mechanics like jockeying and the improved push/pull techniques.

    To work on my offense, I had to head to the new skill games, which ranged in quality from just okay to absolutely addictive. Your efforts are scored as you progress through bronze, silver, and gold level challenges that add difficulty and help you improve your grasp of offensive techniques. All of them gave me a basic understanding of my options while controlling offensive players.

    Still, I was disappointed that there isn't anywhere in the game that walks you through the improved dribbling controls, especially because a lot of the advanced maneuvers are pretty complex and aren't best experimented with in an actual match. Unfortunately, if you want to get the hang of them, you have to go to the practice arena and simply work them out for yourself. Furthermore, where's the button for flopping, and how do I fake injuries? "If it's in the game," my ass, EA.

    For a single-player fanatic like me, career mode was the thing I was most excited about, and FIFA 13 doesn't disappoint. I've always enjoyed franchise modes and their equivalents in sports games, and the way the FIFA series marries player and manager careers is brilliant, allowing you to take over as a manager once your playing days are done, as in previous iterations.

    This year's improvements to career mode are noticeable, as you now have expanded international options both as a player and a manager (managers can helm a national team full-time now), and AI as well as options when it comes to player transfers have been updated, as well. Apparently in the past, the AI would value players like pieces of meat according to a flat assessment of their talents, and now a more realistic approach allows AI teams to view their players as more or less valuable according to their contributions and role on the team. Nothing ruins a good manager mode like wonky transfer AI, so it's an important change.

    EA has put a lot of effort into promoting the Ultimate Team feature in many of its sports games, which is clear in FIFA 13. The mode is overflowing with options, as you can take your team into one-off matches, tournaments, or complete seasons against either AI or online opponents. Promotion and relegation are a part of Ultimate Team leagues this year, just to add a little pressure to the proceedings. You can also take on the "Team of the Week" for a chance at extra coins, should you be able to defeat them. Of course, you can buy packs to improve your roster or add boosts to your team, which is as addictive a process as ever.

    All of these game modes would be worthless, of course, if the gameplay itself wasn't great. Fortunately, it is. First Touch Control works beautifully, as players will occasionally mishandle passes realistically. This means that turnovers occur more naturally instead of happening most of the time through tackles, especially at the higher difficulty levels, where the AI doesn't hold on to the ball as long. The gameplay is still very responsive, and although the tricker dribbling techniques can be hard to master, they work well when used in the right situations. Simpler techniques like shielding the ball and making fine movements with pace control work well.

    EA Canada has made it clear that they don't want players to play like collections of ratings, but like actual people with personalities, flaws, and strengths. For the most part, they seem to have succeeded. After playing with Lionel Messi in the skill games, I picked the Chicago Fire of the MLS to play a few matches and the drop-off in my player's abilities was noticeable, to say the least. Furthermore, player personalities seem to emerge as you play more with or against specific teams.

    FIFA 13 can be a very challenging game if you are new to the series or play at a high difficulty level, but various settings allow you to avoid the always-annoying proposition of being stuck between two difficulty levels. You can adjust everything from the way the AI's defense lines up to how accurate their passes are to get the matches to play more like you want them to. You can also add difficulty without changing the AI by altering the amount of assistance you get on shooting and passing.

    Player creation has not changed much, and you can still make a reasonable facsimile of an actual person to control in either online seasons or career mode. The creation centre allows you to download created players, teams, and tournaments from others, but in typical EA fashion, you can only download so many and have to pay extra if you want to expand the number you can have.

    The presentation is polished, as always. The first-string commentary team of Martin Tyler and Alan Smith return, and they do a good enough job of calling the action. You'll hear repeated phrases, of course, but unlike other sports games where the flow of the game stops regularly and you hear the same anecdotes over and over, matches keep them busy enough that most of what you hear is what's happening on the pitch moment-to-moment, anyway. During the new Match Day mode, they comment on real-world happenings, similarly to the way that the NBA 2K talking heads do in NBA Today mode. Crowds sound suitably realistic and add to the sense of immersion during matches, too.

    In a sports game, gameplay should always come first, and EA Canada really delivered on that front while also improving and expanding many features of the game, too. Whether you call it football or soccer, if you have even a tiny amount of interest in playing "the beautiful game" in videogame form, you won't be sorry that you bought FIFA 13.

    Final Verdict:
    Superb: 9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title in its *genre*.
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