I've been on D-toid for quite some time, and I got into video games back in the NES days.
My console history pretty much goes like this...NES->Genesis->Playstation->PS2->Xbox 360 (+PS3). I've also briefly owned an N64, Dreamcast, and a bunch of portable systems. Because I missed out on a good three generations of Nintendo, I've also missed out on plenty of classics. Plus, I had years in high school where I didn't play games much at all, or stuck mainly to (gasp!) sports games. Have no fear, fellow gamers...I have since renounced my evil ways and opened myself up to worlds of amazing games that don't involve sticks, or...er, balls. Okay, I worded that awkwardly.
I'm also into sports, movies, and other stuff that is pretty much enjoyed by most everybody. My main hobbies are MMA (mostly watching, although I do jiu-jitsu and have done some kickboxing), the Chicago Bears/Cubs, and video games. I read comics when I have time in an effort to become a more well-rounded nerd, also. I'm finishing up college right now and I haven't worked a "regular" job in about five years now. Instead, I've been a freelance writer and written MMA columns at various sites (currently Fightmania.com).
I would LOVE to write about video games professionally, and I think I'm ready to do so. I've resurrected my c-blog going again partially in an effort to reach that goal, and partially because I just like to be able to connect with other people about the games I experience and topics in the gaming industry.
Inquiries, love letters, marriage proposals, and amazing job offers go to akathatoneguy [at] hotmail [dot] com.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @ItsJonHartley. I'll be happy to follow back fellow Dtoiders!
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.