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XCOM, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

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For the full effect, listen to LCD Soundsystem’s New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down while reading.

XCom I love you, but you’re bringing me down. I had a choice between buying XCOM a few weeks ago, but passed. My gaming budget could only afford one game and it was between the comfort food of Dishonored or the alien XCOM: Enemy Unknown. A friend of mine, James, has been raving about XCOM. “XCOM is huge! It’s like the equivalent of Final Fantasy. You know, don’t you people get excited for Final Fantasy anymore?” He was talking about console gamers. I wasn’t sold. I was worried XCOM would become rote, repetitive, and boring. Totally unlike any Final Fantasy game. Fighting the same aliens forces with the same soldiers employing the same tactics. When you begin to compare those mechanics with the “open world” and wonders of Dishonored the choice is easy. I went with Dishonored because I’d be a fool to pass up stealth/blood/action/intrigue etc. But XCOM stuck with me like a flu bug nestled in my immune system; I’d glance at the XCOM box at my game store flipping it back and forth like a magic eight ball hoping it would make a decision for me.

I couldn’t stop thinking about XCOM. So, one Friday after work I decided to take the Dale Cooper approach to life and treat myself. XCOM was mine, but what was it? PC Gamers were going ga-ga for it, but would the console interface be a diluted mess? I had no barometer to go off of. Something about aliens combined with Final Fantasy tactics. What a delightful hodge podge.

Right from the start, XCOM stole my heart. The panic, the challenge, the uphill battle and possibility to straight fail tickled bones down to the marrow. A game with strict consequences gives me the chance to be the professional risk-taker I could never be in real life. Particularly when it comes to alien invasions. In XCOM I’d rush into battle, take mission-deciding-shots that had a percentage of 35% to hit without hesitation. Experienced soldiers would die causing the difficulty to spike. A burden that made the game impossible to turn off because I had to overcome these barriers. I wasn’t going to let some aliens have the last word.

But if the inherent difficulty wasn’t enough, bugs began surface. Small, tiny, bugs that were more curious than deadly. My soldiers would begin the mission floating in space, for instance. Other times all the character models would morph into hulking heavies. Surface level distress that didn’t take away from the game. But then those bugs must have summoned larger bugs because the game took a harsh turn.

XCOM I Love You, But You’re Bugging Me Out

XCOM, dawg, you are infested. Like a pup from a dirty kennel. I was okay dealing with the cosmetic bugs, but here’s where it became irritating. When I encountered a mission, all of my available soldiers (save for three) were listed as being “on mission.” Considering I was only able to bring five soldiers into battle with me, having 13 of them on the mission seemed like a godsend. Like most things in XCOM, nothing is as it seems. I was only able to bring three soldiers into a “very difficult” mission. Things did not go well, but I survived with one determined soldier. I thought finishing the mission would scare the bugs away and the game would right itself. But all my soldiers remained “on mission.” I restarted the game. Went back to an earlier save. Searched the Internet for a fix, but nothing. In this cash strapped game I decided to hire more soldiers. When they arrived a the comfy XCOM HQ they were active and ready to battle. If I wanted a crew I had to lay off my existing team and hire a less formidable crew. When did this game turn into a Zynga simulator? A minor setback to my resources, but I took it as a special challenge to overcome.

But that wasn’t the end of my bugs. XCOM is like a tree rotted from the inside and I would soon be swimming in inconvenience. There’s a certain point in the game where the missions begin to spike in difficulty. Larger aliens begin to spawn as well as robots that spawn other robots. A well-rounded team is a must and every move counts. Enemy numbers grow and their tactics are aggressive and powerful. So, when I encounter a game locking bug not one, not two, not three, but four times in the middle of an incredibly long mission my enthusiasm for the game just evaporates. Having any sense of progress wiped from history is miserable. XCOM encounters are randomly generated, so each reset brought on a different challenge. But the challenge of XCOM isn’t why I’ve spent hours playing at once. It’s the rate that I can unlock new weapons, research technology, poke at an alien corpse and build state-of-the-art facilities. When that time between upgrades begins to grow, the fun of the game diminishes. I lost track of what made XCOM fun because I was stuck in an endless loop of battling enemies without any of the benefits.

I don’t play games to be inconvenienced. It’s one of the main reasons I stick to console gaming. The hardware is a known quantity and I don’t have to fiddle with drivers, updates, or dark cyber arts. For me, it’s worth the trade of graphic and mod tools. When a brilliant game like XCOM finds its way into my system against all odds, it’s too bad that the bugs become the point of conversation. XCOM I love you, but these bugs really tarnish the experience. Playing XCOM is a picnic of delight that’s spoiled by unwelcome ants. Ants that eat your sandwiches, soil your blanket, and steal your date.

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