It’s hard to believe, but today it’s been ten years since XCOM: Unknown Enemy was first published. A lot has changed in the gaming world over the ensuing decade – but for my money, Firaxis’ vision of a modern XCOM game remains the best video game franchise reboot to ever exist.
Still setting the bar high for a video game remake, Enemy Unknown reimagines 1994’s X-COM: UFO Defense, dropping the dash in the name and bringing this unique strategy game, originally developed by MicroProse, into the modern era.
What makes XCOM brilliant is honestly a matter of sorcery – or, perhaps, chemistry, if we’re a little less romantic. The point is this: XCOM: Enemy Unknown is that rare, perfect game that threads the needle that any video game remake or reboot faces with flying colors. It retained what made the original a beloved and fondly remembered cult classic, but took informative cues and ideas from games released in the meantime. Many games have tried this, of course, but few have managed to make it all work.
When you do a little research on the development of Enemy Unknown, how it happened seems to become a little clearer. For starters, despite being a reboot of an old IP and a Firaxis game that doesn’t feature Ghandi, the XCOM project was given a hefty budget. But even more interestingly, the team apparently originally prototyped a full remake of the original 1994 title and then worked from there & NoBreak; – overhauling the game, tweaking features, flow, and balance in a way that essentially made Enemy Unknown more of an evolution of its ancient ancestor rather than a groundbreaking reinvention.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess. The mantra was best expressed in a rule that Firaxis had: to join Team XCOM, you must have played the original. If you were drawn to the project and didn’t make it, your first task as a member of this team was to play through the brutal original.
Brutality is part of XCOM’s DNA, of course, and it was another crucial piece of the puzzle. This is still the case now, but when XCOM was in deep development, games generally became much more forgiving. This was after Demon’s Souls was a cult hit, but before the massive success of Dark Souls reframed the whole difficulty debate. As such, it would have been easy for them to create an easy modern XCOM ⁠—and it has airy ⁠ difficulty modes—but Firaxis retained the punchy elements of the original, defined by permadeath and loss. of your valuable squad members.
What is interesting in all this remains, as I was saying earlier, the balance. Enemy Unknown references the original XCOM, but it doesn’t worship it – and as a result, it carves out its own identity as a very different game. What it carries so perfectly is the spirit of the original, however ⁠—and the combination of those two things has taken it to incredible heights of brilliance.
Like I said, it’s such a precise blend of disparate elements that it looks like sorcery – but maybe that’s because anything advanced enough looks like magic, as the saying goes. the saying. In reality, XCOM is an artistic piece that has a mathematical formula behind that balance that makes sense. It works.
What’s even more amazing is that Firaxis has followed XCOM, easily 2012’s game of the year, with a sequel that improves on it in almost every way. With the formula established, the development team was able to go to town with new ideas – and XCOM 2 is truly one of the best games of the last decade.
XCOM 2, of course, ends with a tantalizing sequel to another returning element from classic games & NoBreak; – the terror of the depths. As XCOM: Enemy Unknown turns ten, it’s hard not to think about that and the future of the series. Firaxis is creating Midnight Suns, a Marvel game with a hint of XCOM DNA. It looks good. But, honestly, what I really want from them is XCOM 3. I can’t wait for that to inevitably happen. In the meantime… maybe it’s time for another replay? Impossible/Ironman play-through, I’m coming…
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A decade later, XCOM: Enemy Unknown remains the best franchise reboot of all time
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