I am going to talk about Xenonauts which I am really enjoying playing this past week and a bit, but first I must talk about the XCOM series. I mean, of course I would have to talk about XCOM, you can’t talk about Xenonauts without talking about XCOM. So UFO:Enemy Unknown is how I first knew XCOM back in ’94, and it was one of the first games I ever enjoyed watching another person play. Three games come to mind in this category, UFO (the XCOM original on the PC), Zelda Ocarina of Time (N64), and Final Fantasy 7 (Playstation). I was quite content to watch all of these being played by other people. WIth UFO specifically, I remember my brother and I sat on either side of our dad as we watched him sort out his Alien research, build additional base structures, move his XCOM squad about as he explained his tactics, whilst he listened to our requests for various shot types or what we think he should do next. Each Saturday we would catch up with him and his game and see how he was getting on, with massive differences from the previous weeks game. When he bought a new PC and we received his hand-me-down 486, XCOM was the first game we installed. Years later we played it on the Playstation, today I own it and the entire Xcom series on Steam, and basically I could talk about XCOM at great length.
It’s important to talk about XCOM first because any game similar to original work is disadvantaged as it’s going to be compared by people who have valuable nostalgic experiences playing said original. The recent XCOM series from Firaxis (2012) had this problem for a short while, but it’s a very different game with enough similarities to become a firm part of the XCOM series, whilst doing its own thing. As a result Firaxis made a very fun and hugely replayable game, and If you’ve played both it and the original XCOM you know just how different they are.
As said, Xenonauts is a good positive game, I am currently enjoying it. It looks good, it has a good style, it’s not overly complex in any way, it feels well made and gives that XCOM vibe while you play it. It shares many similar game components with the original such as the research and workshop parts, the turn based squad combat of course, the interceptions are included (and are interactive just like in XCOM: Enemy unknown), the globe is visible but with a cool 50-60’s style, you can build your own bases, and no doubt the list of similarities with XCOM goes on. I’m sure I am not wrong when I say that the intention of Goldhawk Interative was to recreate more or less the same game as XCOM. What’s lacking is stock inventory (ammo, grenades etc) which I was quite disappointed with but I am sure many people rejoice about, the same people probably enjoyed the inventory system of Deus Ex invisible War, you heathens. What I think is a great addition in Xenonauts that XCOM etc missed are the NPC’s who will join in the fight against the aliens such as police or military personal. They just add to the environment and are perfectly believable, who when armed with a gun wouldn’t shoot back at the alien invaders? However positive I am about Xenonauts, I can’t escape the thought that it’s good simply because it is XCOM wearing a new and different suit.
I began to question why I was playing Xenonauts over the original or the version by Firaxis which I already knew to be hugely satisfying to play. In my view XCOM does the same with 16MB that Xenonauts does with 2.8Gig. I’d also likely recommend the original over Xenonauts to a person who hasn’t tried a game like like it but enjoys strategy games. The original gives you everything you need for a fraction of the disk space and a fraction of monetary cost especially during sale time (XCOM for less than a Euro? hell yes!), and more importantly you get the satisfaction that you are playing an original, a classic game. I imagine a similar conversation could be constructed around Doom. You’ve got to say that the original was something special even if you weren’t around to play it on release (it’s the law kids). Though the differences between Doom 1 and Doom 3 are obviously very different visually and mechanically, but the two games are very similar. Run through creepy sci-fi settings, shoot monsters, get scared, see gore and horrible things but Doom 3 does it better, yes I went there, but only because it took the essential ingredients from Doom and improved on them. However as it’s the law, you must say that the first Doom is essential game playing. It is a pillar of gaming, it was a movement in gaming, a game changing game. You get the idea.
The same can’t quite be said about XCOM despite how amazing it was for its time, it was just never on the same level as Doom nor as popular. So in my opinion, to more or less take the original XCOM and offer nothing significantly different still makes me wonder why not just stick with the original? why bother with Xenonauts at all? This is something Firaxis got right, they made the Doom 3 of the XCOM series, familiar but an improved difference. Xenonauts is like a really great mod or a really great project for those that love the Xcom series and want more of it. That’s me in a nutshell really, I am their perfect sales target. I bought and craved after playing Xenonauts because it’s that sort of game I really enjoy, and I suspect it pulled on the nostalgic heart strings.
I think that Xenonauts is a bit too similar to the ’94 XCOM for my liking and I think that’s really the problem. But it’s a problem I knew long before I bought it and committed time to. I wanted to experience the original XCOM in a new setting, with a fresh look and that’s exactly what Xenonauts is. And so I feel fine saying that Xenonauts is a good game and that I am enjoying playing it, I’m sure everybody who wants a good strategy game would do no wrong in buying it. Though I have to say to those who have played the original and want more but also something different get XCOM: Enemy Unknown from Firaxis. If you want more of the same but just a reskin I’d suggest you buy XCOM: Terror from the Deep, or Xenonauts if you’re like me and just want more XCOM.