Best. Games. Ever. – #4: X-Com

…and speaking of games that successfully layer engaging strategic play with another genre, there is no title that has ever executed this formula better than X-Com.

Released in 1993 by Microprose, X-Com follows the plight of a special operations unit that is dedicated to stopping a gradual alien invasion of the Earth.

On a tactical level, X-Com is all about hunting down and capturing or killing various types of Aliens. After shooting down their craft, you are taken into a tactical simulation where you must carefully (and I do emphasize CAREFULLY here) search the area until you spot and take down anything that doesn’t look human.

This is not twitchy first person shooting or rapid-fire point and click real time strategy. X-Com rewards the patient use of squad tactics – and it is much more about catching the enemy by surprise than it is about deploying superior firepower.

I can’t tell you how many times I actually caught myself tensing up over little more than opening door that I had carefully and systematically “covered” with units over the course of the last 2-3 turns.

But the thing that makes X-Com shine over other turn based tactical simulations is its larger strategy arc. The WAY you complete your missions is critical. You need to capture aliens, acquire technology, and keep your units healthy, so that your support staff can research and engineer better technology for you and your aircraft. Successful play doesn’t just involve killing everything in sight. It involves a flexible, thoughtful plan that is designed to keep your units and their technology intact – and occasionally, even capture a living alien for further study.

Every few years, a developer will try to duplicate the experience of X-Com, but – in my book – no one has yet succeed.


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