The Reticule Turns 10 – Jon’s Game of the Decade
Ten years is a long time. I bought a house, I got married, I had TWO kids (what WAS I thinking) and I finally found out how to use a Chainsaw without killing myself….. In the background of that though was gaming. Always gaming.
Because of the two little bundles of….. erm…. let’s go with ‘joy’ here, my gaming (and writing!) time has had to be wrestled free and jealousy guarded- so it means what gaming time I DO get is oftentimes rare and always, always, precious. This means I tend to fall back on games I know, games I trust, and well, you all know it’s XCOM right?
XCOM: Enemy Unkown, the expansion, and the inevitable sequel have devoured a ridiculous amount of my gaming time. I’ve played it so much that I broke the Steam timer, so all I know is that it’s somewhere north of 200 hours. Now the potentially controversial part here is that it isn’t either of the main games that get my vote as the Game of the Decade; it is Enemy Within, the expansion to the 2012 return that wins it for me. Hands down.
When Enemy Unknown was first on the radar, it was a bold proposition. A world of FPSs, cover shooter and sprawling RPGs didn’t seem the place for a turn based isometric game to make a splash. Especially not one that was missing in action for a decade. Even I wasn’t sure. But it came, and it absolutely kicked ass. The sequel upped the ante, and switched roles. This time you were the guerrilla force attacking the established world. A great way to keep the game fresh.
XCOM for me was always more about my squad than the actual mission (and it’s worth saying the bonds and rebuffs available in the XCOM 2 add to this immeasurably), and there’s something about genetically modifying your troops in Enemy Within that really connected with me. You could also turn them into giant stompy-mechs. I found though, as many do in XCOM, that you start to make your own rules and conditions, so I reserved the bot-ectomy for soldiers who got gravely wounded in a mission. OCP would be proud. It just added something for me, another layer, more character for my team members. I loved it. Always seemed to be Nick who got the ‘upgrade’ mind…
It was still hard, ridiculously so, and the addition of in-mission meld canisters (required to upgrade your soldiers ) meant that even though you had some serious tech at your command, you were always having to stretch just out of your comfort zone to grab all the meld AND achieve the objectives. These missions were so good that they basically formed the template for the majority of the second game’s missions. Oh, and the cloaking skill. SO good.
XCOM will always be a special game for me, especially as a dad (the turn based format means you can literally stop at the drop of a nappy), but Enemy Within is the one that I think stands out above all others in the last ten years. It just added so much extra to the game that made me care more about my team, and made it hurt so much when one inevitably failed to come home. It’s an excellent expansion, and arguably better than any of the ‘main’ versions or expansions since. If you haven’t played it, you absolutely should.
So that’s my vote, XCOM: Enemy Within, FTW.