First impressions of XCom 2: Familiar, fun and a little frightening

  xcom 2 dvd case 

Despite my previous doubts over whether I’d buy XCom 2 as a new release, I gave in and picked up a copy earlier this month. Perhaps I was psionicly seduced in to it by a Sectoid? With my first campaign heading for doom, here’s my impressions of the game so far.

Familiar

For those that have played XCom:Enemy Unknown, there’s a certain level of familiarity here. 

Like the previous XCom game, it has  a mix of tactical and strategic elements. At the tactical level, you engage in squad level turn based combat, as per the previous game. There’s also a simillar strategic layer in between missions, where you make decisions about how you progress the story. The strategic layer seems to have been expanded though. My initial impression is there’s more choices to be had in how you progress your rebellion against the aliens.

The XCom 2 storyline also features a familiar character from what is referred to as the ‘first war’.  While the new characters I’ve encountered haven’t grown on me as much as Chen and Valen from ‘Enemy Within’, they’re the sort of archetypes you’d expect. That, again,  helps make it feel like we’re in familiar territory.

The biggest difference for me was getting used to controlling via a mouse and keyboard, having played the previous game on the iPad.

Fun

 Ok, so my first mission to recover the generator gadget didn’t go so well. I was a little cocky and rushed forward before I understood just how different some of the enemies were. But before long I was back in to the swing of things and the more familiar territory of ‘you win most but lose soldiers along the way.’ Until I became overconfident again and was once more decimated by enemies with hidden talents.

Perhaps the only detraction from the fun for me is that my PC is underpowered relative to what XCom demands. Though less than six months old, my PC is more a desktop workstation than gaming machine. For most tasks, it’s powerful enough. Sadly, to get a smooth experieince from XCom I’ve had to dial the graphics right back.

Frightening 

One of the things I’m enjoying about XCom 2 is that fighting the aliens has become more frightening. Familiar other worldly foes have evolved in to far more lethal creatures. At least on this initial play through, the heart tends to race a bit when encountering new aliens. And just when you think you’ve conquered your fear of these amped up aliens, a new extra terrestrial talent is revealed, and the anxiety returns. 

Visually, the aliens are also more spectacular, even on the low quality settings on my PC. The Sectoids contort their body in ghastly ways, beserkers drool

When big brands make love: Lego Star Wars and ‘The Force Awakens’

The marketing department assigned to Star Wars is probably as large as The First Order, and merchandise is a big part of Disney’s plan for galactic domination. So  it’s no real surprise we have a new Lego Star Wars game to go with the latest movie.

Most serious Star Wars fans by now will have seen ‘The Force Awakens’. By June, those who are content to watch it at home on DVD will probably have had their chance to see it too. That means by the middle of the year, the plot of ‘The Force Awakens’ will be as well known as the weak spot on the Death Star. Throw in the bonus of most US schools being on vacation, and June 2016 seems a reasonable time to launch Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Retelling the Star Wars stories with their signature quirky humour, the Lego Star Wars games are among the most played games on our XBox 360.  Jetite has conquered all the existing games, and unlocked a staggering amount of characters – including  Indiana Jones. The Lego Clone Wars game was also our first attempt at playing something like an RTS against each other. 

As a parent, the Lego Star Wars games have a lot going for them.

  • They’re easy to pick up and play – which means even non-gamers in the family can join in the fun.
  • Cartoon style combat, no bad language and no (obvious) adult themes – makes them suitable for a wide range of ages.
  • Adult ‘in jokes’  – although sometimes quite subtle,  there’s more humour to these games than just the slapstick stuff that makes the kids laughing out loud.

Which brings us to the trailer for the new game. It really does suggest the latest instalment to the Lego Star Wars franchise will be sticking to the formula they know works – poking fun at the movie.

But what about Disney Infnity? Isn’t there a Force Awakens game for it too?

Yes, indeed there is.

  

And I’ll admit to being a little surprised to see two games going after what I assume will be pretty much the same market.  I can only assume that when Lego rocked up with a bag full of money to buy the licence for the latest game, Disney felt confident they wouldn’t be cannibalising their Infinity product.  It’s even possible the  June 2016 launch for Lego was imposed by Disney, creating a six month window in which Infinity ‘Force Awakens’ could promote itself without competition. 

When Lego finally launch in June, Star Wars buzz will be well past its peak. It’s going to be interesting to see if the strength of the Lego brand, and the legacy of its previous Star Wars games, will be enough to make the game a commercial success. 

From Test Drive to Total Recall: The visual experience of gaming

Gaming has changed a lot in my lifetime.

One of my earliest gaming experiences was playing the original ‘Test Drive’ car game on my uncle’s PC. At the time, the Hercules graphics card was the state of the art in home computer graphics. The video below, though it’s an emulation, gives you a pretty good feel for what that experience was like.

Oh how things have changed.

Here’s me driving my little Opel Astra on a rain soaked track in Forza 6.

It’s a world away from the laggy, two-tone graphics of the original Test Drive.

If we’re not yet at the stage of photorealistic console games, one has to imagine they’re just around the corner. Once 4K televisions become more common, we’ll probably see even more demand for console gaming to take its next step forward in visual quality.

But what if we look even further out?

By the time Jetite reaches my age, how far the visual experience of gaming have advanced? How will things like augmented and virtual reality change the gaming experience in the coming decades? Perhaps the TV screen will be obsolete! Will the future of gaming be like Star Trek’s “holodeck”? Or will it  be purely in our minds – closer to the virtual memories of Total Recall?

Interesting times ahead.