If do right, no can defend

***Disclaimer: This will be a fanboy review of a video game. I’ll understand if you take a powder on this one.***

If there’s one thing I know about, it certainly isn’t how to excel at video games. I play many, but am master of none. Heck, it’s a good day when I get the paddle to send the Pong dot back over to your side more than once. Still, you don’t have to be good at something to be addicted to it. Okay, so I’m not neglecting to feed, bathe or clothe myself (most of the time), but there are a whole slew of home and self improvement projects that get the gallows if there’s anything even remotely interesting to play on my computer or console system. My current obsession: XCOM Enemy Unknown.

For anyone who remembers the original, turn-based strategy game, XCOM UFO Defense, I first have to say, “nerd”…but not derisively. More like a modern rallying cry. You’ll likely remember entering the cheat code for unlimited funds (rosebud?) so that you could pepper the planet with your secret, underground bases, hardened digital soldiers and fancy imaginary aircraft. Wait, you didn’t actually play fair and earn the funds, did you? Now I will say “nerd” derisively. The objective was to ensure the planet didn’t fall prey to back-door probing, cattle violating visitors from other worlds (insert West Virginia joke here). How can you do that on a rookie’s salary? While a bit clunky during combat operations, it was still an immensely enjoyable line item on divorce papers.

https://i0.wp.com/img.gamefaqs.net/screens/3/8/7/gfs_43313_2_6.jpg

(Squad deployment from the drop ship in the first game. Grainy like home-made granola, right?)

Enter modern graphics engines and a Christopher Nolan-esque reboot, and you get the current incarnation. 2K Games and Firaxis teamed up and incorporated the Unreal engine to give us hardcore game geeks something that will increase waistlines and junk food sales exponentially. Bottom line? They sexied it up. And it’s the kind of sexy you don’t want to undress…if that makes any sense. In the old game, you could send highly explosive rockets down an enemy’s gray gullet and he (I have to justify killing imaginary life forms by convincing myself they have no females in combat) would drop on the spot he was standing. Now, you can take pot shots at these creepy bastards, miss and hit the car they are standing behind and that car starts prepping to bring the environmental pain. Once that car blows sky-high, your would-be prostate inspector (or galactic gyno) flails ragdoll-style across the dynamic environment until landing in a tattered heap on the beautifully rendered battlefield. The physics are so cool, you almost want to play naked…if not for the petty whining of other residents of your household.

(New and improved squad deployment and environment.)

Not only are the physics amazing, the cut-scenes are gorgeous as well…the first few times you see them. I mean, if you’ve seen an anti-alien incursion team with futuristic weapons take off in a VTOL aircraft and land near a downed UFO once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. And you will, unless you discover the ‘esc’ key early on. You can customize your soldiers so that they sort of look like the people you’ve named them, which means the usually mind numbing chats you have with your co-workers and family about games they couldn’t give a rat’s rotting rectum about now include phrases like, “You panicked and fired your plasma rifle at me then ran screaming into the night.” On that note, I want to take a brief moment to say that few things are more satisfying than benching your sister for missing that last shot and denying her the chance to earn her next promotion. Colonel McDuck requests your presence in the sit down and shut up room, slacker. Do some push ups or something.

(I’m so badass it shames her.)

While one of my good friends is worried about the voodoo factor of taking people you know and love into combat where one wrong move means a face full of hot plasma, I say that is easily remedied. Either name them people you don’t like, or do like I do: save more than Jesus. Seriously, if a round ends with all of your team retaining their limbs and wits, SAVE! That way, when you move your girlfriend up the line to kick that door in and she unleashes a swarm of skittering death on herself and the rest of the team, you just reload the last save and she’s miraculously got advance knowledge of what not to do this time.

(The Dream Team…minus Lieutenant McFancypants, of course.)

Base building this time around is a far cry better than the static aerial view of the first iteration. This time, it’s more like an ant farm. You look at it from an underground side view, and the facilities can be built across and down (as you build the necessary lifts to reach the lower levels). Plus, each facility has something going down in it. When you build an alien containment unit and capture a live alien (a tough prospect when they answer the door naked and firing all barrels at your noggin), you can go look at him before you interrogate him and see how pissed he is to miss the next episode of Springer. In the infirmary, people are chatting, possibly comparing battle scars, but the coolest thing for me was seeing people running and sweating on the treadmills in the fitness center. I needed a diaper that day.

(Mission Control and part of the barracks area, including (squee!) the runners in the gym.)

Once you get the hang of battle dynamics, you can start to play around with tactics. I like to set what I call FOAD traps (eff off and die): all but one team member in cover waiting to fire at the first sign of movement and one mouse trooper (usually my sister) to draw the murderous invaders into the open. Works like a charm every time…except when they grenade my mouse. There are various kinds of missions, including landed or crashed UFOs; alien abduction sites, where you’ll have to decide which two countries to piss off when you pick a third to rescue; story progression missions, like an alien base incursion and some timed rescues; and my least favorite type, the dreaded terror missions, where all the aliens really care about is reducing the population of the battle zone to a sticky residue. You have to move fast in those missions and really pay attention or the agonizingly frightened and apparently paralyzed civilians will be gone and the mission a failure before you can say, “Where’s my pants?”

All in all, this game is an excellent reboot of a well-worn (for me) original. It’s pretty, it’s engaging and it’s more than a little fun. Even though I’ve revealed I’m like an insect (attracted to bright, shiny objects and ready to sacrifice my sister for the greater good), I still think this game has something to offer every gamer dynamic except the hardcore 1st person shooter crowd. But those folks will need padded cells at some point in the future anyway. I left out a bunch of material I was going to cover, but then what would you be able to blame me for later after you try the game? Go on, pop some plasma-caps in some alien asses and get back to me.

Hey, Lieutenant McFancypants, where’s my coffee?

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One Comment on “If do right, no can defend”

  1. Harry Parrish Says:

    So what are your thoughts on Pac Man or the famed Mrs. Pac Man?


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