Some Things You Should Know About the XCOM Demo

26 Sep 2012

Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Alec Meer clearly feels that XCOM: Enemy Unknown's demo doesn't do a good job at representing the full game, and took it on himself to clear some misconceptions he feels have risen due to it. Here's a few of them:
4) Yes, squads of 4 soldiers feel too small. But it doesn’t take long to increase it to six (bought with cash at the Officer Training School), which feels a lot more like it – you can control the battlefield and you feel like you have a range of tactical options. I think, ideally, I’d like squads to go up to 8, but 6 doesn’t feel too small – XCOM is designed to have faster missions than X-COM, and that’s part of the overall design rather than 4/6 soldiers being a singular, pointless hobbling.

5) Yes, cover is basically mandatory for survival. At least until you get the flying suits. It is a cover game in a way that X-COM was not. If you can’t stomach the need to have everyone in cover, and that combat depends on being able to shoot ostensibly around corners once in cover, then you’re and this game aren’t going to be friends: it’s a big change and one of the major factors in this being a different take on XCOM rather than a remake. It’s about the tactical challenge of soldier positioning rather than being Gears of War. With each soldier unutterably precious, part of the puzzle of each mission is how to get close enough to the enemy to take them down effectively without getting killed first. And if a soldier ends their turn out of cover, don’t bank on them being alive come next turn.

6) Do not worry about linearity. This demo will barely let you breathe because it’s only the tutorial and some bonus cutscenes, and for that reason I think it might have been a huge mistake. It’s giving out the wrong impression entirely, and it doesn’t reflect the ongoing tension of the constant decision-making the game involves.

7) The keyboard and mouse interface. Yes, it doesn’t feel quite right, does it? The main issue for me is the need to confirm each action, thus meaning two-clicks is required whenever I want to take a shot, reload, suppress or whatever, which can be pretty annoying and mess up flow. But I developed some muscle memory actions pretty quick, learning which skills/actions my soldiers had on which number keys, so I’d hit the relevant numeral then press enter and it’d all happen pretty much immediately. That’s something that’ll come over time – and it will – but it’s impossible for it to happen in this miniscule demo. I’ve essentially been playing it on keyboard alone, with the mouse used purely to select a destination and target. Other than that confirm thing, I’m quite happy with that and have felt zero need to move to gamepad. But yeah, the PC UI is a slightly awkward hybrid of console and PC, and I really wish they’d pushed it further towards the latter.