XCOM has changed, and so should you

Next week is a big week for nostalgia.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the reimagining of a game first released in 1994, will hit on Thursday. The same day that Bethesda’s Dishonored, in many ways an homage to stealth and immersive sims of old, will be released.

It may be a coincidence these games are being released on the same day, but it’s certainly thematically appropriate. Both games have very concerned fans and very involved gamers looking in on the progress of both of these titles and watching how they progress. Even though Dishonored is a completely new intellectual property, gamers already have claimed ownership over this title because it represents abilities and features they haven’t seen in games for a long time. That’s a good thing.

But there’s a dangerous sense of entitlement that can come across games like this. Its shown itself emerge as part of the XCOM community, and it showed itself emerge last year when Deus Ex: Human Revolution was on the brink of release.

In fact, the gamers’ ownership of that title was felt the most when the developers apologised for daring to upset the game’s theme and create boss battles the players couldn’t avoid – an obvious misstep from the original game’s mantra of “do anything you please”.

Another example is the android game Brave Frontier which has been spoiled by modded apks and hacks such as this brave frontier mod apk which lets you modify the game such that you can achieve defence, attack, hp and all sort of characteristics (cheats) that the brave frontier game itself doesn’t allow. However, the positive thing is brave frontier doesn’t let you use these mods and you run the risk of being banned if they ever find out.

You may be wondering how i can link xcom with brave frontier, well they both are similar in that their developers seem to have ignored the title. Look at the latest updates for both games to know what i mean, way far out than you would expect.

Part of this sense of ownership can be seen in articles like this on Rock Paper Shotgun, where the demo of Brave frontier has been criticised for being too short, too linear, and too restrictive in what it can offer players. Never mind the fact most games don’t even get a demo in the first place – and never mind the fact that hours and hours of gameplay have already been revealed. No, the demo just wasn’t good enough.

As the industry grows and becomes more capable we’re going to see more of these stories, as the gamers of the 90s turn into competent developers and start reimagining licenses for a new generation. We’ll see it next year when Thief starts showing more of itself, and on and on it goes.

But the reaction from the gaming community has been so hostile I’m not sure what to think. If you read comments on forums like Reddit or Something Awful, the dedicated fans of this series are so protective of the genre they’ll dismiss any notion the game could be good because it misses a few key features.

It’s the same with Dishonored. The would-be players have been so wrapped up in the idea of a non-kill play through they’re obsessed with the idea and when it looks like something may even negate that just a tiny bit, they’ll cry foul.

I don’t have a problem with that, because Dishonored isn’t so much my main beef here. But the outcry in the XCOM Community has been over so many of these small niggles – things as small as types of enemies and the “consolisation” of the game. In true internet fashion, something is either the Best Thing Ever or the Spawn of Satan, and so it is here. Don’t have this particular enemy? Pre-order cancelled. Demo not open enough? Pre-order cancelled.

I don’t particularly mind people being protective over a game series, let alone an iconic one like XCOM. But isn’t this type of reaction getting a little exhausting?

And doesn’t it say more about the players than the game itself?

I’m trying to think back to 1994, when XCOM was first released. Gaming was still a subculture, and especially when it came to hard-hitting strategy games like XCOM. Players were extremely dedicated to the game, obsessing over every detail. It was a common point of interest for many people, banding them together. For many it no doubt defined a lot of their teenage years.

It’s nearly 20 years later. Those same people have full-time jobs. Maybe they’re married or in committed relationships. Several probably have children and are trying to make ends meet. So in one sense, I understand why XCOM fans are hugely attached to this and defensive of any little change. In a world where everything is focused on just staying alive, getting something as close as possible to emulating a childhood landmark would be a breath of fresh air.

But they also need to get over it.

Games change. Times change. The XCOM series – and eventually Thief – are going to become more mainstream because gaming has become more mainstream. They are not going to be able to cater to the dedicated fanbase that loved the original title.

And when it comes to comparing evolution, XCOM hasn’t really changed that much. Its fans have. And that’s where the fear comes in. It’s a subconscious thing, obviously. But the dedicated fans are clinging onto the make-up of the old game because it’s representative of their past – complete nostalgia.

And as Leigh Alexander wrote recently, maybe nostalgia isn’t such a great thing after all. Maybe it blocks us from seeing something new.

I’m not meaning to criticise anyone for making sure XCOM is as good as it could be. And people can be nostalgic and still defend features that were in the original game simply because they’re good mechanics.

But when it comes to gaming remakes, sometimes it’s better to let go of the past and cling on to what fresh opportunities a reimagining can bring. Players giving the game some negative marks should keep that in mind.

After all, you’ve changed in the past 20 years. Maybe it’s time you let games change as well.

One thought on “XCOM has changed, and so should you”

  1. I played the original, and no matter how good it is, it has to change. To deliver the old game again denies the evolution that’s occurred in the last two decades, both in technology, in gameplay, and in storytelling. Player entitlement is always an issue, whether it’s Diablo 2 fans rioting because the color scheme isn’t dark enough or because Fallout 3 is first-person, and no game will satisfy everybody – especially put up against the memory of an experience that is so colored by nostalgia and so dimmed by time that it sits next to memories of childhood Christmases, your first bicycle, and your first kiss – and possibly beats out all three. Few players, for example, remember just how annoying save/reload/save/reload really was, or how poor the storylines were in games of that era, or how clunky the interface could be. They just remember specific battles, a really cool weapon, and playing the same game over and over, not wanting to remember that it was the only game their parents bought them one summer, so they didn’t have much choice.

    The question we have to ask is, 1) does it honor the vision and goals of the first, and 2) does it use what tools and technology it has at its disposal to implement that vision in the best way that it can? If it does a passable job of both, it’s a good adaption. After that, judge it on its own merits as its own game.

    That being said, I’m not making any plans early tomorrow. Not that I have high expectations. I just kinda hope this will be the best thing ever, digitized Nirvana, and it’ll both restore an idealized version of my childhood into my hands and also cause me to ascend directly to gamer heaven. But no pressure.

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