While a lot of the atmosphere stemmed from the trashed, blood-splattered ruin of the home itself, it was the blobs that really stole the show. An awful lot of sci-fi games simply give us aliens that look a bit like humans, only slightly different. The blobs, by contrast, felt really otherworldly - with that freaky otherness quality that Silent Hill does so well. As the blobs were zapped and blasted, their inky substance was sprayed all over the surrounding scenery. After being badly wounded they then seemed to grow a pair of white lung-like organs which began to madly pump and throb; as this happened, the creature began to re-form itself, with streams of black liquid slithering along the ground to join the main body. At this point the other two field agents started yelling at Carter to finish the creature off. The only way to definitively kill the blobs, it would seem, is to target the white lungs: a successful hit here punctures the organ, causing white gas to spray out into the room with a loud hiss. It's a deeply odd sight, and it looks horrible.
The four or five blobs in the house put up quite a fight, but eventually Carter and his colleagues were able to put them down for good - allowing them to proceed upstairs to find the lone, terrified survivor, who was immediately evacuated. The mission appeared to be over, but this wasn't quite the case - because in XCOM, you've also got to leave the area once a job is completed. What with this being an E3 demo and all, I figured that something pretty big was going to happen on the way back to the car - bigger, at any rate, than one of the agents simply saying, "Ooh, that was scary, wasn't it? Oh well, job done. Shall we go get a McDonalds?"
As Carter and his pals headed downstairs, a sudden force caused every window in the house to smash. Stepping out into the garden, we soon caught sight of something strange in the air - a swirling, invisible vortex, sucking up nearby rocks and crackling with blue electricity. A simple column-like shape appeared in the middle of this anomaly, followed by several other shapes that span around and shifted formation to form something resembling a spoked wheel. And then it attacked - blasting Carter's two colleagues with some kind of ray that made them disintegrate into white ash. The player dashed down the road, desperately letting rip with the shotgun, to no apparent effect. The alien craft had morphed into two concentric rings by this point, and it appeared to be gaining on the player. The ship began to charge up for another devastating attack, and then…
And then the demo ended, leaving me with a smile on my face and a whole bunch of questions. Unfortunately there was no time for a Q and A session, and as soon as the presentation ended we were herded out of the booth. I did, however, manage to fire one question at the presenter from 2K: Is it possible to save the two field agents, or were their deaths a scripted event?
"The mission outcome is always based on how you play," came the cryptic reply. I pressed the developer again, but he merely smiled and repeated his answer, word for word. It was an infuriating end to the session, although appropriately enough I felt a bit like Fox Mulder attempting to squeeze information out of a shady Government operative. No matter. For now, I'm deeply impressed with what I've seen of XCOM - and when the opportunity presents itself, you can believe that I'll be pushing hard for answers. Remember kids, the truth is out there.
XCOM is due for release on Xbox 360 and PC in 2011