X-Com: Enemy Unknown is one of my favourite games of all time. It's a stone-cold classic, a UFO-battling strategy title that features base-building, resource management, and tense field missions where your entire squad can be wiped out in seconds. It's about 16 years old now - the gaming equivalent of a smelly old dog, one with doddery legs who does terrible farts, but whom you love dearly anyway. The graphics look like cave paintings by today's standards, but time has done nothing to dent the brilliance of the core gameplay. In fact, I'd rather play Enemy Unknown than a lot of the stuff I've seen at E3. I'm deadly serious.
When I heard that 2K Marin was planning to bring the X-Com brand back from the dead, mysteriously removing the hyphen in the process, I wasn't sure how to feel. As much as I love it when old franchises make a successful comeback, the hard truth is that these revivals often fail - and when they do, your shared history makes the whole thing bitterly painful. It's like meeting up with your childhood sweetheart, going in for a nostalgic snog, and then her being violently sick into your mouth (for the record, this has never actually happened to me).
In any case, the short story is that I had my doubts about 2K Marin's XCOM, despite the developer's well-established pedigree. But now, having sat through an oh-so-short demo of the some early code, I could scarcely be more excited. Along with the 3DS, XCOM has been the highlight of my E3; I've still got one day left to go, but if anything else catches my attention in this way, I'll be delighted and surprised in equal measure.
The new game is a first-person shooter outing, casting the player in the role of Special Agent William Carter. The setting is 1950s America, and after discovering an alien artefact in as-yet unrevealed circumstances, Carter has been tasked with setting up and running XCOM - a government agency that aims to counter the growing UFO threat. While the majority of the action seems to consist of field outings, conducted in familiar FPS style, between missions you'll have to make decisions that affect the development and performance of your organisation.
2K's demo kicked off with the player arriving back at the XCOM HQ, stepping out of a vintage car into a busy-looking hangar packed with crates. As we approached the base entrance several staff underlings popped up to give Carter brief reports and updates; one woman mentioned that the head of research had requested his presence in the lab. Further into the building we came to a large room dominated by a map of America. This, it turns out, is effectively the mission select screen. XCOM isn't large enough to fight every battle on every front, so it falls to Carter to decide where the team prioritizes its efforts. Each mission affects the base in a different way: rescue outings are important for maintaining public support, while other trips might help your team to conduct research or to gather supplies like Elerium - the alien element that powers some of the game's strongest weaponry. You can't afford to neglect any of these considerations, but there isn't time to answer every call - so when you ignore one task in favour of another, it might have disappeared from the map by the time you get back.