Why Did 2K Games Turn XCOM Into A FPS-Tactical Game Hybrid?

By Spencer . June 24, 2011 . 5:36pm

If you’re old enough to remember XCOM, MicroProse’s X-COM, was a strategy game that looked something like this.




XCOM, the 2012 reboot from Bioshock developer 2K Marin, is a first person shooter with tactical elements. Time units are still in the game, but work differently. When you step back in tactical mode Agent William Carpenter pulls out a gigantic cell phone and spends time units to order the two agents traveling with him on the field. He can make one of them create a combat shield to absorb enemy fire from the Outsiders, aliens made out of living technology.




Why the big change? "We just thought what would be really interesting in an origin story is coming back and putting your boots on the ground and seeing what these guys are going through, first-hand. That’s what we really wanted to explore," answered Drew Smith, Producer, in a Siliconera interview.


"At the same time, we wanted to keep the pillars of what we believed are the most important things of the original XCOM, you know, strategy, strategic play in the base, and tactical combat in the field. Research, which is huge – going back, capturing the other technology, subverting it, using it against them, which was obviously a big part of the original game. Having your agents, making them meaningful to the player, and giving the player meaningful choices with the agents and their paths. That’s what we really wanted to focus on and bring to bear."


XCOM has a system where you can capture alien technology right on the field. Once in your possession, you can either bring the technology back to your base and research more powerful weapons for your team or give the enemies a taste of their own medicine by using it on the battlefield immediately. In a hands-off demo, 2K Marin staff captured an alien turret and later dropped it into a room surrounded with enemies. The turret only lasted for a few seconds, but it was powerful enough to clear the area.


We’ll have more XCOM coverage on Siliconera soon.

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  • Hraesvelgr

    “Because a strategy game doesn’t have the same wide appeal as a first-person shooter” is a more obvious answer. That doesn’t necessarily mean the game will be bad (though I am, admittedly, not looking forward to it), but I’m sure they knew it wouldn’t have as much market appeal if they made it like the old games, so they made it into what it is now.

    • Tatsuya1221

      The problem with that is, if it’s not going to go for the appeal it had for the old fans of the series, why bring it up at all?

      This isn’t starcraft or command & conquer, this game had a very devoted, but generally older and smaller fanbase, as such this is an outright betrayal of the name(spoony one’s shout out), and it won’t attract any new fans based on the title itself.

      Point is, this game would be fine, if it didn’t have the XCOM name attached, i personally am not a fan nor have i ever played XCOM, however i am a major fan of the older phantasy star games, so i know what it’s like to have your games changed for the lowest way to make a buck, still haven’t gotten over that.

    • malek86

      But a new X-Com made like Valkyria Chronicles (which was probably inspired by X-Com anyway) would have distinguished itself better than a shooter, because there are tons of shooters out there, and just having a famous name (not even that famous today) won’t help too much.

      • M’iau M’iaut

        I’d WANT to think that, but for as great as it was, VC remained much more a puzzle game than tactical squad based combat. You could not use real small unit tactics like cover fire and flank if targeting S rank. It’s not as if you could win XCom by turning Miss Baker into Superman with two orders from sweetums before sending her on a one turn invincible across the map dash.

  • kroufonz

    2k: we want some of teh COD money

  • Thiefofhearts

    Translation: “We had this awesome alien shooter set in the 50s, but the suits didn’t think the game would sell if it if no one heard of the name before. But we had the X-Com license, which would give us free publicity, so we slapped that on the box.”

  • godmars

    Because shooters and realtime themed titles are – overly – popular right now, most game engines favor them, and more importantly no one at 2K was creative enough to do what was needed to be done with the original: create two separate SP campaigns. One for humans, the other for aliens.   

  • hush404

    IMO, niche strategy games don’t do very well with the general gaming audience. It’d be very hard to sell a near exact copy of the original with modern graphics…

  • WyattEpp

    I read this and I still don’t understand how they so thoroughly missed the point.

  • they should have just said it straight, “if its a fps people will buy it.”

  • It seems that whenever an FPS is mentioned on Siliconera, people have this gag reflex thing going.
    I’d like to point out the tried-and-true adage of “just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s bad.” Let’s not be game hipsters here and think that a genre is horrible just because it’s “mainstream” or something.
    As for XCOM: looking forward to it. I enjoyed the way the original games were done, but this looks like it could be interesting too.

    • malek86

      I hope the difficulty levels actually work this time.

      • Yeah, having to load up XcomUtil just to make the game challenging was kinda dumb.

    • It’s not just Siliconera. Some people are just tired of too many FPS interfaces being used just because it sells, in lieu of variety; publishers don’t help either. There certainly are other types of games, but they get very little attention in the mainstream market. Personally, I’d love to see Western games made in comic-style like Asterix or Tin Tin; sadly, Western publishers don’t seem to care much.

      Using a template or an archetype to gradually build your own derivation is one thing, but modern FPSs try very little to even develop from that base point. To be absolutely merciless, I find the use of FPS interfaces these days borderline exploitative; my gripe is mostly on publishers, but developers who keep making them, and nothing else, aren’t blameless either. That said, if it works well with the game rules and system, I’m perfectly fine with it. Meaning/Significance is the key here.

      • Variety isn’t necessarily what makes a game good either. When it comes to the actual quality of the game, both variety and whether or not it’s in a genre that “sells” have little to do with it. I have a feeling that if JRPGs were great selling games in the US that few people on this site would complain if a lot of games started emulating JRPGs. But don’t get me wrong – I’d personally like to see a LOT more JRPGs than what we’ve been seeing the past few years.

        The FPS community is alot like the fighting game community – the only difference is that it is 10x larger. People playing both FPS and fighting games aren’t exactly looking for new, revelatory content – they are looking for similar gameplay to what they are used to because it meshes well with the skills they have picked up in previous games. In lots of cases, fixing balance issues alone is worth the purchase of a new edition of the game for these people.

        Would this game be better as it was in the old days? Possibly. And I do agree that it would be more distinctive if it wasn’t an FPS. But in the grand scheme of things, distinctiveness takes a back-seat to gameplay. If the gameplay is good, I’m all for it.

        • When I said “variety”, I refer to the variety available in the market, not a genre-mix in a single game. But yeah, I see what you mean too.

      • this…
        if the game is good i’ll buy it noentheless but come’on you can’t fps-ize everything….

        • I’m aware that different periods in video game history had their own genre/formula boom which many games followed/copied with varying levels of effort. For example, I remember a lot of NES games being side-scrolling (which also came back a bit in the GBA era). In the PlayStation era, Final Fantasy VII kick-started the JRPG boom in the West, I hear. And now, of course, First-Person interfaces, most of them involving guns.

          I have nothing specifically against FPS games; only against laziness and exploitation. I really feel it unfortunate about the lack of creativity and imagination in a creative medium; which is even more sad when many Western countries are developed enough to be in a good position to show off their range of entertainment software. Of course, the boom has to stop somewhere; the human mind can only take so much of the same thing. And then there’ll be another boom in some years when a studio makes a breakthrough with another game; this time, hopefully not an FPS.

          • RupanIII

            “I really feel it unfortunate about the lack of creativity and
            imagination in a creative medium; which is even more sad when many
            Western countries are developed enough to be in a good position to show
            off their range of entertainment software.”

            I quite agree. It’s ironic that creativity has decreased in many ways while the technology has increased.

    • majorhavok

      I definitely think it you could make an FPS that feels like something associated with X-COM. That was even tried before with X-COM: Enforcer. The problem with the new game is that it throws out all the old mythology and has game play elements that looks like a typical FPS, so it’s really conflicting to why they used the X-COM name if they’re not going to relate to it.

      I think the X-COM feel isn’t directly that it’s strategy per say but more that it’s about horror. You’re disadvantaged and your units are fragile, and so you move slow and methodical to try to reduce your casualties, ultimately accept the fate of your rookies, and help out that Captain make it out alive only to lose that unit from some blind corner shot or turning to see that Chryssalid 2 steps away from you. Rules in the original X-COM like morale, PSI, and line of sight contribute to that. When I see all the material for the new game it’s this kind of feel that I feel is missing.

      • Exkaiser

        From what I’ve read about it, it seems like the feeling of being disadvantaged is the main thing they’re trying to capture about the game. And, honestly, I think it’s the most important thing, much moreso than the series mythology.

        Perhaps it won’t be able to capture that feeling in exactly the same way that UFO Defense or Terror From the Deep did, but I’d like to believe that the team working on it understands it well enough to bring that emotion to life.

        I don’t really care one way or the other for the usage of X-COM’s name. It’s not as if the franchise hasn’t had bad games before (really, most people only care about the first two games). Whether it’s a good game that doesn’t feel connected to the old games, or a bad game, I don’t think it’ll really sully the good name of X-COM. I’m hoping that it will fall into the former category at the least.

        At the very worst, it’ll be the Front Mission: Evolved of the franchise, in which case it will be buried by time and scorn.

  • And to think I’ve been destroying the UFO: Enemy Unknown on Superhuman lately, while I wait for something else to show up…

  • Xeahnort

    Uuugh! Another PC franchise ruined by adapting it for consoles.


  • Short answer: shooters sell, strategies don’t. 

  • rei goot

    Waiting for the day they made an FPS for The Sims.

  • ikiryou

    I’m fine with this being a FPS so long as I can spend more or as much time in tactical mode as I have to spend shooting aliens in the face. I already have about a half-dozen other games where I can shoot aliens/enemies in their faces.

  • SirRichard

    If it was called Outsiders or something else, I don’t think anyone would have minded. But they had to call it X-COM.

    I’m not even sure why; the majority of people who’d know that name are people who grew up with the X-COM strategy titles and their world mythology. What’s the point of using the X-COM name if that’s all you’re going to use? Throwing out the established mythology, the established alien enemies and putting in a first-person interface…they must’ve known that there’d be some sort of outrage.

    I can’t see this game doing all that well. It’s alienated a good deal of the people who’d give it a shot on the name alone, and in a market where there’s a new shooter or six a month it’s going to be hard for it to stand out. And if what I hear is right, it’s being sent out against Mass Effect 3. In which case, it doesn’t have a hope in hell.

    Then again, I’m not entirely sure I want this game to succeed, either.

    • Ladius

      Yeah, I think it’s kinda useless to resurrect a niche brand such as this if you want to take a completely new direction gameplay-wise. If this was a million seller franchise maybe a part of its fanbase would buy it out of curiosity or brand loyalty, but the XCOM fanbase will more likely ignore this game or, in the most extreme cases, shun andor boycott it, at least seeing the reactions online.

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