Gaming History: The Dark Past of XCOM

Gaming history is stuffed to the gills with tales of sorrow and loss, and the highly popular XCOM series has its own dark past.

In fact, some of these flops were responsible for the death of one of the great strategy game series of the 90’s. X-COM: UFO Defense (also known as UFO: Enemy Uknown) is highly regarded as one of the great turn-based strategy games of gaming history. For its time (and even now), the original X-COM game was and is a great challenge. However, what happened to the series between the original 1994 release and the more widely known reboot of the series with XCOM: Enemy Uknown in 2012?

X-COM UFO Defense

The death of many great franchises starts with a simple proposition: “Let’s make another game!” In the case of X-COM (which was the original spelling), the sequels popped out by the studios Mythos Games, MicroProse, and Hasbro Interactive led to the eventual demise of the X-COM name.

So what happened to the great start?

Greed brought the downfall of the series. MicroProse sought to capitalize on the profitability of UFO Defense and pop out another game right after it. As such, the next game in the series, X-COM: Terror From The Deep, varied little from the original game, changing only a handful of things. Most of the focus was switching to an underwater world and setting the stage for yet another follow-up game, X-COM: Apocalypse.

X-COM Terror From the Deep

Apocalypse drastically shifted the course of the series, though perhaps not as expected. In this game, instead of controlling a base and defending the world, the primary goal is to defend just one city. It features an AI which adjusts the alien menace according to how well the player does in missions. A good score results in harder aliens, while a poor score results in weaker aliens, allowing players to recover from a bad start or mishaps.

These games received okay reviews. However, doom was lurking in the background.

X-COM Interceptor was humanity’s first foray into the void betwixt worlds, where players now face the aliens among the stars. Lackluster combat, limited base-building, and low graphics crippled the game, leading to a low popularity even within the cult following of the series. However, Interceptor did not finish the game off.

X-COM: Interceptor

Hasbro Interactive started development of the X-COM series, and this started the downward spiral of the franchise. An old GameSpot review from 1999 describes this iteration as “Before you get too excited about the prospect of playing MicroProse’s classic turn-based game by e-mail, you should know that this is a scaled-down, greatly simplified version of the original. The strategic and role-playing aspects are missing, as well as the variety of weapons. They have been stripped away in favor of a tactical game suitable for quick and easy e-mail play.”

Seriously, it was email based play. Yet Hasbro was far from through. Up next, was X-COM: Enforcer.

X-COM Enforcer

X-COM: Enforcer is almost definitely the least popular game of the franchise. It received poor reviews, was much hated on by the community, and effectively killed the franchise for over a decade. Alec Meer, of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, succinctly described the horror of X-COM fans with Enforcer.

“Every time anyone whines that XCOM is not sufficiently like X-COM, I want to grab them by the lapels, or if, as is likely if they’re in my unbearably attractive presence, they are naked then by that fleshy bit near their armpits and bellow “YOU DON’T KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE TO HAVE THIS LOOK AT WHAT THEY THOUGHT WE WANTED INSTEAD LOOK HOW BAD IT GOT NOW LOOK WHERE WE ARE NOW AND REALISE IT’S A… MIRACLE” right into their faces.”

PC Advisor listed X-COM: Enforcer in its list of the 16 worst games ever to be released for PC and consoles, calling it “a hideous, lurid, incoherent, maddening corridor shooter that appeared to have been created in a desperate hurry.”

To be fair, Enforcer was measured in part against the original Half-Life game by Valve, a groundbreaking game in both content, style, and overall quality. As such, a mediocre game, much less one as poor as Enforcer, is perceived in an even worse light than it would be on its own.

Hasbro started development on two more games after the Enforcer flop, X-COM: Alliance and X-COM: Genesis, however, neither of these two games ever saw the light of day. In the end, Hasbro Interactive died in 2001, and with it, the X-COM franchise.

However, all was not lost. You see, Firaxis Games and 2K Games acquired development rights to the series, rechristening it as XCOM. The result was the hit game, XCOM: Enemy Uknown. The revive received extremely high ratings across the board, spawning an expansion XCOM: Enemy Within, and two other games, The Burea: XCOM Declassified, and XCOM 2. Enemy Uknown and XCOM 2 caught the eyes of modders around the world, adding in major enhancements. Pavonis Interactive, a group of modders turned professional, created total overhauls for the two games, not only expanding on the base gameplay but recreating the games in such a way these modders received official support for creating their mods, the Long War series.

Gaming history is filled with examples of franchises rising and falling in favor, dying, and reviving. Tell us what you think of gaming history in the comments section below!

[Featured Image by XCOM: Enemy Uknown/Firaxis Games]