The XCOM series is a tactical strategy role-playing game that started on the PC in 1994. Still, the first game is seen as one of the most important games ever made. The original PC Fallout games and the Divinity: Original Sin RPG series were both influenced by the game. It is also, along with the Fire Emblem series, one of the easiest tactical games to learn.
Even though most of the mainline XCOM games have a cult following and get a lot of praise, it hasn’t always been easy for the series. There were two projects that were scrapped, disagreements between developers that made it into one of their games, and some games that got bad reviews.
With the rebooted series coming out on PC and consoles, the series has found its way back. Let’s take a look at the best and worst games in the series.
X-COM: First Alien Invasion
X-COM: First Alien Invasion was a turn-based strategy game for two players that was played through email. It was a simpler version of the mainline games that came before it, so almost anyone could play it without too much trouble or worry about the mainline games’ complexity.
The main benefit of using email as the platform for gaming sessions is that it can be played on even the least powerful PCs. But there was just too much missing from the main series for fans to think it was worth it.
In 2001, X-Com: Enforcer came out for the PC. It was the last game in the original series, which was made by MicroProse. Even though the game takes place in the X-COM universe, it has very little in common with the other games in the series.
The game was a straight-up third-person action shooter where you run and shoot. There were no strategic parts to the game, and you didn’t have to think very much to get through the levels. X-Com: Enforcer was put together quickly with parts from two games that were cancelled. X-COM: Alliance and X-COM: Genesis.
X-COM: Interceptor is a PC game that came out in 1998. It is a space flight simulator that is similar to Wing Commander and has parts of the mainline series. Interceptor is a prequel to X-COM: Apocalypse, so its story takes place before the events of that game.
In addition to simulating space travel, the game also lets you run a business by taking care of space colonies instead of a base on earth. It wasn’t a bad idea for an X-COM game, but the way the story was told was so bad that it made the cutscenes in Command and Conquer look Oscar-worthy.
The PC game X-COM: Apocalypse came out in 1997. It was the third game in the series. It’s a traditional turn-based strategy game, just like the two games that came before it, but it also has a real-time mode.
It didn’t go as smoothly as it could have because Mythos Studios and MicroPose had very different ideas about how it should be made. This did affect the final product, as the game’s simulation and management of a city were in conflict with a full-scale alien invasion, which many critics thought was too ambitious.
XCOM: Chimera Squad
XCOM: Chimera Squad is a tactical turn-based strategy game for the PC that will come out in 2020. It takes place after the events of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. Chimera Squad is played on a much smaller scale than the main series, but the core gameplay is still the same.
So, people who have played other games in the series will feel right at home with the strategy parts that aren’t part of the Chimera Squad’s battles. It loses a lot of the tension and darker elements that are usually associated with the series because of the misplaced humour, the characters, and the weak voice acting, but it’s still a good strategy game on its own.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was a spin-off game that came out in 2013 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It was made by 2K Marin, who also worked on Bioshock 2, and was a spin-off of the XCOM series. The game takes place in the 1960s, before XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which is a reboot of the series.
As a third-person tactical shooter, The Bureau was very different from the mainline games, which were turn-based strategy games. It kept important game mechanics, like the fact that squad members could die at any time, as well as some intense game sequences. Some parts didn’t work as well as they should have, and there wasn’t the same sense of loss as in the main series when a companion character died. Still, its strength is in the way it tells a story, and the twist ending helps fill out the story of the whole XCOM series.
X-COM: Terror From The Deep
The second game in the series, X-COM: Terror From The Deep, came out in 1995 for the PC and then in 1996 for the PlayStation. This time game takes place underwater, and the player has to build a base in real time and fight in turn-based battles, which have always been a part of the series.
Even though it took place underwater, Terror From The Deep had the same feel as the movie that came before it. But X-COM: UFO Defense is still thought to be one of the best tactical video games ever made, and it’s hard enough to challenge even the most experienced gamers.
Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden
Think of XCOM, but your sniper is a duck that can talk and your tank is a boar with a cannon that explodes. The turn-based combat in Road to Eden will feel like XCOM right away, with lots of places to hide and dice rolls that seem unfair, but it is different in other ways. First, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where animal-human hybrids with dark senses of humour live. Second, there is all the sneaking around and stealing that goes on before a firefight.
When you travel from your home base, The Ark, to a new location, you first scout it by moving your three-animal squad through enemy blindspots. As long as you stay hidden, you can decide how the fight goes. For example, you can set up your team to ambush a large group of enemies or triple-team a single enemy from the shadows. This sneaking around before a fight is a nice change to how XCOM usually works.
A cyberpunk spy adventure in which speed is the most important thing. Even if your enemy doesn’t notice you, their alert level goes up every turn. The best thing to do is sneak in, get what you came for, and then slip out. But eventually, you’ll be seen by a camera, and an alarm will go off. This will start turn-based combat with well-explained rules and aggressive AI enemies, similar to XCOM.
The similarities don’t end there. You choose which missions to do by looking at a map of the world. If you leave an agent behind on a mission, you lose them for good, and you slowly add new people to your team. Hacking uses up a power resource, but it lets you control cameras, open safes, and tag guards. It also gives the battles in Invisible, Inc. a sense of depth from a strategic point of view. It’s one of the best independent games ever made, and unlike XCOM, it won’t feel like a step down.