Here is HM’s personal log of his first hour with Mythos’ acclaimed life-changing experience, X-COM: UFO Defense, released in 1994. He read no PDF manual, no wiki, no readme, no Cliff’s Notes. And yo, X-COM offers no “tutorial” option for stupids.

  • MS-DOS nostalgia moment: MIDI music and mode 13h graphics. It reminds me of when Whigfield was number one with Saturday Night. I also started my PhD. So I guess I really don’t miss 1994. Ah, but Levi’s were still doing cool ads.
  • Right, start a new game and– holy shit. What to do? All these buttons. Clicking something generates more things to click. Like reflections folding over reflections when two mirrors face each other. Drilling into UFOpaedia overwhelms even more; words upon words upon words upon… snap out of it. I’m starting to hyperventilate.

  • Okay, deep breath. Just ignore the details, they will sort themselves out. Mistakes will teach you. Fast forward time and see what happens. Aside from the fear factor of the bottomless pit of clicks, the interface is functionally clear.
  • UFO alert! Let’s intercept. Send an interceptor and a skyranger with… all of my agents. Eight should be enough right? Holy shit, dude, did you see how much these guys cost to recruit? I hope nothing bad happens to them.
  • The UFO has landed, and the skyranger is there too. The objective is to kill or capture the enemy. Okay.

  • Ah, isometric. And turn-based. Quite annoying having to click each agent individually out of the skyranger. Maybe I will just send out one agent in future. Maybe.
  • Greeted with darkness that represents the fog of war. Strangely tense. These crude dark pixels present such menace – how has this been achieved with such limited graphical and audio range?
  • The agents fan out and reveal more of the map. One guy walks past a barn window and is shot dead by green poo. Unexpectedly brutal. Slowly getting the hang of the zillions of buttons at the base of the screen.
  • For some reason, each time the legend “HIDDEN MOVEMENT” appears, I soil my pants.
  • Trying to surround the entire barn, but guys keep getting deaded by the as-yet unseen enemy. Holy shit, dude, they blew a hole in the side of the barn. A hole in the side of the barn! Destructible environments!
  • Finally, I have two aliens with their asses handed to them. Then follows the problem of trying to pick up their corpses, their weapons and the weapons of fallen agents. At least I think I have to pick all this crap up. It costs money, right? Juggling items between several inventory windows.
  • Another agent dies from wounds he sustained. This is not going well.
  • Hour is up. I recall the skyranger, stranding all of the remaining agents on the ground in the middle of Africa. They are reported as “Missing In Action” but it probably means they were devoured by lions, African ones.
  • Final note. Need to pencil in some hours to continue play. Goals for next session: save more agents, kill more aliens. Be less shit.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

Sign up for the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter and follow on Twitter!

5 thoughts on “An Hour With X-COM: UFO Defense

  1. Ahhh, a map of every player’s first experience with UFO: Enemy Unknown. I was a latecomer to X-COM as well – about 2007 I believe – and it is indeed brutal, but all the while you can see right there in front of you that it was (and still is) waaaay ahead of its time. Have you played it much since?

  2. Sadly, no. I did start the game again and played the first mission more successfully – and realised I didn’t need to pick everything up. Time was then split between Sanitarium and FUEL.

    But eventually Neptune’s Pride vaporised my life for over three weeks.

  3. Brrr, I’ve all on handling the intensity of Solium Infernum, nevermind Neptune’s Pride! Interesting you mention FUEL because I spotted it in the crazy Steam summer sale and was interested after Jim Rossignol on RPS. I downloaded the demo and also downloaded it on the PS3 to see the differences between the versions. As it happened FUEL on my PC had these horrible texture problems that couldn’t be fixed despite it generally looking much more favourable than the PS3 version and I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed what I played. I love Motor Storm and FUEL seemed a nice change in pace.

    Back to X-COM. I played a good 10-15 hours before the slightly clunky interface and controls took the shine off of it. I found myself regularly moving or rotating my soldiers by accident wasting valuable time units. It meant that I had to save all the time and I’m never really a big fan of that. These are small beans though. I did spend a lot of time trying out the XCOMUtil program to iron out the various bugs and it’s really rather good if you can get it working, which coupled with DOS Box, is a bit of bastard.

  4. I hope to get back to X-COM one of these days. At the very least before XCOM makes it out of the gates. But there are real time constraints these days, which I hope to moan about sometime this week. If I have the time to write it up, of course.

    FUEL – yes I also purchased purely because of Jim R’s RPS coverage when it was available for peanuts on Steam. Yet another thing I am supposed to write up.

    Ah – Solium Infernum – I often think about buying into it. Particularly as I really dug Armageddon Empires. Neptune’s Pride is a killer with its real-time operation and player exhaustion. SI sounds more manageable. It suits my life better.

Comments are closed.