Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Summer of Indie: Xenonauts vs. UFO Alien Invasion: Part II...The Elephant in the Room

In my previous post I briefly brought UFO: Alien Invasion to your attention, but during my search for a turn-based, squad-focused, tactical game (and my walk down X-Com memory lane), I also came across Xenonauts. This indie-game was successful in exceeding it's $50,000 Kickstarter goal with $154,000 pledged, and why wouldn't it? X-Com was immensely popular and there are no shortage of people who want something like it, but fresher. I tried to go back to the original X-Com and found that I couldn't. The graphics are a bit dated and I have to admit I'm a bit of a graphic whore. I also dislike black and white movies simply because they're 'old' so that's the kind of shallow bugger you're dealing with here!

Xenonauts start screen.
That said I don't need AAA graphics and I can appreciate pixelated, or 'retro' graphics if the gameplay is good. The problem with X-Com, as I recall from Terror From The Deep, is that it was not only hard (which is okay) but it was tedious at times. I no longer have time for two-hour long missions in which I have to search literally every room on the map to find the last alien. So I looked to the future, or at least the present, to find something similar (but updated), and Xenonauts is definitely that. It is an 'interplanetary defense simulator' that pays homage to X-Com but lets put our cards on the table and just say it: this is a remake.

Sacrificial Lamb, errr...I mean Rookie Soldier.

The graphics are crisp, and clean, and they remind me of a 1960's comic book which I am assuming is intentional. The combat is fast and there is a handy right-click feature for selection what type of shot you want to take (snap, quick, and aimed options similar to X-Com). I only played the free tech demo so there weren't many maps to see, and to be fair, I didn't play for very long. The game plays out like X-Com with the player assuming control of Earth's defenses and having to research the alien's motives and  technology in order to succeed.

Research is similar to that of X-Com

Defend her with your lives!

Unlike UFO, the environment is completely destructible and that, as you can see from the screen shots below, includes the ability to blow up half your ship and a few of your men with a poorly aimed rocket-launcher!

Oooh, look, it's a bad guy, let's get him!

Someone didn't pay attention in Rocket Launcher class.

I like the mangled body on the ground with the equipment.

He finally got him in the end. Note I blew the building at the top open as well.

Your welcome!

I like indie games. I think a lot of future innovations in gaming will come from the indie sector so I support them when I can. Unfortunately I think a lot of that innovation will come when the AAA developers take indie ideas and run with them. Sometimes you simply can't beat a big budget and that brings us to the Elephant in the Room: XCom Enemy Unknown. If you're an X-Com fan and you aren't aware that this is launching on October 9, 2012 then there's no hope for you..... Digital pre-orders are available from Amazon and if you're a 'leave the house' type of person some other places as well.

When I first saw the trailer for this I couldn't help but think 'Christ the lads at Xenonauts have bad timing.' What are the chances that as you are trying to get out an X-Com re-make, the X-Com series decides to launch a similar AAA title? That's some bad luck, or perhaps not depending on who came up with the idea first.

I want to support indie titles, but indie games are, well, 'indie' and I have a problem going over $15 to support them. Kickstarter/alpha games are simply a promise that the game will come. It's not finished and, lets face it, may never actually get made. AAA titles with pre-orders and release dates on the other hand will get released no matter what happens.

I love the idea of being in at the start of a new game and helping a small business/developer succeed but the whole 'kickstarter' thing is getting to be a competitive market and this is where I think Xenonauts falls down. The $20 price tag to support the game and get your hands on the alpha is a bit steep as far as I'm concerned and I really do hate saying that, but it's true. At some point you, as a business, have to look around and think about what's happening in the market. Is $20 too much to ask for your hard work? No, it's not, but is it too much to ask for an updated alpha version of an old game you can buy for $5 when the AAA title is on offer for $60? For me it came down to the fact I was really excited by the look of the new X-Com and decided to save that $20 to put toward the pre-order. Bad luck for the lads at Xenonauts I'm afraid. The game looks good but there is too much competition in the form of the old X-Com's, the totally free UFO: Alien Invasion, and the upcoming X-Com Enemy Unknown for me to give it serious consideration.

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