Nearly two years ago, we reported on the possibility that a new installment in the famous X-COM PC series was en route but it wasn’t until the following spring that we heard an official confirmation: 2K Marin was preparing a major reboot of the franchise.

X-COM has been overhauled immensely for its next generation debut. Instead of a tactical strategy series that takes place in the late 1990s, XCOM is now a first person shooter – set in post-WW2 1950s suburbia. While some die-hard fans of the cult-favorite series may find the new XCOM hard to accept – given the high-profile pedigree of developer 2K Marin, there is reason to hope the new installment will, not only breathe new life into the franchise, but also manage to serve as a worthy installment in the series.

Considering 2K Marin worked on BioShock, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the new XCOM; however, the developer also worked on BioShock 2 – which paled in comparison to the original. Fortunately XCOM looks to be more the former – rather than the latter.

At E3  2011, we sat-in on a media-only preview of the upcoming title – which has undergone major revisions and re-workings (as evidenced by the latest XCOMtrailer) since 2K first showed-off the title at last year’s conference. Right out of the gate, the development team admitted that while their title has been “modernized” for the current gaming marketplace, they spent a lot of time building the experience around X-COM franchise “pillars” that are essential to the franchise.

  • At its core, X-Com offered a compelling mixture of strategy and tactical gameplay.
  • Playable characters were not one-man-army/Rambo-like protagonists – and relied heavily on teammates (both in and off the field).
  • X-Com‘s through-line presented the good-guys with an advanced alien force: a challenge that required players to beat aliens on a battlefield as well as gain enough knowledge to harness extra terrestrial weaponry – and turn the tech against the out-worldly creators.

X-Com die-hards may not appreciate the changes that have been made to their cult-favorite franchise but, due to a number of compelling updates, the 2K XCOM reboot could provide one of the more intriguing gameplay experiences available in 2012.

Based on the E3 demo, the XCOM team has done an incredible job of re-creating 1960s Americana – in the physical environment (a helicopter fly-over of picket fence suburbia), supporting characters (dressed in leisure suits and horn rimmed glasses) as well as story-telling mechanics (a silent film that depicts a terrifying alien attack). Thematically, 2K asserts that XCOM is centered around America’s fear of the unknown at the time – through an alternate alien invasion history.

XCOM E3 2011 Hands On

The gameplay itself is heavily influenced by recent action-RPG titles such as Mass Effect 2 and Fallout 3 – where investment and preparation plays a huge part in whether or not a player succeeds or fails. In XCOM, gamers recruit and level-up agents to take into battle as well non-party characters such as scientists – who contribute off-the-field by unlocking new weaponry and other battle tactics. Team members (aka “party” members) as well as enemies belong to various “classes” – each with their own special abilities, strengths, and weaknesses that make for a rich and compelling strategic FPS experience. Creating a balanced battlefield “party” (two other AI comrades) is essential to the player’s success – as is smart thinking and leadership (moving the AI into position, commanding them to use a special attack, or deploying captured alien weaponry).

2K asserts that one of their primary goals is to create a title where “every enemy is an opportunity” – and the team is still hard at work experimenting with the XCOM formula. In the last year alone, 2K expanded the primary XCOM enemy from black globs (featured at E3 2010) to a humanoid alien species knows as “The Outsiders.” The change drastically affected combat and gameplay – paving the way for a much more tactical and immersive title.

While fans of the original X-COM series might be skeptical, and difficult to convert, there’s no doubt that 2K is putting a lot of thought into creating an intriguing new XCOM title – one that pays homage to the series’ roots while injecting a lot of compelling new ideas for the current next generation marketplace.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick and let us know what you think of the new/rebooted XCOM.

XCOM will invade the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on March 6, 2012.