XCOM: Enemy Unknown: An Exercise in Hopelessness

There hasn’t been a game I’ve played that stressed me out quite so much as XCOM did. It had me thinking about every move I made. It had me worrying about my soldiers. It had me tearing my hair out at every failed mission and every mistake I made. Never has a game made me feel so powerless, and I was only playing on normal.

Here’s the thing: I’m bad at XCOM. I knew that going in and all XCOM did was reinforce that fact. It beat that fact straight into the ground and stomped it so it was flat. Not that I’m complaining, because it made me rage, it made me scream, it made me shout ‘bullshit’ at the computer more times than I can count (during one particularly bad mission I turned off my computer in a rage because it wouldn’t let me force quit). But it also made me jump in exhilaration when I had a good mission. When my squad fell into place and cleared a mission without casualties I would be so relieved and happy. The only reason I felt such elation for a simple win is because a few missions before I had an entire squad wipe out.

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There’s no better feeling than a hard fought win in XCOM

That’s what XCOM does well. There was never a point, for me at least, where I felt like I had things under control. There was always that looming threat, this race against time that always felt like it was bearing down. It instills a real fear in you that I don’t think many other games can boast. I think the fear comes from the fact that every decision you make is permanent. When a soldier dies in battle that is the end, they are gone. When your best team is suddenly taken out in a disastrous mission and all you’re left with is Squaddies, it really sets in. Because you know from then on it’s going to be an uphill battle.

I didn’t quite finish XCOM. Like I said, I’m bad at it. I made it to the Ethereal and couldn’t quite defeat him. But it’s the furthest I’ve gone. I will play again, and I’m sure you’ll hear about it.