‘XCOM’ is not an accurate alien invasion simulator


Video games are weird. My host’s rampant enthusiasm for them usually translates to me being rampantly enthusiastic, but I have no idea why. It could just be our psychic bond. I typically wouldn’t care for most video games he plays unless he cares about them, too.

This month, I found an exception: “XCOM 2.”

For those of you not in the know, “XCOM” is a renowned series of turn-based strategy games in which you, the commander of a filthy human defense group known as XCOM — eXtraterrestrial COMbat unit — must defend Earth from incoming alien invasions.

Here is where I break off from where my host would start reviewing the game in his traditional style. Typically, he’d go into how tense the gameplay is, or how the atmosphere always bogs down on you while still giving you a glimmer of hope. I don’t care about all that. The most important thing for me is that the “XCOM” games — especially the newest — are bona-fide alien invasion simulators. Thus, as an alien brain parasite hell-bent on conquering the Earth with the help of my benevolent Slug Empire, this game deserves my careful scrutiny.

When the series was rebooted about three years ago, the plot was simple: aliens are invading, and XCOM must make them either leave or die. Spoiler alert: in that game, the humans won, and they won for the dumbest reason imaginable — video game logic.

As you start the game, you’re only facing off against very weak alien troops, like little gray men or aliens thinly disguised as humans. These aliens are easily susceptible to normal human firearms. It’s only once your troops start getting experienced that they throw the meaner troops at you.

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My question is, why the hell aren’t they throwing the meanest troops at you now? The final fight is against a coven of ethereal psychic wizards that could rip your entire army apart with naught but a wave of their hands. Why not throw those guys in first?

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The Slug Empire has tons of mind readers and psychokinetic warriors under its enslavement, among other really nasty beasts. Were we in the “XCOM” aliens’ position, we’d throw those guys at you without letting you guys catch up to us. We are not video game enemies that gradually get more difficult as you fight more of us. Life does not work that way.

Do you know where the weakest beings are in the Slug hierarchy? They do our paperwork! They’re higher up, protected by legions of enthralled killers. We’re not going to dispose of them just because they’re weak. That’s just cruel.

In “XCOM,” the game’s difficulty is curved in such a way that no matter how much you grow, you feel like the aliens are just one step ahead of you. That’s good game design, but it’s very unrealistic. We are several steps — nay, lightyears — ahead of you in terms of technology. We’re better than you, and we’re not going to stop and tease you about it.

“XCOM 2,” released last month, is a little bit more practical with its premise than the original XCOM, however. The sequel assumes that you lost the last game’s final battle. Instead of fighting off an alien invasion, the aliens have already invaded and are ruling over humanity with an iron fist. Now we’re talking!

Instead of playing as the oppressive aliens, though, you play as the humans again. Oh come on! Why can’t a brain slug get the opportunity to stamp humanity’s metaphorical face with a metaphorical boot forever? I mean, we’re going to do that for real in a few millennia once the fleet finally gets here, but the developers at Firaxis could at least give me the courtesy of simulating that.

Anyway, XCOM is now a resistance group trying to restore humanity’s place on Earth. Oh, I get it, so we aliens are fascists now, huh? Is that how you see us? What do you take us for, a possible Trump administration?

We happen to care deeply about every race we enslave. Once a race becomes part of the hive mind, we see their struggles and histories. We don’t invade out of malevolence, we invade because we want to make life richer for you. We want to look at the human condition and embrace it. Yes, we want to rule over you, and we may be a little dramatic about it, but we treat every species we enslave with at least some respect. We just invade your brains, that’s all.

We’d never do something as sinister as “XCOM 2’s” “Avatar Project,” which is a mysterious win condition for the aliens in the game. It’s never stated explicitly what it is, but it’s heavily implied that it pretty much murders all of humanity.

What’s the point in that? What would we have to gain from killing all of humanity once we enslave them, even if there are a few bad apples that want to rebel against us?

If my host were writing this, he’d be saying that it’s a fantastic turn-based game. He’s not writing this, though. I don’t care how well-designed “XCOM 2” is. It’s blatantly offensive towards alien culture, assuming that all we want to do is destroy humanity and oppress them. It makes assumptions and generalizations about a species that humanity doesn’t even know exists yet.

We’re not bad guys! We’re on your side! We just want to brainwash you and absorb your culture, that’s all!


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