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XCOM's perfect demo

Posted on 30th Oct 2012 at 09:24 by David Hing with 17 comments

David Hing
Demos are dangerous marketing moves for the games industry. It could be a misleading demo that misrepresents the game (it's ok, we forgive you Brutal Legend) or just a plain bad demo that doesn't show it off enough. Either way, it can seriously eat into a game's release sales figures.

XCOM's perfect demo
Oh you poor lambs.

XCOM has been doing the review rounds lately and is undeniably an outstanding game. Its announcement and release has been a perfect storm that has almost brought tears to the eyes of the faithful when they realised that it was both a turn based strategy game as opposed to that dodgy first person shooter thing everyone had been hearing about and was also to be released in the not too distant future. XCOM has already done a lot of things right, but its demo was perfect.

Hand holding
The XCOM demo drops you straight into the turn-based tactical side of the game after a short introduction setting up that aliens are crashing into the earth and this is not a good thing.

It then proceeds to tightly hold your hand as it dictates what to do with your squad. Run over here. Dash over here. Hide behind this. Jump through this window. Look over there. It verges on the overly protective, but just when you're starting to get irritated, like a sadistic guide dog, it walks you in front of a bus.

XCOM's perfect demo
That look tells me that he knows he's not going home.

Because of where the tutorial makes you place your soldiers, three of them get taken out. Three quarters of your team is now dead and there was nothing you could have done about it. XCOM shows you what happens when you screw up in its opening minutes. The game holds your hand down onto the stove to show you that it's hot.

Attachment
With three out of four down, you now are shown how much attachment you will build up with the survivors. The game has established that it is unforgiving, that an undo button is somewhat discouraged, now it shows you that those soldiers get stronger when they survive, so throwing lives away is not advisable.

XCOM's perfect demo
It is not possible to screw up this badly without help. Ok, it's a little possible.

It also demonstrates with little to no dialogue that you will impose a character onto your favourite soldiers. As you look into the 1000 yard stare of your remaining soldier whilst considering him for promotion, it feels like you have some kind of bond, a feeling like those who weren't there wouldn't understand.

It might just be me, but I sometimes catch a look in his eyes when he glances at the screen the betrays a silent resentment, like it's somehow my fault that the tutorial murdered his buddies.

Covering your bases
It would have been really easy to just showcase the turn based meat of XCOM and many would have been perfectly satisfied with this. It would have given a taste of the core gameplay, but it would have been ignoring what holds it all together.

You get some options about where to set up your base and are given a quick whistle-stop tour of the facility with a few decisions required in terms of research and engineering before being taken away to the next mission where you are let off the hook a bit more and not driven off a cliff by the tutorial.

Once you play the first game, it actually takes quite a long time before you're left with the keys to the base and that particular drip feed could have been sped up slightly, but as a taste, this first glimpse is just enough to get you interested.

Rogue's gallery
Just in case you thought you were going to be gunning down little grey big-headed skittery aliens for the whole game, it throws a couple of different adversaries your way, diverging somewhat from the second mission in the actual game. It shows you some Floaters and some Thin Men, just enough variety to show you there's more out there without giving the whole game away and revealing too much.

It stops at the right place
When you trigger the end of demo teaser-trailer, you are both invested enough to want to hit "buy" and at the same time not too invested to throw a fit declaring that the demo wasted your precious time and that you had put too much work into your squad to have it taken away from you.

XCOM's perfect demo
All by my-seeh-ehelf...Don't wanna be...


I felt XCOM's demo was fair with the amount of time it gave me. It really was a true demonstration. It didn't bring all the flashy stuff front and centre, it didn't lock off significant parts of the game and it delivered an accurate representation of what it feels like to play.

Although I had a rough idea of what to expect from XCOM, I can honestly say that its demo is probably the first demo that has ever made me buy the full game on release based on its strengths alone.

17 Comments

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Corky42 30th October 2012, 11:02 Quote
And a good job the demo didn't have the plethora of bugs present in the RC.
Spreadie 30th October 2012, 11:09 Quote
I've been avoiding the new XCOM, but only because it'll guaranteed to be a total life-suck, leading to arguments/divorce. I really should give the demo a go though - hopefully I won't like it, and all will be well. ;)
edzieba 30th October 2012, 11:51 Quote
XCOM's demo was universally derided for being awful a pale and limited shadow of the game. Hell, it doesn't even let your rotate the camera until the second mission! The whole game is based around movement of your squad to avoid horrible death, and 75% of the demo is being told to 'go here' and it ending up being a bad place to move.

No research, no construction, no strategic layer, no squad loadout choice (or even squad choice), almost no actual gameplay at all! The demo was 'almost cancelled my pre-order' bad, only saved by the reviews from RPS and the like who had access to the actual game. If I hadn't read them and gone purely by the demo, it would have been a no-sale.
Griffter 30th October 2012, 12:35 Quote
cant understand... everybody or most first said the demo was soooo short and such a big file to the end that it was not a good demo. now that ppl played the game, loved the gamed, everything its done is seen through rose tinted glasses.

i love the game, one of the best this year at least... but the demo was still wayyyyy too short. 1 mission??? and dont u dare count the first mission as a mission. so 5gigs for one mission... too short, and did not change my mind in getting the game, and one mission would not change most ppls mind in not getting the game if that was ur thinking.

the reviews and word of mouth changed minds. the demo was just a whisper in the wind...

IMHO
Griffter 30th October 2012, 12:38 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by edzieba
XCOM's demo was universally derided for being awful a pale and limited shadow of the game. Hell, it doesn't even let your rotate the camera until the second mission! The whole game is based around movement of your squad to avoid horrible death, and 75% of the demo is being told to 'go here' and it ending up being a bad place to move.

No research, no construction, no strategic layer, no squad loadout choice (or even squad choice), almost no actual gameplay at all! The demo was 'almost cancelled my pre-order' bad, only saved by the reviews from RPS and the like who had access to the actual game. If I hadn't read them and gone purely by the demo, it would have been a no-sale.

never saw ur comment before i put mine in. well said. and another honest person not being hypocritical.
webchimp 30th October 2012, 13:11 Quote
I thought it was an excellent demo; it stopped me wasting £30 on the full game. :-)

It's a shame there wasn't a demo for Dishonored as well - another "90%" game that was nothing of the sort.
digitaldunc 30th October 2012, 13:25 Quote
Refreshing to see a game that actually has a demo rather than a closed beta that requires you to sell your soul to obtain a key.
vdbswong 30th October 2012, 17:21 Quote
If there was one issue i had with the demo, it's that it didn't split the "Tutorial" and "Mission" components.

One of the main hooks of XCOM/Strategy/Tactic games is going about things in a different way, however if you wanted to experiment in the demo you had to go through the entire tutorial again each time.
Nictron 30th October 2012, 17:33 Quote
Finished the iron-man campaign over the weekend. Great game worth every penny!
Stonewall78 30th October 2012, 20:13 Quote
It was the demo that made me buy it. As a hardcore Xcom veteran I was skeptical about the game giving the same feeling as the original. Since I was playing the original when it came out it radiated a lot of neustalga. I did find it dragged a bit towards the end but I found it to be one of the best games of its type. It could have been a bit deeper in the troop loadout and item depth but overall pretty good.
sear 31st October 2012, 03:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by edzieba
XCOM's demo was universally derided for being awful a pale and limited shadow of the game. Hell, it doesn't even let your rotate the camera until the second mission! The whole game is based around movement of your squad to avoid horrible death, and 75% of the demo is being told to 'go here' and it ending up being a bad place to move.

No research, no construction, no strategic layer, no squad loadout choice (or even squad choice), almost no actual gameplay at all! The demo was 'almost cancelled my pre-order' bad, only saved by the reviews from RPS and the like who had access to the actual game. If I hadn't read them and gone purely by the demo, it would have been a no-sale.

This. I was personally very disappointed in the demo. 4.5 GB of files, most of which weren't even used in the demo, all for a 20 minute tutorial that showcases absolutely none of XCOM's strengths? Not only was it not worth downloading, it made the game out to be a linear, overly scripted, hand-holding experience. It was specifically responsible for me not buying the game.
Vallachia 31st October 2012, 06:55 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spreadie
I've been avoiding the new XCOM, but only because it'll guaranteed to be a total life-suck, leading to arguments/divorce. I really should give the demo a go though - hopefully I won't like it, and all will be well. ;)

It is impossible not to like it.
It's brilliant. You are doomed.
Vallachia 31st October 2012, 06:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by sear
Quote:
Originally Posted by edzieba
XCOM's demo was universally derided for being awful a pale and limited shadow of the game. Hell, it doesn't even let your rotate the camera until the second mission! The whole game is based around movement of your squad to avoid horrible death, and 75% of the demo is being told to 'go here' and it ending up being a bad place to move.

No research, no construction, no strategic layer, no squad loadout choice (or even squad choice), almost no actual gameplay at all! The demo was 'almost cancelled my pre-order' bad, only saved by the reviews from RPS and the like who had access to the actual game. If I hadn't read them and gone purely by the demo, it would have been a no-sale.

This. I was personally very disappointed in the demo. 4.5 GB of files, most of which weren't even used in the demo, all for a 20 minute tutorial that showcases absolutely none of XCOM's strengths? Not only was it not worth downloading, it made the game out to be a linear, overly scripted, hand-holding experience. It was specifically responsible for me not buying the game.

Don't play the demo guys (oops you already did). The full game does not suffer from the flaws of the demo. It is one of the best games in years.
MjFrosty 1st November 2012, 09:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by sear
This. I was personally very disappointed in the demo. 4.5 GB of files, most of which weren't even used in the demo, all for a 20 minute tutorial that showcases absolutely none of XCOM's strengths? Not only was it not worth downloading, it made the game out to be a linear, overly scripted, hand-holding experience. It was specifically responsible for me not buying the game.


No disrespect to either of you but isn't it pretty obvious that the game won't be linear outside of the tutorial / demo? I think you've missed the point entirely, like so far over your head that it just smashed into the bloody moon.

It gives you a feel for the games control system, layout and feel without giving you the capability to be X-Commander Super Lugs.
Fizzban 3rd November 2012, 01:10 Quote
This game is freaking addictive and damn good fun. I honestly thought they would ruin it, but they succeeded in not only making it great fun for the original players of UFO:EU, but in bringing it to a completely new audience.
Riffler 7th November 2012, 19:27 Quote
The demo did a fairly good job of concealing how much the game has been dumbed down compared to the original - particularly the fudged lines of sight and missed shots having no chance of hitting anything but the scenery.
Star*Dagger 13th February 2013, 17:11 Quote
If you do not have this game, turn in your PC Gamer card, you will never get it back.

If you really want to understand what Xcom was like in 1995 play the outstanding Xenonauts game.

X-Com is one of the premeire franchises in PC Gaming, I am happy that they went back to their roots, while at the same time moving it forward into 3d
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