XCOM's perfect demo
Posted on 30th Oct 2012 at 09:24 by David Hing with 17 comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.