It had been quite a while since I had played X-Com. I played quite a bit back in the 90s, as a young and foolish teenager. I died a lot. Sometimes, I didn't make it off the transport. But it was a great and involving way to pass the time, however badly I sucked at it.
The perfect storm of cheap Steam copies and excitement over Xcom: Enemy Unknown's upcoming release pulled me back into the game. I was certain it would still be fun, but I doubted whether the tension and feel would hold up after almost 20 years.
I was foolish.
Moving troops forwards takes concentration and careful planning. Every trooper's position is important. Is a stray shot from a teammate likely to hit them there? Are they packed together, just waiting for an alien grenade to strike? Could someone... some *thing* draw a bead on them through that window?
You learn to take advantage of every piece of high ground, every scrap of cover. You blast holes through walls to make the safest path to your target. You make sure that your troops are covering each other's backs, making sure you have eyes in each direction.
And sometimes, no matter what, it won't be enough.
Halfway through a terror mission, Chrysalids lurking, snake men covering the alleyways, I realized I was forgetting to breathe. Every move was important. Every mistake was a dead soldier. Half my team were dead, shot down in the streets... or worse, converted into more Chrysalids. I fought on, carefully, slowly. Little by little, I took back the city. In the end, only two troops, cracks shots, were left alive, fighting back to back.
Two men left alive out of ten. And I counted it a victory.
It is a testament to the design of the game that X-Com still stands up, and still achieves every one of it's goals, after two decades. As a tactical simulation it is almost without peer, with it's simple systems working brilliantly together to create emergent gameplay. The addition of the basebuilding and pre-planning lets you feel fully in control of the agencies decisions.
All this, of course, goes together to make sure that, when you fail, it's usually your fault.
And you will fail.
And you will love it.