A new retro Invasion

A great old one has risen again from the depths of time. Or is it just a spectre, or worse even: a fake, a forgery to rob you blind while promising riches beyond its grasp?

It really depends on a great number of things. If you have not even heard of the original X-COM: UFO Defense (or UFO: Enemy Unknown), originally released at the end of '93, let alone play it for any time, you will have a greatly different view from the generation that had and did. Like me.

A golden standard
The original game was one of the best strategy games of its time, and if you are willing to forget about the dated graphics, it still is a very complex, very throughout, very engaging, very atmospheric game. Although the new game still retains the basic idea (real-time interception of UFOs, turn-based tactical battles on the ground) there are substantial changes in the realisation itself.

Intro from the old original

Give some, take some more
Most things in the game have been simplified, some have been throughout removed, replaced or streamlined, to be politically correct. Most of the original items are still in, with some notable exceptions. There are a couple new weapons, new enemy sub-classes and new enemy species, but some of the originals are also missing in action. I also miss the base defence missions, plus there is only one alien base attack.

There weren't any classes per se in the old game, but there were soldiers that were more or less suited to a particular weapon. E.g.: you wouldn't give a heavy or auto-cannon or rocket launcher to a soldier with low strength or a mind probe to someone without any training.
Sniper: the only class that can use the new sniper rifles

The new XCOM has very distinct classes: Assault for fast movement and close quarters combat, heavy for the machine gun and rocket launcher, support as a medic, and sniper for long-range fire support. There are a fair number of weapons that are class-restricted: the rocket and blaster launcher, the sniper rifles, the shotguns and the heavy weapons (AKA machine guns).

Ranks and abilities
In the old game, your soldiers did not gain xp, but points on stats after the action, like accuracy. You could train them either during a mission or (in case of Psionics) in the training facilities that are missing in the new game. Also, rookies had wildly varying stats, so you actually had a reason to recruit more than the bare minimum number of soldiers.
Just one of the randomly generated soldiers in the original game

In the new game, the soldiers have exactly the same stats at start, like perfect clones with just (customizable) cosmetic differences slapped to them almost as an afterthought. The good news is, as they are practically the same - except for their class - losing any soldier won't possibly hurt as much as it did in the original game, where you might have just lost your best-of-the-best superhuman exterminator.

The original UFO had very tactical inventory management: the weight of the equipment was a big factor in mobility (stamina, energy) and you also had to pack enough ammo for your weapons, unless you used laster weapons, which you really didn't have to reload at all, unlike the ones in the new game. You could have a soldier's backpack full of alien grenades, strap two high explosives to his knees and still have enough space for a heavy laser in his hand.
Why on earth had they removed the in-game map?

In the new game, your options are very limited, while some things are much easier.  You can chose a primary weapon according to the soldier's class, and a sidearm (or launcher in case of a heavy class). Ammo is provided free and in an infinite quantity. (Except some special weapons, like the aforementioned launchers and the tazer.) The soldiers have one (two in case of a high rank support) utility slot that can fit a medpack, grenade, extra bulletproof vest, tazer, scope and nothing else. Less headache due to the infinite ammo, yes, but also much less options to truly customize a soldier.

One of the most prominent changes is to the turn-based combat system. In the past we had time units (a maximum of 255) that you could micromanage: it took 2 to crouch, one to turn 90°, a given percent of them to get a shot off (of which there were three types mostly: aimed, 3-shot snap and auto), and you could move in small increments as long as you had enough TUs remaining. Also, you had to take care not to exhaust your soldiers (energy).
Base building is generally OK in the new game

The new game does away with time units. Instead, you get two action phases that can be merged. Barring special abilities, you can move for one of them and then attack with most weapons (except heavy and sniper) or use items, move for the whole turn or use the whole turn to attack with any weapon. While this is certainly easier on the beginners, it is also quite confining. Especially so because the UI is not the best and you will mis-click and potentially kill a couple of your soldiers every game.

Cover played an important part in the original game as well, but worked on an entirely different basis. There the idea was more like "step out, shoot, step back in" and "at least the aliens will first have to blast through the walls first". Of course, this worked both ways, but at least as you could aim freely at anything, (even thin air,) so getting rid of the cover was easy, even if it was not "in use" at that very moment. You could also do things like ignite a crop field and just wait out your alien barbecue.
Waaay too many muttons

In the new game, this is all "streamlined", and the covers are  helpfully displayed by either a half or a full shield signifying either a partial or a full cover. You can't dance out and back in behind cover, so the pace of the game is quite different. The lack of free aim (you can only do so with rockets and grenades) also hinders your tactical options.

The maps were also much more random and had more tile sets, and generally they felt much, much bigger. Although that might just be because of the existence of a map screen in the original.
UFO crash site, supposedly underwater...

In the new game, you only get a very limited palette of maps. One good addition are the exploding cars and gas stations. I liked that, though you have to use a grenade or a heavy class soldiers rocket to guarantee a big explosion. A very unwelcome addition was that the seas and oceans on the world map are only for the show. Even if you shoot down a UFO just above the Mariana trench, you will still get a ground mission. This is possibly so that you won't lose any chance to lower the panic levels of countries, but for an advanced player, it is annoying.

The weapon classes have been a bit tweaked: in the original game, you had many-many options from the start, and some weapons even had multiple ammo types: the heavy and auto cannons had regular armor piercing, incendiary and high explosive head, and there were three rockets for the launchers as well. The proximity grenade and the fuse setting are also missing in the new game, as well as the cattle prod stun rod and the small launcher.
Blaster Launcher - now restricted to auto pathfinding and one class only

You will, however have a new laser version of every weapon class ("heavy weapon", meaning a man-portable gattling gun, shotgun, sniper, pistol, rifle). There are even two entirely new weapon classes: sniper rifles, which are more accurate over longer distances, and shotguns for the assault class barging in head first. Both are welcome additions, although shotguns in the vanilla game are next to useless due to their stats. I do miss the option of setting the fuse of a grenade and thus walking with a ready-to-explode live one, which was a great option against chrysalids in the original game.

An important part of the original game was that armor was very different: first, it didn't provide extra hp but rather damage mitigation. Second, it wasn't constant for the whole body, i.e. it was strongest from the front most of the time, so with the really big enemies, flanking and attacking the back became quite important strategies. Third, there were only four types for your soldiers, the last being the best and having all the bells and whistles.
A full complement of maxed out soldiers

In the new game, it is quite different. Armor only gives extra health points, and gives it uniformly. I.e, in the previous game, different creatures and armors had different level of protection from different angles. Mostly much less from the back. Now this is replaced (well, not really) by the flanking and cover mechanic.

The original game had a number of interesting off-hand items an utility gadgets. Flares for the night missions, mind probe and psi-amp, high explosive packs for breaching UFOs or just causing general mayhem and so on.
Mutton-barbecue commences in 5...

Equipment management has been quite revamped in the new game. First, there is no need for storage of any kind, including living quarters. Second, you can't sell weapons anymore, only some artifacts and corpses you recover during your missions. So that cash flow has been quenched. Member countries might ask for certain items (corpses or manufactured stuff) in exchange for money, scientists or engineers.

Invention and manufacturing
In the old game, you could assign engineers and scientists to any number of research and manufacturing jobs. So you could say that you will have a low and steady production of ammo, while the majority of your staff would go after the more pressing matters.
Monthly payments and maintenance costs from the old game

Invention has been centralized, so you can only run one research and one manufacturing job at once. The latter can however, be queued thankfully. The number of men you have only speed up your jobs, and require no pay or living quarters. Wherein in the old game you had to carefully balance the salaries against your income, now you hoard the men, and once you discover all technologies, you can't do anything with the scientists. A nice addition is the research credit - which you get by interrogating aliens - and the item upgrades that you can do in the new engineer-driven foundry.

Whereas in the original UFO, the Firestorm was but the first foray into saucer-like ships, (Lightning, Avenger) in the new game, there is no further development in the area. In the original, you could equip most of your ships with two weapons, which had (in most cases) finite ammo, and you could order your interceptor around e.g. to get close and use both short and long range weapons, or just to stay on the tail of the UFO.
The new aerial combat screen is much simpler, but with far less options as well
The new game changes the playfield vastly. First, there are now dedicated interceptors and only one troop carrier. You also can't order a 'ceptor to standoff distance, you can only abort. You can only have one weapon on your planes, so no more mixing of weapon types for optimal coverage. Also, no more B-teams assigned to small carriers.

While the musical capabilities of the original game were - to say the least - limited, it had a very good score. It was truly scary, and thus added greatly to the horror and tension you felt during the missions. The sound effects you could hear during the alien turns also accentuated this.
Ah, yes, the same mission I had for a dozen times already...

The new game has scarcely any of that. No horror design elements that I can discern, only generic sci-fi action. Which is a shame, given the possibilities. One music even seems to be - let's say inspired by - a Deus Ex note. So absolutely no originality here unfortunately.

Weird new world
I absolutely hate that UFOs get a free turn of movement once they are discovered. No chance of an ambush by my men. They also don't seem to move (at least individually) until you discover them. You can't disable the discover animations, you can't speed it up. You don't have to sweat due to ammo limitations, you don't have to care about defending your own base. You are presented with a choice of three missions and you can't launch more then one of them. You have to dive into the .ini files to get more missions per months, the movement cursor and the automatic level selection of the camera are also buggy. All the limitations and omissions feel just too artificial.

Is it a good game?
I can say that this is the best UFO-copy in the last years, maybe full decade. Not because it is a brilliantly executed rewamp of the original, but because there aren't any others like it. Still, even with all the limitations, omissions and bugs, it is an arguably good game. The problem is,  in my eyes, the original is still better. Much better.

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