Creative plundering’s all the rage at the moment. While Hollywood’s rifling through its knicker draw, busily remaking, rebooting and regurgitating every old television show, horror movie and line of toys it can find (coming in 2012 – Keypers: 3D), the music industry has taken to booking dozens of acts who all sound a bit like Spandau Ballet or Duran Duran, and ITV has just served up a lightly warmed-over rehash of The Prisoner starring Jesus and Gandalf.
The videogame industry isn’t immune from plundering its back catalogue either, with Final Fight: Double Impact reintroducing the street fighting antics of its topless, raging mayor to a new generation of gamers. One of this month’s oddest announcements comes from 2K Marin, who in its infinite wisdom has decided to remake Julian Gollop’s strategy masterpiece X-Com.
If you’ve been playing videogames for a very long time, the name Julian Gollop may mean something to you. Beginning in the early 80s, he earned a devoted following for a series of increasingly ambitious turn-based strategy games. Chaos was among his first, and still stands as one of the very best games of its ilk you’ll find.
Essentially a computerised card game, Chaos pitted a group of wizards against one another in a straight fight to the death. One of the few eight player strategy games then available, Chaos made for a uniquely entertaining multiplayer game, and even its more obvious drawbacks (your opponents would have to promise not to look while you selected your spells) added to its charm.
Thereafter, Gollop released the sci-fi strategy classics Rebelstar, Rebelstar II and Lasersquad, before returning to his earlier fantasy theme for Lords Of Chaos, which took the spell-casting concept of the original Chaos and expanded it into a strategy RPG. While a clear line of evolution can be drawn through all of Gollop’s games, the key thing that links them all is their uniquely addictive quality.
Since the advent of the Command & Conquer series, it’s more-or-less taken for granted that a strategy game can make for a compulsive evening’s entertainment. In the 80s, the genre was still largely the preserve of people wearing sandals who enjoyed reading lengthy books about Rommel.
For many, Gollop reached the height of his powers in 1994 with the release of X-Com, or UFO: Enemy Unknown, as it was called in some territories. Although expanded, after publisher MicroProse suggested its gameplay lacked the epic sweep of Civilization, X-Com was a natural progression from the Aliens-inspired squad management of Rebelstar and Laser Squad. Like those games, X-Com made what, in lesser hands, would be the most ponderous of genres both compelling and addictive. That it’s still regularly mentioned in ‘best games of all time’ forum threads is a testament to its timeless ability to enthral and engross.
Given the widespread devotion that X-Com still receives, it’s unsurprising that 2K’s series reboot hasn’t been given a warm reception by gamers of a certain age. If there’s one thing the PC doesn’t need, it’s another first-person shooter, and one based on a resolutely cerebral strategy game like X-Com is needed still less.
Other retro titles have survived genre crossings, of course. Metroid Prime shoved Samus into the third dimension with aplomb, but how can 2K possibly retain even a small percentage of the original’s tactical depth from a first-person viewpoint? It makes about as much sense as ‘re-imagining’ Halo as a pet simulator.
For a developer with more than the cachet and industry clout of 2K Marin, the appropriation of an old and much-loved property like X-Com seems like a curiously opportunistic move. Without the X-Com name, wouldn’t the project be just another generic sci-fi FPS? Does 2K’s announcement make other fondly remembered retro titles fair game for the FPS treatment? Will Crytek make a shooter based on Horace Goes Skiing, Atic Atac, Monty Mole or Frogger?
If I found myself in Julian Gollop’s position, there’d be only one course of action to take: create a turn-based strategy game based on Bioshock. A properly old-school 2D one, with Rapture rendered in blocky tile-based graphics like a Byzantine floor, and hulking Big Daddies moving around one square at a time. Hell, at least old duffers like me would buy it.
Originally posted at the wonderful Den of Geek