XCOM: Enemy Unknown is one of my favorite games. You play as the commander of XCOM, surprisingly enough, an organization dedicated to fighting the aliens who are attempting to conquer earth. It’s an extremely fun and engaging turn-based strategy game. I can get lost for hours thinking I’m going to do just one more mission, but then I’m just a few days from researching plasma sniper rifles, and then obviously I need to try them out, and then I’m so close to being able to get archangel armor, and so on.
Someone asked the question what a campaign for the alien side might be like, and it got me thinking. Most of the rest of this won’t make much sense if you’ve never played XCOM, so go buy it right now and play it. I’ll also avoid saying anything that I think is a spoiler, but I might touch on gameplay mechanics.
To me, the essence of the XCOM campaign is striking hard and fast. You’re an elite paramilitary organization against an overwhelmingly superior enemy, so you need to get in, do some damage, and get out before they can respond. You’re the tip of the spear, as it were: a concentration of force so great that it can drive through everything in front of it. So what’s the opposite of that, for the alien campaign?
I would make the basis of the alien campaign the management of a large amount of resources across a wide area. You don’t know where XCOM will strike, so you need to balance your defenses or risk XCOM coming in and trashing your stuff. For example, in the game, there are alien abduction missions. Three happen at once, and as XCOM, you can only go to one. As the aliens, you’d have to pick the three locations, and then decide which troops to send where. You could try focusing all your troops in one site and hope XCOM attacks there so you can squash them, or you can try to balance and hope you don’t get wiped out.
Rather than the highly customized XCOM soldiers the humans field, I would have the alien troops be largely interchangeable, to encourage the right mindset for the aliens. Results matter, personnel doesn’t. Perhaps there could be alien commanders, though. They’d be troops with extra health, abilities, and who can level up, whom you could assign to your various missions. If you wanted, you could even require one commander per mission, as a way to limit the player, sort of like how Rome II: Total War requires each army to have a general. That way, you do have something to be attached to, but the vast majority of your soldiers are there for the meat grinder. If it takes twenty Mutons’ deaths to take out an XCOM colonel sniper, then Muton #21 will climb over their corpses to punch that sniper right in the face.
One area that might be lacking is research and base building. The aliens don’t improve in technology, just in units, throughout XCOM, and their base is already built when they arrive, so you might need to modify these sections a bit. Perhaps the aliens would have a large, but mostly empty mothership, and the way to improve your forces would be to construct the facilities necessary for the various alien species. You’d also have much more of an airforce than XCOM, six classes of ship to their two, off the top of my head, so perhaps that could be another place to expand the alien campaign. Instead of research, it might be more like Star Wars: Empire at War where after completing certain objectives, your technology level just jumps. Maybe your superiors don’t trust you with battleships until you’ve attacked XCOM directly, something like that.
It would probably be a much more frustrating experience, since you’d be spending your time trying to minimize the damage whenever XCOM strikes, but I think you could turn it into something entertaining. Any thoughts?