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X-COM Is Not the Best Game Ever (Anymore)
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on August 02, 2013   |   Episode 191 (Show Archive)  


Things took a turn for the worse in X-COM!
Not long ago, I was introduced to my brand new next-door neighbors. They are a couple of spry college-age boys who seem to go through women like my Sega Nomad goes through batteries. The two of them are into football, fast cars and, of course, video games. After a brief introduction, the two asked me an endless string of questions about the systems I own, the games I've collected, the rare trinkets I have amassed and the games I am currently reviewing. I answered each question honestly, hoping to inspire these kids to play more than Call of Duty.

But there was one question I couldn't answer. When one of the boys asked me for my pick of best game of all time, I found myself

My X-COM experience? On the PlayStation!
genuinely stumped. Having played literally thousands of games over more than thirty years, I simply couldn't give my new neighbor an honest answer.

For years, I always told people that X-COM: UFO Defense was my favorite game of all time. In fact, I was quick to make this assertion; I didn't have to think about it. And I wouldn't even be talking about the PC version that many gamers grew up with. Instead I would weave stories about my time playing the PlayStation port, which featured three minute load times and only the most rudimentary mouse controls.

But even if I was playing the inferior version, X-COM was the game that demonstrated to me how ambitious a video game could be. Even though it didn't have a well-crafted story and witty dialog, this MicroProse game made me connect with my soldiers in a deeply emotional way. Seeing my favorite alien fighter

This is exactly how I felt every time one of my soldiers died!
die after a dozen hours together was more than I could take at the time. I remember feeling gutted on more than one occasion, and that was something brand new for me at the time.

In the subsequent decades, X-COM has not aged particularly well. The interface is a little rough and the difficulty is punishing. Even though I put a hundred hours into it on the PlayStation, I find it almost impossible to go back to the original X-COM. And that's when it hit me: If I have no desire to play it again, then how can I tell people in good faith that it's my favorite game of all time?

I was forced to reconcile this inconsistency recently, thanks to last year's stellar reboot. At the time, I couldn't stop raving about XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I called it "an expertly crafted strategy game that improves on the original in every

The new XCOM is everything I wanted the original to be and more!
way." By the end of my three-page write-up, I conclude that it's "one of the best games of the year." And I meant it.

But as great as 2K's XCOM reboot was, it is not my favorite game of all time. Hell, it wasn't even my favorite game of the year. That honor went to The Walking Dead by Telltale Games, one of the most effective horror experiences I've ever had. But even then, The Walking Dead isn't my favorite game of all time. It's a classic that I'll always remember and implore others to play, but it's not the best game of all time. And neither is XCOM.

This has left me feeling a bit lost. The new XCOM fixed every problem the original had, functionally making it the game I've been gushing over since 1995. All things being equal, it should be my favorite game. But it's

No need to yell, Henry Rollins, I already said I was a liar!
not, and that makes me wonder if I've been lying to people this entire time. Worse yet, I worry that I've been lying to myself.

Thankfully I can let myself off the hook, because all this time I have been confusing my favorite game with my favorite game experience. It's a subtle difference, but not an insignificant one.

You see, my love for X-COM comes from a very specific weekend in the 1990s involving almost no sleep and a rollercoaster ride of emotions. When I close my eyes at night, I can see my buddy Ricky watching as we slowly worked our way to the end. I can

For some people, Duke Nukem Forever is their greatest video game experience!
still feel every death, especially those who had been with us from the beginning. By the end I felt drained; it was an experience unlike anything I had been a part of.

When I told people that X-COM was my favorite game of all time, I was selfishly talking about the experience I had and not the actual game I played. Even under the best of conditions, it would be impossible for somebody to recreate the experience I had. What sets it apart is how personal it is to me, which is why it left an impression so large that I'm still talking about it to this day.

The good news is that everybody has a similar story. It doesn't have to be about X-COM or even anything as deep as an adventure game, your favorite game moment could be as simple as that time you played Bubsy the Bobcat without dying or finally beat your dad at Mario Tennis. While I am convinced that X-COM remains an

Don't get me wrong, I still love the original X-COM!
incredible game on its own merits (as demonstrated by the reboot, which changed very little about the core mechanics), your favorite video game moments aren't always a sign of quality craftsmanship.

It took me almost two decades to finally realize that my favorite game of all time should be something I would want to go back and play. It's not some moment in time; it needs to be something I can go back without hesitation. My favorite game of all time should

Maybe Tetris is the greatest game ever made after all?
be an experience that lasts longer than one amazing weekend.

So, after all this soul searching, what is my favorite game of all time? I don't know. That's not the most decisive answer, but it's certainly the most honest. Maybe it's Tetris, a game I have long considered to be perfect (and a title that consistently ranks as the second best game of all time). Or perhaps it's Street Fighter II, which I still play at least once or twice a week on my PS Vita.

When it comes right down to it, I don't know what the best game of all time is. With literally thousands of games to choose from, I wouldn't even know where to begin. Thankfully I don't have to, because this is one argue that can rage online without me. As great as X-COM is, it feels strangely liberating to finally say that it is NOT my favorite game of all time.


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