I wrote these musings in an email to FullAuto but will post them here too since it's a mini-review too. Some of it is repetition of what I've said elsewhere, but I'm not going to spend another 40 minutes editing it
The game is a bit like marmite for the more seasoned veterans of the original.
It's not the same, and it does lack depth from the original in some key areas, but it is definitely X-COM.
The research tree and manufacturing options for me are a good example of areas they've expanded upon - every item, including corpses, is vital for research (good armour from Chrysalid hides for example) so things like that are nice, and there's a nice nod to the Gollop bothers in one of the facilities you can build near the end of the game.
Hiring is still there too, but the black/grey market feels simpler as you can't make tonnes of cash of selling laser weapons. This is an annoyance for some, but it's to make the struggle feel more like a struggle and there are times (though too few and far between even on Normal setting) where countries will offer to buy things from you for cash, scientists or engineers - this has obviously been done in an attempt to balance it a bit more so you can't become a powerful warlord with lots of Firestorm's and all the gucci gear.
It does irk me that I can't hire my own engineers/scientists, but again I see why they've tried to move away from that - to me it seems again like it's an attempt to not allow you to become too powerful too quickly.
So I think they've made some logical choices when you stand back and look at them, but at the end of the day it is annoying as it has simplified some aspects that micro-managers liked. It's both an attempt to balance the game, but there's no denying it's also been simplified to appeal to a wider audience.
Onto the soldiers - I thought I would hate everything about classes, but they work wonderfully. I would like a skill tree more akin to Silent Storm though where there are more options to choose from and whilst each soldier has a speciality they are much more unique in Silent Storm as a result of the wider array of perks available. This feels a little dumbed down with either/or choices, but again it does work surprisingly well in the field if you don't choose the same perks for all your same-class soldiers and was an area I was determined I would hate but actually like. Psi abilities are similarly a choice of one or the other ability, with an even shorter tree - presumably because you're near the end of the game and they might not have time to reach the top. The whole idea with the different soldiers is to stop people playing like I played the original - all soldiers with rifles and no variation, plus making you think about tactics, but an unlucky game could land you with a barracks with too many of one class and they could have solved this by making it a choice which class your soldiers were during their first promotion rather than randomising it.
Aliens - wow! I love them. Later on, Mutons and Floaters get upgrades (Floaters are harder to kill, Mutons are MUCH harder to kill). Sectopods are frighteningly powerful in terms of weaponry and the one Ethereal I've encountered had some nice new abilities. They've stripped out the pointless aliens and essentially upgraded the remaining "original" aliens in interesting ways so they're fresh for all players regardless of experience. They do seem to back off at the slightest sign of a beating in later missions on Normal setting, probably because I'm overpowering them in the first couple of turns like a bad sport.
Difficulty settings - Normal is a bit easy for me. Looking on the forums though it's as wildly unpredictable as the original game is though as you can get wiped out quickly for wrong decisions or an unlucky roll of the dice, but once you get better armour and used to the tactics on hand Normal is a bit of a breeze for veteran players of the original (spot, snipe, repeat) and I'm essentially playing self-imposed Ironman to boot! Not played classic yet, but hear it's a lot harder.
The maps... I read somewhere there are only 70 unique maps. I can see why they're not randomly generated, but of all the missions so far on Normal, only once have I been impressed beyond words (I was lured down an alley and the enemy flanked me effectively - fortunately I had Titan armour and enough perks to resolve that but it was a moment where I actually said "oh wow" out loud). That shouldn't be the exception though, it should be the norm, and maybe the aliens are harder in more ways than just hit points and accuracy on higher settings.
Atmosphere - it's not scary, but I do dream about it, so there's that I had in common with the original. I think that's just down to too much cheese in my diet and an unhealthy amount of play time in a 48 hour period
Graphics - detract from the atmosphere in places. Certain (or most) animations and some of the silly things your team say remove you from the feeling you had when playing the original. Other than that, it's darned good-looking for a game using an engine this old!
Music - can't really fault it, except I might be right in saying there's no suspense music for things like the alien base or night missions. Both mission types and maybe others could have used it to give you a scarier atmosphere.
Sound effects - there are nods to the original. I've heard a few whooshes that sound like buttons being pressed in menus on the original, and the footfall when you're on a metal floor such as a UFO sounds like it's right out of the original - there are quite a few nice nods to the original.
Voices - meh. They had a long time to implement more than the few they did, and Jake lamented on Twitter that he wishes they'd done it. With the budget they had I can't see why they didn't, but since it's this popular it won't be long before some talented community members add their own voice packs I reckon. At the end of the day, it's not the end of the world and doesn't ruin the game by any stretch of the imagination.
Modding - we've been told it's easy to mod and it appears to be true. Someone has already released a fix to enable you to play on Windows XP which was unsupported by the default game. Looking forward to more from the community.
Weapons - love the choices, but hope the community mod more into the game. Not too many more, but a few more types of each weapon which vary slightly on accuracy, range and damage would be most welcome.
End of game - can't comment as I'm not quite there yet. I'm assuming it's been left open for a sequel. They had to be about 70% sure it was going to be a massive success but it has been a gamble as so much of the game was developed before the announcement in January! I'm also still convinced they're going to attempt to tie this in with the other XCOM game in production somehow if only because they said the two aren't related (denial is the first sign of a sequel... or addiction... one or the other
Bugs - what game doesn't have them? In true gaming tradition, some people seem to be encountering them way more than others. Everyone forgets the original had a mass of bugs on release that are still being found and fixed 19 years later!
Geoscape/Mission Control - I'm unsure what to think here. UFOs seem few and far between compared to the original. I don't know whether they've restricted it to a set number between each story mission or what, but I've been at stages in the game where I've been pleading with the game to give me more UFOs because I don't have enough materials to progress any foundry or research projects - this seems a bit silly to me. It could be like the original that if you happen to start far away from the first alien base then you don't see many, so only a second playthrough will prove that one way or another.
Conclusion - needs to be waaaay longer. I think part of this is because I'm used to the original otherwise I wouldn't have a clue what to research in which order, but the main thing is that it seems to feed you the story missions too quickly thus allowing you to put the pieces of the puzzle together too quickly.
The game does project a chaotic struggle in terms of the atmosphere of an alien invasion in places, but as with any game the only way to get that across is with insane rolls of the dice and ramped up stats on aliens at harder difficulty settings. It could use more AI with the aliens (a request of pretty much every game ever) and with a limited number of maps I feel that they might have done more to get the aliens to flank you more often or be more sneaky with cover etc (again, this may be because of the difficulty setting though, so I will of course try it on much harder settings to see what that brings).
It's a damnably enjoyable and addictive game though. As PC gamers we're spoilt for choice with strategy titles so the things it lacks are all the more apparent, but each part that has been removed or simplified seems to have been done with the best of intentions, even if they don't always quite gel. It's not been built purely for console gamers, as was the original fear, but definitely bears them in mind as the game has to be navigable and playable on a controller.
I will keep coming back to the game once I beat it, there's no doubt about that, and I look forward to future content from devs (fingers crossed) and players alike!
I'll stop waffling now as I'm not writing the review, more throwing my thoughts at you and seeing what sticks (like a monkey with faeces).
I want to see the inside of the UFO in my avatar.