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We didn't know how lucky we were. "Hey, that's a decent improvement on the original," we thought back when Borderlands 2 came out in 2012. Great class system. Tons of guns. It was a lot of fun. We didn't realize Borderlands 2 would end up being a framework so many games would build on, and yet fail to live up to. We didn't realize it was quite so special.
Borderlands 2 took stuff from MMOs, like color-coded rarity levels and raids, but reduced the boredom of traveling by adding bouncy vehicles right out of Halo. It worked both as a co-op experience for friends who wanted an excuse to hang out online, and a solo game. It had a long tail of DLC, timed events like the $100,000 Loot Hunt, and endgame challenges like Digistruct Peak, as well as Overpower levels for players who'd maxed out everything else. Though it predated "games as a service" it was, in its own way, a forever game. There are still at least 5,000 people playing it at any given time on Steam, even today.
At the same time, Borderlands 2 is very 2012. When the siren-class character, Maya, spots an elite enemy she shouts "We got a badass over here!" like the Neil deGrasse Tyson reaction. Axton, the soldier-class character, sometimes says "You get a bullet, and you get a bullet!" like Oprah but for murders. There's a double rainbow easter egg, and the pirate-themed DLC features ninja pirates for god's sake. Borderlands 2 is a museum of memes from the early 2010s.
It's also heavy with pop culture references, but there's a line between the two. The vehicles added in the Captain Scarlett & Her Pirate's Booty DLC are designed to look like the skiff from Return of the Jedi. That's just a reference. When Gaige, the mechromancer-class character, shouts "Unlimited power!" like a million image macros of Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith, that's a meme.
Now, several years later, I find the dated-ness of those memes weirdly charming. I haven't heard anyone say "Garbage Day!" or reference trap cards in ages, but here they are in Borderlands 2, frozen in meme amber.
It wasn't all memes, of course. We wouldn't have cared about departing NPCs saying "I must go, my people need me" if they weren't in a game that kept us around with an eternal cascade of sweet loot. The sniper rifle that shoots acid bullets in three-round bursts when zoomed. The pistol that reloads almost instantly and is stable as a rock. Those kept us playing through True Vault Hunter difficulty, through multiple DLC packs, across hundreds of hours.
Play a loot game for that long and builds inevitably degenerate. One example of that was The Bee, a shield with a decent chance of dropping from a propaganda radio host in the Boneyard area of the Arid Nexus. Named for Muhammad Ali's famous quote (a reference, not a meme), The Bee gave bonus damage per shot and was massively overpowered if combined with guns that had a high rate of fire. Which is what everyone did once they figured out how to farm it. Borderlands developers Gearbox treated the exploit like an MMO developer would and nerfed it, rather than just letting it slide like devs might in a more typical first-person shooter that wasn't meant to be played for years.
While Borderlands 2 is definitely an FPS, judging it by those standards misses its appeal. Its enemies possess only rudimentary tactics, throwing grenades at players behind cover but otherwise not doing much to coordinate. The spaces you fight them in are deliberately samey, with exploding barrels keyed to different elemental damage types placed throughout every bandit stronghold. The point isn't to outsmart the AI, but to transform your character into an effective mathematical engine to munch them with.
Shielded enemies are susceptible to electrical attacks, while armored enemies can be melted by corrosive ones. Fire attacks are best against enemies who have no special defences but plenty of regular health, and Borderlands 2 has no shortage of meaty bullet sponges. Anyone who takes damage from slag will take bonus damage from any non-slag attack that follows. Juggling all these things, working with other players or swapping between guns, grenades, and powers with different damage types, it can feel more like playing Final Fantasy or Pokemon than Half-Life. "Maya uses pistol that shoots rockets. It's super-effective!" (That's both a meme and a reference for you).
Which is not to say that it's bad at being a shooter. Borderlands 2 doesn't do the RPG thing of having the numbers invalidate your ability to aim. If you land a shot on someone it doesn't matter what your gun's stats are, you landed that shot. Enemies take bonus damage if you hit them where they're weakest, and goliaths will frenzy and attack their allies if you pop off their dopey bucket heads. The expectations of FPS players are catered to, with the dopamine hit of RPG progression layered on top.
Other looter shooters are still struggling to recreate what Borderlands 2 did right. The Division games have boring loot, all kneepads and guns that don't even explode like grenades when thrown. Warframe's a completely different game for its opening hours before it gets good, and Anthem never does. Destiny's NPCs keep obnoxiously trying to remind you of their personalities every time they pop up, but most of them are forgettable. The Ghost is just Claptrap for boring people.
The Gearbox of today isn't the Gearbox of 2012, however. Borderlands 2's lead writer, Anthony Burch, is not writing Borderlands 3. The second game's creative director, Mikey Neumann, has also left the studio (though he did come back to help make Borderlands 3's trailer). And between the release of Borderlands 2 and now Gearbox has been responsible for Aliens: Colonial Marines and Battleborn. It's tempting to lower our expectations a little.
That trailer really does look like classic flavor Borderlands, though. Some have expressed disappointment with that familiarity, but a game that sticks to the template would be preferable to one that's beholden to all the worst trends of modern looter shooters. A Borderlands game with battle passes, microtransactions, and a confusing variety of different currencies? No, thanks. I'd rather they stick to their guns.
And what about the memes? What's 2019 got to contribute—jokes about whether unused items in your inventory "spark joy"? Bandits impersonating Powerful Shaggy instead of quoting Hamlet? I wrote that as a joke but now I think about it, that would rule. Still, memes aren't the same carefree internet japes they were when Borderlands 2 came out and the idea of someone at Gearbox having to sift out the ones that have been appropriated by bigots is a depressing thought.
When Borderlands 2 was new I played it with friends. We had a blast, and to my surprise I realized I was interested in the story, not just the shooting. I made a second character just to go through it solo, hunting down audio logs and hanging on Handsome Jack's every word.
That's what stands out when I compare it to the looter shooters that followed. I can't imagine doing the same thing in The Division 2, a game where even fans don't care about the plot. If Borderlands 2 did adopt some of the trappings of modern looter-shooters I wouldn't mind too much, so long as it kept the idea that it's worth having an arc, a villain you love to hate and a plot that feels like it's building to something.
Also the song that plays over the opening credits has to rule, but that's a given.
Announced at today's Borderlands panel at PAX East 2019, Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel are each getting an Ultra HD texture pack as a free download. They'll redo textures across the game, from characters and vehicles to weapons and environments.
The pack won't just include textures, though—it'll add some extra graphical touches, like higher resolution dynamic shadows, improved Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, and better anti-aliasing. Some of the visual improvements will be added automatically after you download.
They'll arrive for both games on April 3rd.
When Gearbox released Borderlands 2 in 2012, it had a novel idea: "SHiFT codes," which players could find on Borderlands' forums and social media accounts and enter into the game to unlock rare weapons and cosmetics. Shift codes come in two main varieties:
Today Borderlands 2 is still going strong on Steam, and Gearbox is still doling out new Shift codes. In fact, Gearbox dropped some big ones when it announced Borderlands 3.
If you're playing Borderlands 2 for the first time or replaying it while you wait for Borderlands 3, why not load up on rare guns and cool skins? Below we've collected tons of Borderlands 2 Shift codes that unlock skins or big piles of keys, and we've also listed some time-sensitive codes for Golden Keys that are current as of July 2019.
Here are some hot new Borderlands 2 Shift codes from the announcement of Borderlands 3. These are big ones, either worth a ton of keys or unlocking previously exclusive and rare skins.
W3KJB-H9CBW-XRBRW-JTBTJ-9JRXK (25 Golden Keys)
C35TB-WS6ST-TXBRK-TTTJT-JJH6H (Salvador's Community Day Skin, 5 Golden Keys)
53KBB-KXXRC-RZ66Z-WFJBB-WSRZ3 (Zer0's Community Day Skin, 5 Golden Keys)
5B3BJ-XZWFW-T3KRZ-JBJTB-6WST9 (Maya's Community Day Skin)
W353J-RR6RC-X96R9-C63J3-RJTFW (Axton's Community Day Skin, 5 Golden Keys)
New shift codes that work as of July 2019:
KTWJT-CRXSB-RRJFC-JTT33-RWXJH (5 Golden Keys, expires July 22)
53CJT-XXF9B-6FJFW-BT3J3-WRS65 (5 Golden Keys, expires July 22)
CBCTJ-SFXZ3-RFBRC-JTJ3T-JK3B3 (5 Golden Keys, expires August 5)
W3K3T-TSR9B-XXBF5-JJJBB-TXZFW (5 Golden Keys, expires August 5)
To find new codes regularly you can follow the official Gearbox and Borderlands social media accounts, but your most efficient destination for Shift codes is this website: Shift.Orcicorn.com. The website automatically monitors and posts updates from both Twitter and Facebook onto one convenient page. If Gearbox has put out a new batch of Shift codes, they'll be listed here. The Twitter account is also easy to follow.
Keep in mind that Shift codes typically expire after 2-3 weeks, so check in once a week or so if you're actively looking to stockpile.
Now let's get to the really good stuff: special Shift codes that can unlock unique items and cosmetics.
Despite being years old, these Shift codes for character skins haven't been deactivated (at least, not yet). As far as we know, they should continue to work. Thanks to Orcz for an exhaustive list that's mostly up-to-date.
Note: These codes are all for the PC version of Borderlands 2 and won't work on consoles. For PS/Xbox codes, follow the Orcz link above.
Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep
KTK3J-FR3JS-ZX55B-B3BJ3-HSRB6 (Axton’s Natural Twenty skin)
535BB-3R3BZ-HF5K3-JJB33-3BF3J (Gaige’s Summoner Sickness Skin)
CTKJ3-9CBJS-9R5WT-JBJ3T-WKXKF (Zer0’s The Pandora Chainmail Massacre skin)
CBCJ3-W5TT9-S65K3-BJJ3B-XHWWC (Maya’s Her Violent Nature skin)
CBKJ3-5FT39-ZRCCT-JTJB3-RFJ5B (Krieg’s My Fantasies Involve Blood skin)
5J5TT-RCJBS-ZXWCJ-TJ3BJ-TK3FB (Salvador’s Bear Naked skin)
KJKJT-WHBKX-HC9BT-TJBJ3-XJFSJ (Axton's Warrior of Light head)
CBKBJ-6ZJW6-HKH3T-B3T33-F5ZRS (Gaige's Wayfarer Wizard head)
CT5BB-XTW5X-9CSBT-3BTTJ-FT5X5 (Zer0's G0ry Gh0ul head)
KTC3T-WTW5F-ZCHB3-BT3B3-XJ9WR (Maya's Elven Eliminator head)
CBKBB-ZHJC6-SWHJT-JJ3BB-3CXHS (Krieg's My Ears Are Ringing head)
WBCJJ-33KWR-S5Z33-BJTTB-65WJJ (Salvador's The Beast Within head)
5T53B-6K9KT-Z5B65-BTJJ3-655CZ (Loverpalooza skins & gun)
WTCBJ-FTCXF-5TXCT-3TJ33-TZXW6 (Krieg's Loverpalooza skin)
Luck of the Zafords
5JWT3-3H5FB-SCBX5-TJ3JB-H5R6X (Luck of the Zafords skins & Chulainn SMG)
Borderlands The Pre-Sequel
CJKBJ-3XWTF-HCJ6K-JJB3T-SB35X (Axton as Athena skin)
CTWTB-RXKTR-SKJXW-3TBTJ-KXKKH (Salvador as Wilhelm skin)
KBWT3-WF5TR-SC3XW-T333B-TSCTS (Maya as Nisha skin)
W3C33-H653X-9CTR5-3TBJ3-HZ99S (Zer0 as Claptrap skin)
53WT3-59KJX-95B65-3J333-S9JW9 (Gaige as Moon Moxxi skin)
CTKTJ-JSWJF-SCJXK-3TJJ3-RWTKX (Krieg as a Scav skin)
Class Mods change how characters play and give certain skills big buffs and bonuses. Definitely use these Shift codes if you're planning a new Borderlands 2 playthrough, since they'll open up new ways to play.
5JKBJ-K9WHW-WBZTJ-T3TTB-TW9HR (Axton Class Mod)
W3C3B-5JRZC-WJH33-JBJJB-9S6CJ (Gaige Class Mod)
CBWJ3-S5CJ3-WTTCF-WX333-9STBF (Zer0 Class Mod)
WJWJ3-FXC33-KT3CR-KR33J-J9B35 (Maya Class Mod)
WTCJT-J653B-C3TKF-5X333-F6JRH (Krieg Class Mod)
WJKBB-KXC3J-5BBCR-5X33J-XZ6RZ (Salvador Class Mod)
Check the long list of Shift codes on this Wiki page to find loads of codes that still work. Most of them will give you a bundle good for five Golden Keys, which means five openings of the chest in Sanctuary for purple loot. But here are a few codes you should definitely activate, which are good for way more than just five keys. Pump these in and you'll be swimming in loot!
WBK3T-BKW6T-TXTRK-JTTBT-C6BS5 (25 Golden Keys)
5BW3B-F96CT-KXJFK-TB3B3-39BWZ (20 Golden Keys)
Last month a Redditor posted a photo of "Borderlands wig made out of foam by Goldvester Cosplay", showing a recreation of Gaige's hair from the Borderlands 2 Mechromancer DLC. Though the wig is a 3D object made out of foam, it's got heavy black outlining around it that makes it look like a cel-shaded 2D cartoon from any angle, and if you look at it long enough it'll hurt your eyes. The comments underneath that Reddit post are full of people saying "My brain refuses to interpret this properly" and "REDDIT is now CONFUSED!"
It's the work of Jennifer, aka Goldvester, who specializes in brain-breaking cel-shaded cosplay. Here she is as Snow White from The Wolf Among Us.
There are plenty of tutorial videos to show how these effects are achieved, like this one showing off bodypaint work, this one for clothes, and this for prop work. Though characters from Telltale games, comic books, and cartoons like Archer are popular inspirations, most of the cosplayers bringing cel-shading to life focus on the Borderlands games. Here's how Jennifer's Gaige ended up, as well as some shots of her as other Borderlands favorites Maya and Mad Moxxi. Plus, one more look at that downright eerie Snow White.
Believe it or not, it's been six years, almost to the day, since Firaxis very successfully brought back the X-Com sci-fi strategy series with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. In fact, on October 9 it will be six years to the day, and it's possible that the developers might be doing something to celebrate the birthday.
Solomon was the designer on XCOM and XCOM 2, while Garth DeAngelis was the producer on both projects and Greg Foertsch was the art director. In other words, it's the top trio of XCOM execs just shooting the breeze, speculating idly about "doing something special" for the fans.
Could there be more to it than casual chit chat? Six years is an odd sort of anniversary to make a big fuss over, and there's no obvious reason for it that leaps out at me. But it's interesting that games from the original X-Com series were released in 1994, '95, '97, '98, and '99, but not 1996. Coincidence? Hey man, I just work here.
Borderlands 2 and Superhot are both excellent shooters, for very different reasons—one is a colourful FPS with a bajillion guns and cool enemies, the other is a more minimalist, focused affair that's all about timing and careful movement. A mod that combines the two should be out in the "next few days" and, from the trailer above, it looks like a brilliant mash-up.
Superhot's key mechanic is that time only moves when you move, and when transplanted into Borderlands 2 that means being able to jump over bullets in slow motion, dodge massive machine gun fire, and vault over enemies' heads before popping them in the back.
Borderlands 2's enemies can be bullet sponges, but here—just like Superhot—it's one shot, one kill. Even though that negates the game's core charm of constantly finding a bigger, better gun to play with, I think it'll be a good excuse to jump back in and muck about for a few hours. It's not shown in the trailer but, presumably, you'll die in one shot too.
The mod's creator Blacktavius said on Reddit that it'll be out over the next few days, and that you won't be able to play with a gamepad. Keep an eye on the Borderlands 2 subreddit to find out when it goes live.
As you prepare to escape into the weekend, Fanatical wants you to escape Planet Earth. The digital storefront's Sci-Fi Weekend Sale is live now through Monday, August 27 at 4pm BST / 8am PST—and offers discounts on the likes of Borderlands 2, Galactic Civilizations 3, and System Shock 2.
From front to back, those are going for £4.99, £10.53 and £1.04/your regional equivalent, respectively. If you fancy catching the latter's full story, the System Shock Pack adds the original's Enhanced Edition for £2.09.
Other highlights include Offworld Trading Company for £7.49, and indie gem The Final Station for just £2.19. Like most of Fanatical's sales, entering a special coupon will next you an extra ten percent off. This 'un's code is SCIFI10.
Before you go—remember that Fanatical Assistant browser extension we mentioned a while back? Well, syncing your Steam Wishlist via the tool now stands you the chance of winning $100.
"Everyone who syncs their Steam Wishlist via the Fanatical Assistant browser extension will be entered into our special prize draw, it's as simple as that," says Fanatical. "Ten lucky winners are in with the chance of bagging $100 to spend on the Fanatical Store, with thousands of PC games to choose from.
"Everyone who has installed Fanatical Assistant and synced their Steam Wishlist since the extension launched in July will be eligible to win. Details on how you can sync and win can be found [here], as well as the T&Cs. The contest ends on September 3rd at 9am BST—good luck, and thanks for syncing."
Some online stores give us a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Read our affiliate policy for more info.
Qualcomm is a San Diego-based company specializing in telecommunications equipment. As The LA Times reports, three of Qualcomm's top executives recently left to start their own tech company, also based in San Diego, and they're calling it… XCOM. Not Excom. Not even EXCOM. Just XCOM. As in, you know, XCOM.
They had a 95 percent chance to hit, and somehow they still missed.
What will XCOM specialize in, you ask? "Inventing and investing in wireless technologies to propel the next mobile revolution," according to its newly minted site. Before they can get to that though, as XCOM designer Jake Solomon pointed out on Twitter, they've got another problem to figure out first:
Whether it’s an Easter egg, a joke character, or just a little nudge at a competitor, developers love slipping the odd reference to other games into their own. Sometimes though, they go beyond just slapping a Dopefish on a wall or quipping about a ‘doomed space marine’, and we get to see our heroes stride into entirely new, often completely inappropriate new worlds.
Here are a few of our favourites, along the ones that caused the most ‘wait, what?’ blinking on discovery.
Yes, he can hold his breath underwater for ten minutes and quip his way through any sword-fight… but only The Force Unleashed II let him try his luck with a lightsaber. Turns out that you don’t need a sharp wit if you’re waving around two of the universe’s deadliest glowsticks and aren’t afraid to use them. Guybrush Threepkiller is so famous in-universe, he even has his own statues. We’re almost positive that’ll be brought up at some point in the next movie. After all, Rey does need a new teacher. Just as long as Elaine never finds out about it.
Obviously, everything in the Assassin’s Creed series is meticulously researched and true to life, especially the alien gods and the time Ezio punched the Pope. Write it all down in your history homework! Which means that, while aliens might not have built the pyramids, they definitely got up to a bit of chocobo racing on the side. That’s according to this crossover, where Assassins ended up in Final Fantasy XV, while its villain ended up pounding sand for a bit before being dragged back to his own game by a hastily summoned Bahamut. There’s even a stuffed Moogle lying around in case you feel lonely after they’ve gone, and some fancy weapons to keep and confuse archaeologists for a few thousand years. Along with that Stargate, obviously.
There’s a few odd appearances in Doom 2, including the severed head of John Romero as the end-boss, and a trip back to Wolfenstein 3D in the secret levels. By far the strangest thing though is what lies behind those: former id star Commander Keen… murdered and hanging from meathooks. The story goes that Adrian Carmack was the childkiller in question, having chafed at making cutesy games instead of enjoying himself with blood and guts. However, that was not enough to get rid of the boy-genius forever, for both John Romero and Tom Hall have confirmed that Commander Keen, real name Billy Blaze, is in fact Wolfenstein hero BJ Blazkowicz’s grandson… and father to the Doomguy. What a strange family tree.
He’s the world’s mightiest worm! He fights aliens! He travels galaxies! He gets flattened by a lot of cows! And he’s one of the few 90s mascots to actually be awesome, starring in two excellent platformers, one surprisingly good cartoon series, and… well, let’s not mention the sequels. Like Bubsy, 3D was not kind to Earthworm Jim, though unlike Bubsy, people actually cared. His most successful jump into the third dimension turned out to be this Easter Egg in the PC version of Toshinden, where with the help of his super-suit and a really big club, he was finally able to make the future of gaming eat dirt. Pound them into the ground. Bury himself in glory. Be cut in half and yet… no, wait. Not that one. But it was still as good as fans were going to get.
Easily the most ambitious gaming crossover in recent memory… and it’s all about hanging out between games. Telltale’s Poker Night series combined, amongst a few others (deep breath) The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Max from Sam and Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade Adventures and also some webcomic whose name we forget off-hand, GLaDOS from Portal, Brock Samson from the Venture Bros (not a game, but never mind), Claptrap from Borderlands, Sam from Sam and Max replacing Max from Sam and Max, and Ash from The Evil Dead. Phew.
They weren’t great poker games, but that wasn’t really the point. It was about the banter between the different competitors as they sat back and shot the shit without the customary heavy artillery. We could also have had members of the cast from The Walking Dead and Back to the Future, but they were deemed unsuitable for the atmosphere. They didn’t want anyone crying, or any kids seeing Doc and Marty in a sweary environment. A pity. When the game revved up, they could have seen some serious shit.
When Bethesda showed off DLC for Oblivion, it was horse armour. And everybody laughed. Come Skyrim, the laugh was far more positive. One of the earliest additions saw the exiled Space Core (spoilers for a decade old game there) crash-land in Tamriel, still just as eager to explore SPAAAAAAAACE. Going bizarrely unnoticed by the locals, all probably fretting about that whole dragon invasion thing, it came crashing down in a plume of smoke. Pick it up and it still kept blinking and talking in your inventory, delivering… well, not very varied dialogue. In summary: “Space. Space. Space!” And yet, still it was less annoying than all those guards and their epic tales of glory curtailed by the sudden impact of a ballistic stick to the lower-leg.
What does XCOM do when there are no aliens to fight? Apparently, they learn to ****ing shoot straight. The XCOM Squad in Civ V is an elite tactical unit that gets the job done, air-dropping into friendly territory and laying down the law. Specifically, Thou Shalt Not Screw With XCOM. In the absence of aliens, they have their eyes set on "Giant Death Robots," and are happy to act as shock troopers or defensive units while they watch the skies and await their destiny. But since there are apparently no aliens interested in Earth during the Civ games, they’re probably going to be waiting a while. Should have taken the flight to Alpha Centauri.
Sierra On-Line loved its in-jokes. Not one but two sequels (this one and Space Quest III) ended with the characters somehow finding their way to the developers’ own offices for a chat with studio leads Ken and Roberta Williams, with Larry also taking trips to a Westworld style factory where adventure heroes are rebuilt after every stupid death, complete with King’s Quest’s King Graham being readied for duty, and finally showing up in the Old West for a cameo in Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist. By far the strangest cameos came at the end of Leisure Suit Larry 3, where the trip to Sierraland involved trekking through scenes from games like Police Quest and Space Quest 2, before meeting Roberta Williams directing a particularly annoying scene from King’s Quest IV, in which Princess Rosella is trapped in the slobbery mouth of a giant whale. Strange.
He’s covered wars, you know. But oddly, Dead Rising’s original and best hero doesn’t seem to know how to cover himself in this odd outing. Despite Lost Planet being set on a frozen world, everyone’s favourite photographer show up not only without his camera, but also without his trousers. Somehow avoiding hypothermia, he runs around in nothing but underpants, while still managing to rain destruction on the armies of insects happy to not have to peel their food for once. What a trooper.
Fighting game characters are probably the most cameo-friendly of all, whether it’s a full game like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, or bonus combatants-without-a-k-because-that’s-how-it’s-spelled in the likes of Injustice. But they show up in other games with curious regularity too. Lightning god Raiden for instance showed up in Unreal Championship, while invisible fighter Reptile could have popped into basically any game. Ever seen a flicker on your screen playing, say, Fortnite? As far as you know, it might be him.
But still, this was an odd one. Even though Midway was the publisher of both MK and Psi-Ops, it’s a bit of a leap from fighting game to third-person action game. Sadly, just wearing his palette-swapped ninja outfit didn’t actually make you the world’s clingiest fighter. He still had to swap out his “get over here!” attack for regular guns. On the plus side, having to beat every character in the game two out of three times would have gotten pretty darn tiring.
Great moments in PC gaming are short, bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
One of the great things about the original X-COM, or UFO: Enemy Unknown as it was called in the UK, was that it wasn’t afraid to be about losing. Losing really badly. Apocalyptically badly, often. Not for nothing did it have ‘terror missions’, which lived up to their name as the initial weak little-grey-men Sectoids got politely pushed out of the way for the likes of the Chryssalids, hideous Giger style monsters who didn’t just kill your jumpsuit-wearing soldiers, but implanted them with hideous alien wing-wang to turn them first into a zombie, and then into another bloody Chryssalid.
So many deaths. So many worlds lost.
Ah, but then comes The Moment. You can almost feel it in the air. The moment where the tables turn, and the X-COM organization switches from a plucky group of do-gooders into a tooled-up force of pure human vengeance. When you stop going into battle with simple pistols and prayers and start tooling up with advanced technology ripped from the aliens themselves. Psychic boosters, plasma guns, the Blaster Bomb. When you stop playing defensively and go on the offensive, shooting down UFOs like they were clay pigeons and preparing to give them a taste of their own medicine. Launching your own ship, the Avenger, to fly to Mars and kick all kinds of arse.
That’s the moment that defines X-Com, and arguably one of the biggest reasons why the series is always such a pleasure to return to.