For a week now, I have been play XCOM: Enemy Unknown every chance I get. It's a great game and any fan of the strategy genre should get this. But I'm not here to boast on how good this game is, I'll save that for a another post, this post is about Ironman mode, an advanced setting in the game that I think should come as a standard extra options for future strategy games.
Ironman mode is an option in XCOM: Enemy Unknown that prevents you from loading your game. To put it simply, if shit hits the fan, you will have to live with it. Lost your best sniper? Too bad. When this mode is turned on, the game automatically saves each turn on the only save file for your current campaign. You can save it manually, but you can only overwrite your only file. You are forced to move on no matter what.
Sounds a bit harsh I know. We are all used to saving multiple times in different save slots, to take back mistakes. I do it too. But because of Iron Man mode, every single move actually counts now, just how it should be for a strategy game. Your patience will be tested. Overextend too much, and you just might lose your assault class that has already been promoted to Captain.
I was a bit wary to start my very first playthrough on Classic Ironman, but I kept hearing that XCOM is best appreciated on that kind of setting. So I went with Classic Iron Man when I popped the disc for the first time and almost instantly, I lost all control of my game. Squad members kept dying every mission, poor choice of money management, panic levels through the roof on most of the countries, before I knew it, I saw "Defeat" in my TV screen. Definitely a bad start.
It did not stop there too, the next 3-4 games ended in defeat. Losing too many experienced soldier make the game more difficulty because rookies aren't as reliable as promoted ones especially when you start encountering the tougher aliens. You really feel the weight of a mission gone wrong. It sounds like a pain yes, but people learn, I got better.
5th time was sort of the charm in this case. I was doing great in missions. Lost a few good men along the way, but my main force was maturing pretty well enough that I had the confidence that any mission would come out great. A terror mission comes up (Pretty tough, beware!), and I bring in my best guys to clean up some aliens. Well, long story short, it was the worst mission on that campaign. I lost everybody. Here's where Iron Man shines.
I could not reload. They were gone for good. My sniper nicknamed "Lockdown" had 30 alien kills was taken down by a Floater that flanked him from behind, he was a Colonel. Doc, my medic, tried to keep everybody alive but eventually got taken down by Crysalid, he should have pulled back when he could, he reached Major. "Badass Billy", my assault, missed two times point-blank, and thanks to those misses he was taken down my another floater. I had a connection with these men, they got me this far in the game, but now they are all in the memorial list. At this point I thought it was game over. I'm left with rookies, I did not prepare a second group. I was in bad shape. A new alien abduction mission showed up, and it was make it or break it at this point. I knew if I failed this, more countries would leave the XCOM project and I would be forced to make yet another campaign.
I succeeded. It felt so good. For some reason every key shot connected. It was a perfect example of a successful operation. Out of the 6 rookies I sent to the mission, five came back with promotions (level up). From there, I knew I still had a chance. That kind of story, that kind of situation, and that feeling of pulling a miracle out of your ass was made possible by turning on Iron Man mode.
If I didn't have Iron Man mode on, I would have just reload the mission, do it right, and I still have Lockdown and Doc alive and still kicking ass. That would have been good too yes, but What senario do I prefer? the successful six rookie mission, hands down. It was intense.
As I moved on with the game after that mission, I was able to stay alive until the end. One more country withdrawing from the XCOM council will result in a game over, but I was able to prevent that all the way to the end. At the end of that campaign which resulted in a victory, Those five miracle rookies, 2 were left standing. I was forced to live with my mistakes and the situation I was in. Certain decisions felt more dire, and the pressure was always there. That was a great campaign.
This is how strategy games should be. There will always be player errors. A wrong unit move resulting in his death, wrong macro management, these aren't really errors but more of a decision we have to live with, and it makes the game more interesting this way.
Now, Ironman can't be for everybody, which is why I appreciate XCOM for putting it as an extra setting for players to have the choice to play the game that way.
I hope to see Iron Man be implemented in future strategy game titles. It makes so much sense to have that option on games such as Civilization and Total War, I'm actually excited to play those games again Ironman style.
It's definitely a challenge yes, but bringing out a win when bad situations have happened to you along the way is way more satisfying than finishing a campaign thanks to reloading when things went a bit sour.