Great moments in PC gaming: Finally going on the offensive in X-Com: UFO Defense

Great moments in PC gaming are short, bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories. 

X-COM: UFO Defense

Developer: Mythos Games
Year: 1994

Designer Julian Gollop's X-COM debuted the same year PC Gamer magazine launched in the US, and won a Best Strategy game award. Its legacy lives on in the recent, also excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2.

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.