Together Retro Game Club: X-Com UFO Defense

Together Retro: XCom

Presented by Fastbilly & Racketboy
New To Together Retro? Check out the introduction to the club

Again for Together Retro we are heading back to the early 90s for a pc title. This time however it is not a point and click adventure like Secret of Monkey Island and Broken Sword (Shadows of the Templars/Circle of Blood). This time we are going for a game that redefined the Tactical Genre and is frequently in the top 10 games of all time. Xcom: UFO Defense/UFO: Enemy Unknown (hence forth called Xcom) is a Real Time Tactics game by the brilliant minds at Mythos Games. It requires you to plan and strategize, make proper use of your terrain, maintain an economy, and send wave after wave of your own men to their doom. So get ready ensign, its about to get rough.



Xcom started its journey way back in the mid 80s. Julian Gollop, a programmer in the United Kingdom, created a game called Rebelstar Raiders. A game for the Speccy that pitted two players against each other in a game of human Raiders vs Robots. The game featured both melee and ranged combat, line of sight rules, and endurance, among other advanced elements. Fairly advanced for its time, Rebelstar Raiders did decently well on store shelves. It lead the way for a sequel called Rebelstar (also for the Speccy). This time around it featured big maps, new game mechanics, and AI so it could be played solo. Rebelstar was praised by Speccy fans and is still held as one of the best games on the pc. Rebelstar’s last game in the 90s was the 1988 release Rebelstar II. Though it was an original work it drew a lot of similarities to the ever popular Alien films (not nearly as many as Alien Breed though). Regardless it is a fantastic game. The Rebelstar series did not have another title in it until the 2005 release of Rebelstar: Tactical Command on the GBA. Like many reboots it did not hold true to the originals, but it is a fun little game in its own right – far more Xcom inspired than Rebelstar.

Many of the devices that Julian developed and honed in the Rebelstar games were combined together for Mythos Games 1988 Speccy title Laser Squad. A five mission scifi tactics game that took everything great about the Rebelstar series and added in elements from table top wargames and what came out is the foundation for Xcom. There is a fantasy spinoff called Lords of Chaos (I know I know, technically it is its own series as the sequel to Chaos, but it is pretty much a spinoff).

But Julian wasn’t done with the system there, thankfully. When pitching a sequel to Laser Squad called Laser Strike 2, Julian was advised by backers at Microprose and recreated the title as Xcom. The game was released in 1994 and was a smashing success.


In Xcom you are the commander of the UFO defense system for the world. You must negotiate with backers, research new weapons, and show those alien invaders whos boss. How you do this is complicated and one could easily write books on it, but I will give a quick overview of the combat system. If you have played a Strategy RPG, ie Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, Shining Force, or even the board game Heroscape, you have a basis for the combat. The difference is that Xcom is a Turn Based Tactics game and not a Strategy RPG, so it is far more technical and complicated. The best way to think about combat is if you were part of the team. So yes, if you have a higher vantage point, ej so a second story window you will have a greater range of fire. Your characters cannot see behind themselves, or in the dark, so you have to watch point and have soldiers in overwatch. You have to be standing next to a window to look in, setup illumination in dark stages, and you need to learn when it is best to retreat. The game is brutally difficult, but it can be a lot easier if you think and weigh your odds. It is a game that penalizes rushing into things. Yes you can just save and load every turn, but there is no fun in that.


  • Xcom spawned several sequels and spinoffs:
  • Xcom: Terror of the Deep – 1995 – Xcom but underwater
  • Xcom: Apocolypse – 1997 – Xcom but realtime
  • Xcom: Interceptor – 1998 – Space combat…
  • Xcom Email Games – 1999 – yeah don’t ask
  • Xcom: Enforcer – 2001 – Arcade styled third person shooter
  • And recently announced:
  • XCOM – 2010
  • As you can imagine, only the original was created by Julian.


PC game is Mouse Driven with a handful of keyboard shortcuts.
The manual can be found either in your download from Steam/Direct 2 Drive or with our good friends at Replacement Docs

Obtaining The Game Cheap & Easy


Xcom was only ported to the Playstation in 1995. It is a port with few complaints. The Amiga CD32 port has a few odd bugs but is a decent enough port aswell.

Emulation Help:

Even though the vast majority of those of us playing this game right now bought it through a digital distribution service such as Steam or Direct 2 Drive, some will still want to play it in Dosbox. Ask on our emulation forum for tricks on how to setup dosbox for this title. If you would prefer a more MAME like approach for Dos games, give D-Fend Reloaded a try.

Together Retro Discussion

Instead of posting in the comments section of the blog, we will be using the forum for all of our discussion in order to keep things more organized. So play XCom and talk to us about your thoughts and play experiences in the forums. We want to know your favorite parts, your successes and your failures
Discuss The Game In The Forum

Note: Header artwork via The Rebal Squad Project


amk says:

There also was a Pocket PC port which I heard was positively received.

Michelle says:

Also everybody should try Rebelstar Tactical Command on the GameBoy Advance!!!!! Very similar! Play it on a micro for that added futuristic flare!

gszx1337 says:

I like the art under the Together Retro Logo. 😀

michal says:


There is fan freeware remake of x-com in progress. It features same isometric gameplay but in higher resolutions, with new graphics (with more details) and new features/gameplay tweaks. Currently work is concentrated on single player x-com campaign. In plans there are also single player campaign for aliens and multiplayer.

If you’re interested, check out this project at:

There is already demo version with one tactical mission to play.

Jamotto says:

Julian Gollop also developed Xcom: Apocolypse.

Noddy says:

Apocolypse could also be played turn based :s

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