...Because XCom is a trademark owned by Atari. But Laser Squad Nemesis is the true intellectual and gameplay heir of XCOM: UFO Defense (published in Europe as UFO: Enemy Unknown), the best-selling and best-loved computer game of 1995. No surprise there; Julian and Nick Gollop developed both games. But as is typical in this industry, they signed away all IP to get XCOM published.
If there were any justice in the world, they'd be spoken of in the same breath as Sid Meier and Will Wright--but in the late 90s, they found themselves with no publisher contract and no real hope of one, cast onto the slagheap by an industry that prizes brands above all and places no value on talent. And someone else owned the brand.
So they did the Right Thing, and said, screw it. We'll do our own damn thing, online, and the hell with the conventional market. The first version of LSN went live on their website in 2002--and they have continuously expanded and improved on it since. This is, of course, one of the great things about online games; you aren't forced to live with whatever you've got when some idiot publisher says you have to ship now. There can always be another update.
Today, LSN has four playable races, a single-player campaign that will take you at least 40 hours to complete, more than a hundred maps for online play, and a community of enthusiastic players. And despite the fact that virtually everyone who plays it encountered it online (there was a short-lived boxed version that got scant distribution)--despite, in other words, what the conventional industry views as deep obscurity--virtually everyone who has bothered to review it has given it an ecstatic rave.
It's that good.
This, and not some $40 million budget game developed by hundreds of drones in an EA sweatshop--this is the future of games.
What It's Like to Play
The emphasis in LSN is truly on strategy. Victory goes to the cleverest player--not the one with the fastest reflexes, or the greatest mastery of the UI.
It is an odd but pleasing combination of turn-based and real-time gaming. You control a squad of soldiers, and each turn, you plan your move by telling them where to go and what to do, "playing" the move out to see what happens--and perhaps deciding to modify your orders if, say, that grenade bounces off the building instead of going through the window as you'd intended. Once you're satisified with your plans, you commit.
In a multiplayer game, that means your orders are now sent to the LSN server, and when your opponent's moves also come in, the server resolves the turn and sends each of you a new file. You then 'play' the turn--15 seconds of combat--and see the outcome of what you did as well as your opponent. And then you start to plan for the next 15 seconds.
The single-player game works similarly, except that the AI determines what your opposition does, so you don't have to wait on an opponent.
LSN, in short, combines the hard-thought plannning and deep strategy of a board wargame with the appealing visuals and action of a video game. By no accident, the Gollops were board wargamers back before there was such a thing as a home computer.
The free demo gives you a few single-player missions, access to 6 multiplayer maps, and a short period of free online play. It also limits you to the marines.
For a modest amount ($17 as of this writing), you get all the single player missions, access to all multiplayer maps, all four playable races, and a month of online play, as well as free updates and patches for two years.
$25 gets you the same, but 3 months of online play, and there are other deals for longer periods.
Yes, I know, you're used to RTS games where you play "for free" (after spending $50 at Gamestop). But Codo has ongoing costs to operate their servers (RTS games don't), and need an ongoing revenue stream to defray that cost. Think of this as an "MMO lite"--online play is a service, and at least LSN is a lot cheaper than WoW.