I have a confession to make: I’m bro.
I hang out at sports bars. Wear straight brim caps. Talk about going to the gym, but never go. When I holla at my boys, I’m all, “What up brah.” And it’s never goodbye—always “Lates bro.”
So I was totally cool with the broification of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a remake of an old-school PC game from 1994. These days, when a bro tells me he hasn’t played XCOM, I look at him like “Bro?” Some people are kind of slow. XCOM is a bro’s dream come true. My squad is equipped with assault rifles and small rockets. They are the same size as the Pats’ o-line. I command them to flank the enemy position, to take cover behind the chassis of an exploded Mazda, to be bros.
My first order of business was to eff around with XCOM’s character creation tools. I give the tools an A. I was able to create a rookie soldier that was a near facsimile of Rick Ross after only a few minutes of beard-tweaks. I placed my newly created Rick Ross on a jet to Germany, along with four other unseasoned recruits, ready to take out some alien scum. Ricky was gunned down in the second mission. He never came home.
I know what you’re thinking. Trust me, I thought so too. That was very unbro. There is an assumption that when you go into battle with a hulking black dude, one who is hoisting a gun designed to be welded to a plane over his shoulder, that everything is going to be okay. You feel self-confident, reassured, indestructible. I have been taught by countless video games and Ridley Scott films that, against whatever odds, a bro will rush in, start shooting and, through sheer determination, save the day.
It just so happens that fail-safe plan will get you nowhere fast in XCOM, because, bros or no bros, Enemy Unknown is a thing called turn-based strategy. There are quite a few things that aren’t very bro about that. For one, bros don’t answer to men wearing green v-neck sweaters. Two, bros don’t shoot wide when they open fire on a slimy invertebrate oozing about in plain sight. And three, bros don’t stop running because a stretchy line that measures how far they can run comes to an end, especially when another bro is down. After a little ruminating, I sat my controller down and said out loud, “This ain’t bro.”
At first, I was cynical. I felt wronged—pandered to. Clearly, some big shot publisher was capitalizing on my bro lifestyle to hawk their nerdcore strategy game. I didn’t trade it in right away, though, perhaps out of sheer spite. I was determined not to let them win. So I learned to play their game. I was cautious. I calculated. I planned like I have never planned before.
Things were going smooth as butter until about twelve hours in, when I lost half my crew during what seemed like a routine sweep down in Mexico. Solvyova went down, then Rangarajan, then S.W. It was hell getting out of there. And it was my own damn fault. I had been rolling broless for so long, that when I really needed to, I couldn’t bring the bro.
That’s when it struck me. XCOM isn’t a poseur, bro. It might be the broest thing ever, outbroing not only Gears of War and Madden, but also Code Red Mountain Dew and sick tribals. It manages to transcend mere bravado, manifesting a central theme of broitude. XCOM asks, no, demands that I give up my urge to bum rush those moon men, urging me to creep up on them quietly. But as soon as I figured out how to avoid a ruckus, the situation got re-situated, requiring me to run in balls out and guns a’blazin.
I can’t seem to get a grip on XCOM, which is what makes it really real. I have the lingering suspicious that I should be broing up. But at the same time, that seems like a terribly asinine thing to do. These two clashing positions, “to bro or not to bro”, are deep at the heart of XCOM. They tug against each other, with my tweaked out mind caught in the balance, frozen in Xanax-popping levels of panic. I don’t know whether to snipe these ET looking a-holes, or bring it from the side. Things used to be a lot simpler for bros.
I’ve been playing XCOM every night, and will continue doing so. I give it my full love. I’m already considering playing again once I’m finished, upping the difficulty, and maybe doing things differently. In fact, it has caused me to rethink my life a little, too. I was just thinking I should donate my hoodies to the needy, read a book sometime instead of Maxim, and quit saying bro.
Whatevs! Lates bros.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was developed by Firaxis Games and published by 2K Games. Our review is based on the Xbox 360 version. It is also available for the PlayStation 3 and PC.
Jason Johnson is a freelance writer. His work has also appeared in Kill Screen, Gamasutra, Unwinnable, Bit Creature, and WSJ Speakeasy. His favorite Wu-Tang member is GZA. He can be reached here.