UFO: Enemy Unknown. Micropose (1994) PC

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X-COM_-_UFO_Defense_Coverart

Also known as  X-Com: UFO Defense and will be referred to as X-Com in this review.

I have dabbled in the X-Com series at various points in my life but this is the first time I have actually played the first X-Com. As a result I was intrigued to see what I thought of it with semi-fresh eyes.

With that, in little over a week I have sunk around 40 hours into the game.

So how does it hold up to my now not so fresh eyes?

Story

Set in the near future (1998), the growing Alien menace leads to the nations of the world forming the Extraterrestrial Combat team (X-Com).

From here, you set about getting murdered by the aliens. Once you start to eek out a little bit of research and improve your crummy soldiers, the tide will turn, and you’ll be on a long slope to victory.

As you advance, bigger and harder aliens start to appear, but once you have body armour and plasma weapons (and later Blaster Launchers) the last half of the game becomes too easy.

A rough difficulty curve for X-Com

A rough difficulty curve for X-Com

I actually skipped laser weaponry, so when I went from Rifle Bullets to Plasma bullets I was suddenly 1 shotting most enemies.

Gameplay

X-Com is split into two modes, the GeoScape, and the Tactical (BattleScape) mode.

GeoScape is a 3d User Interface where you build your bases in semi-real-time, fiddle with research, manage equipment, and deal with the alien aircraft.

X-Com GeoScape and UFO Encounters

X-Com GeoScape and UFO Encounters

Tactical Mode is probably the main mode and uses isometric graphics, and turn based strategy for the movement. Here you’ll issue your orders and wait patiently while the enemy rapes your face. So best get used to saving before you do anything.

X-Com is not in the least bit forgiving. Even with full body armour you’ll be losing your soldiers every other turn, and that isn’t taking into account enemies with explosives or sodding Blaster Launchers! But, somehow, it remains fun.

Negatives?

There are a few issues I had on my playthrough, and these are a mixture of design and one tiny bug.

The bug, is small, but it really made my piss boil when it happens…

The pathfinding can be VERY suspect at times, especially if your soldier is near a staircase. If you tell the soldier to go to another room, and a staircase is in the way, they’ll go up/down stairs. It isn’t gamebreaking, but it is freakishly annoying when it happens. This primarily happens when doing base defense missions and could have been resolved with some sort of path display.

Researching Cydonia or Bust, is your endgame, and to do this you need to capture an Enemy Commander. These guys only appear in Alien Bases, and you need to stun them to capture them. If you don’t know the full research path it can all be a bit of a faff with a lot of back tracking. It can also feel a little unfair as not everything is explained in the research tree (Cydonia or Bust is explicitly told to you through other research notes).

I had pretty much wiped out the Aliens with my squad of 10 guys with Blaster Launchers. I had researched Plasma/Aircraft and Psi defence. But I had neglected Alien Autopsies, Psi attacks and stun weaponry. This meant I was unable to identify the Alien Commanders, or stun them when I did find them.

It was at this point I may have become "the bad guys"

It was at this point I may have become “the bad guys”

This all meant I had two game months where I wasn’t progressing, I was having to do battles just to keep the finances ticking over, and trying to research at all my bases.

The 80 item limit is an issue for newbs like me. When you do a base defense mission the first 80 items you have will be the 80 items you take into battle.

So, if you have 40 first aid kits, 5 rifles, 100 rifle clips 10 plasma guns and 30 plasma shells (plus more), you will go into the battle without any of the stuff you want/need because the medikits, 5 guns and ammo will fill your slots. This means you need to be constantly selling off excess equipment, but the timing of events can screw you, particularly if you just returned from a Terror Raid/Base attack type mission with a tonne of gear.

Due to a bad save point, I had to defend a base with 20 men, but only 5 rocket launchers and 10 rockets and a few rifles. Luckily, I won by hiding in cupboards, and using hit and run tactics.

Hiding in a cupboard like a pro!

Hiding in a cupboard like a pro!

Once you get to a certain point it all gets too easy. Even on harder difficulties, enemies like the Crysallids (that turn you’re men into clones of it) stop being a threat once you have Plasma weapons. Ed: There is a game bug, where the game defaults to easy after first battle.

I only had to deal with 2 base defenses before my base defense became so high they couldn’t attack anymore. My 2nd base, imaginatively named Base 2 was attacked 15 times in the last month of the game. Ed 2: This is also a bug, Aliens will constantly attack a base if it can’t beat the defence.

I didn’t even bother to have soldiers defending it.

They stopped getting through...

They stopped getting through…

Finally, unless you write you’re team names down, it is very hard to keep track of who dies. You are not notified of a soldiers death, and the only time you are told about a death is if they die from unhealed wounds. So don’t be surprised if you loose track of squad members.

Great, who the fuck is Rob standing on!

Great, who the fuck is Rob standing on!

Positives?

X-Com is a time sink, I played it 9-5 for 7 days with very few breaks. So there is something there that kept me going, but I do question the replayability.

I enjoy the slow methodical nature of turn based strategy, but I do realise it is an acquired taste so won’t be for everyone. If you don’t like slow paced, and methodical strategy then this isn’t the game for you.

You can ‘cheat’ by saving every time you do something, and if you name your squad after mates you’ll end up doing this.

It means you form an attachment to the soliders, and makes it very difficult when you need to start sending Ensign Box VIII with primed grenades into the bush to flush out enemies.

Brave Souls for the last mission

Brave Souls for the last mission

I found X-Com very intuitive, I haven’t played the game before and I was playing the GoG version, so I hadn’t read the manual. But I was able to get the research, base building and squad management working quickly and without fuss.

There is a lot of depth to X-Com and for me to be able to pick up and play so quickly goes to show how intuitive it is.

Overall

I really enjoyed X-Com. Though the last 10 hours was more of a slog than it should have been.

Every game will be different, but at the same time X-Com does start to feel samey after your 30th UFO mission, or Terror Mission 11. Harder difficulties just seem to add more aliens to a mission and the likelihood of harder aliens appearing, but not their overall stats or strategies for dealing with them. It means that if you’re good vs easy aliens it isn’t much of a step to the ‘super hard’ ones.

It is a fun game, but unless you have all the time in the world there isn’t much reason to start a second game.

Pros: loads of depth, slow methodical and tactical, Very satisfying when you get past the difficulty early game. Very easy to learn UI

Cons: Once you’re past the difficult stage it gets too easy too quick, for me it lacks replayability, final boss isn’t a boss

85%

The final boss is a little disappointing

The final boss is a little disappointing

 

 

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