UFO: Aftershock. Altar Games (2005) PC

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ufo-aftershock-windows-front-cover

UFO: Aftershock is the sequel to UFO: Aftermath, and is not officially related to UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-Com: UFO Defense). Interestingly, the 3rd game in the series, Afterlight, is not a sequel to Aftershock in terms of the story.

Of all the games in this genre I have probably played this one the most, even more than Jagged Alliance 2.

So how does it hold up?

Story

Set in a post-apocalyptic 2050. The game follows the “Reticulan ending” in Aftermath. This means you fled Earth aboard the Laputa and allowed mankind to die out from the Biomass. Later, contact is lost with the remnants of Earth, and you go to investigate. Here you discover; Cults, a returning Reticulan threat, Mutants rampaging, and eventually the Wargots.

After the Wargots arrive, and are defeated, the game then proceeds to go on for another 20-30 hours. Where a new species is quickly introduced (Starghosts) and thanks to a number of bugs I was stuck in an almost endless cycle of  not being able to advance.

You finally find out the moon is evil, and your super clever idea involves nuking the moon.

I kid on the last bit, but you do have to go to the moon and defeat ANOTHER newly appearing enemy that comes out of left field. The Myrmecols, while described as similar to ants, actually look like jellyfish and appear for about 3 and a half minutes – they also appear in the last room in Aftermath. In terms of twists and pointless enemy switching it beats the MANY Sorceresses in Final Fantasy VIII, or the thing that appears as a final boss in Final Fantasy IX.

The Tactical Map is much clearer than in Aftermath

The Tactical Map is much clearer than in Aftermath

Gameplay

Taking it’s influence from X-Com and adding a little modern gameplay, Aftershock is a “Real Time Strategy – Squad Tactics game“, that plays like a semi-turn based game. Actions can be queued up (while paused) similar to Knights of the Old Republic, but the action will primarily take place in real time.

Like X-Com, you switch between a world map/overview where you conduct research, and accept your missions. As well as a Tactical combat mode using full 3D models presented on a Isometric style grid.

You don't need the force field shield, but why not...

You don’t need the force field shield, but why not…

There is an RPG element thrown in, in that your soldiers gain experience through completing missions. This allows you to level-up chosen stats, which leads to them being able to be trained in specialisms in a manner different (and more in depth) than UFO: Aftermath. Each solider is allowed 3 specialisms, and there are 3 levels to each specialism.

Commando training allows your men to use Katanas, Sniper Training allows the use of Sniper Rifles.

There are then other useful perks such as; Medic (better healing), Gunman (Heavy Weapons and Armour), Leader (Psionic and fear attack resistance), Ranger (bonus to melee and dual wield), Scout (See enemy health), Stalker (a more stealthy Commando) and Trooper (Bonus to rifles, and use Rocket launchers).

Some perks complement others leading to OP builds, such as a Commando/Stalker/Ranger, but you are free to mix up and create the weird hybrid of Heavy Armour wearing Commando with Sniper Rifles you always dreamt of.

Additionally, you’ll get Psionic Training (which can only be used by the Psionic character class) which will allow you to use Psionic equipment. You also get Cyborgs, which will let you learn higher levels of Cyborg implants. I found both the Psionic and Cyborg races a bit useless, as you don’t learn the useful skills until so late that they’re meaningless compared to your sniping/sword skills.

Finally, you recruit your men from each faction, and depending on your standing with that faction  the quality of troop they offer will vary. It also means you can stockpile 40 troops. You don’t need to though.

Fucking nerdy Psionics!

Fucking nerdy Psionics!

Personally, I would have 14 men, you’re allowed 7 in a squad (5 initially) and I would have 3 Commandos, 3 Snipers, and 1 medic. There was nothing that could stop this build.

This is all in theory a great feature, but it means you start to face roll VERY quickly. Once your troops get to level 3-4 they are useful, level 9 they are almost unkillable, and if you get them to level 20+ (which I did, and doesn’t take long) then you can’t lose. Unlike Aftermath, where I would loose men quicker and easier than in the X-Com games.

Difficulty

Given this is an homage to the X-COM series, the game is too easy. The game starts too easy, and the only two missions that are hard are the arrival of the Wargots, and the arrival of the Starghosts. Both times, you need to use a slightly different weapon. But in both cases that weapon is ANY weapon with AP ammo or energy weapons. If you’re a sensible person you would already be using AP ammo, as it is an early discovery thatt doesn’t require much more resources, and is infinitely better.

The only thing you need to be weary of is that big fucking mech!

The only thing you need to be weary of is that big fucking mech!

The Wargot arrival is fairly early, so while I had a lot of the equipment I would have a lot of men out injured, or in training, so battles were a little harder as the people in use at a given moment were not always my best. It still wasn’t hard, as the AI is atrocious.

I could have 1 Sniper, shooting enemies, while 1 man kited all the others. If your man is fast enough they can’t catch him.

Once your sniper is a level 3 sniper, they will one-shot head-shot most enemies for the next 30 hours of gameplay.

In the entire 60ish hour playthrough I think about 10 soliders died.

Research

Man the research is a chore, and isn’t anywhere near as easy as in Aftermath. There is always another layer. Discover the Wargots, research them, research their plan, research that they’re on a ship, research how to get to the ship, research how to build a ship, research how to build a factory to build a ship, research how to build the parts for a ship… It goes on like this. Each stage of research takes a few days of game play. Each day will have 5-6 fights. So the time commit REALLY mounts up in Aftershock.

So god damn many things to research

So god damn many things to research

You defeat the Wargot threat, and you think the game is over, but no. Enter the buggy last third of the game, here you need to complete a specific mission (that I didn’t know was there as it was on other side of world), save a crashed Reticulan Spacecraft, and do more research into what the Starghosts are, where they came from, what they want, again, it just goes on. The research path isn’t clear, and some are only triggered by missions you don’t know you need to do.

Going back to the Starghost mission I had on the otherside of the planet. I for some reason missed it, I did another 40-50 missions killing Starghosts, and only when I got a mission near the other one did I do it. This turned out to be the “first Starghost mission”. After beating the mission it finally unlocked the Starghost research path. I was at the point of quitting the game as I had spent roughly 20 hours stuck, trying to do all the weapon research thinking I had to unlock a path through that.

MAPPY! Don't bother expanding. Just hold Europe.

MAPPY! Don’t bother expanding. Just hold Europe.

Bugs

A pretty unforgivable bug is the “Pillar of Death” not spawning (fixed in patch 1.3). These missions require you to hunt down a pillar, that will destroy the region if the mission is ignored/lost and these pillars don’t spawn 50% of the time. So my tactic turned into send 3 ultra-fast Commandos to run around the map, kill the pillar and quit out. It would save time, and is the best tactic. If I couldn’t find the Pillar, I’d just reload the autosave.

And the Pathfinding, fuck this atrocious, and it is even worse on escort missions, the civilians will block your path resulting in your solider stopping in random places and awaiting further command. This means soliders constantly get left behind.

Spawn points are fucked in late game too. When you’re defending vs the Cult and Starghosts your team will auto spawn at a fixed point. This means troops can spawn inside environmental items, and be unable to move. In at least a third of fights i’d have 2-3 men unable to move.

Wargot/Starghost base attack missions are also broken. The character models are too big to fit through doors in your base. So when they attack you, they all stand in their spawn room. They also use a lot of explosives, which will make the door impassable, but not destroy the wall. It means a bad grenade can trap your troops outside a room unable to attack what is on the otherside.

Random crashes are also common enough when you are swapping men for a mission. Learn to save often.

Conclusion

UFO: Aftershock got me through the barren period between the original X-Coms, and the reboots. Now however, going back, it really emphasises the lack of quality between this and Terror from the Deep and even UFO: Aftermath. The original X-Coms were brutal in difficulty, but there was a fair leveling curve with a nice/accessible research path.

Aftershock piles too many layers on top of too many layers. 90% of the research isn’t needed. You can spend the hours researching things like Warp powers, but you’re already so overpowered at this point there simply isn’t any point.

The bugs are infuriating, and while patch 1.3 will fix many of them, actually getting the patch installed and working is a bit of hassle, even if you use GOG.

The missions are too easy, and once you have troops trained, facerolling on highspeed for 30 hours stops being fun.

The game isn’t bad, but the bugs do affect the score significantly and at around 50-60 hours for a full game it is overly bloated, boring, and very much MEH.

Pros: Battles can be quick, decent RPG elements, some fun weaponery, the Katanas are hella fun!

Cons: Once 1 trooper is trained it becomes too easy. With all trained it is a joke.

62%

Back in the Day

UFO: Aftershock like Aftermath received middling reviews and hovers at the 71%. It was slated though for poor pathfinding.

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