#246 UFO: Enemy Unknown

Posted: 31st October 2014 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , ,

375th played so far

X-COM_-_UFO_Defense_CoverartGenre: Strategy
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1993
Developer: Mythos Games/Microprose
Publisher: Microprose

Another ‘ancient memory’ game for me – like The Legend of Zelda a few days ago, another game where I remember playing with a friend, mostly looking over their shoulder as they proved superior with it.

Recently remade (sort of) as the confusingly title future blog game X-Com: Enemy Unknown, this game (also known as X-Com: UFO Defense – this game was tricky to sort out the right version for) started this strategy game that combined 4X-like base building with turn based strategy missions.

Our Thoughts

These early X-Com games pull no punches. There’s no tutorial – your manual is all you get, which is what we loved, but feels a bit odd now – and generally no hint as to what you should do or even what buttons are for. Sure, it becomes clearer, but I’m still not sure what ducking does.

More important, while the game does try to build up difficulty (and we played on the easiest option), it starts off tough straight away. Your fighters start off as rookies and while often your first investigation of a crashed UFO starts simple, it seemed like you were as likely to be outnumbered and your enemies seemed to have some initial advantages – from being spread out across the terrain in advantageous positions to generally appearing to have loads of action points, giving them plenty of first shots before you even realise they’re there. We had trouble adapting to not rushing in, and even then sometimes shots came out of nowhere with no way to protect us except hoping for a lucky miss. It probably comes down to us not learning some tactical options, but it felt unfair, especially where it came out when the enemy seemed to get more surprise attacks than we got as players.

Once that felt balanced out a bit, though, the strategy section of the game do become quite fun and tense, as you sneak around these rural areas looking for aliens, trying to kill them before you’re dead and gathering their technology. All of this immediately feeds back into the simulation part.

Although not as in-depth a 4X simulation as, for example, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri (to stay in the genre), its simpler form is entertaining and (he said lazily) sometimes made me wish for an auto-resolve on the too-difficult-for-me battles. There’s base building, recruiting workers and soldiers, and keeping the latter trained and equipped, researching technology – some from Earth, others found by investigating alien artifacts picked up during missions – and even defending your own base from alien attack. All this must be done while keeping as many alien threats down: you are funded by the world’s governments and if you don’t protect them well enough, they will cut your funding. You can make money by selling things you discover on the ground and have created in your base. It’s nothing overly complicated, but enough of a challenge that you can’t just sleepwalk through it either.

What’s probably most interesting (but also at times frustrating) was the variety in aliens. Although it starts off with you facing Sectoids (looking like ‘standard’ greys), aliens that are harder to kill and more creative appear soon after, starting with the more intelligent Floaters. According to the wiki, they are still low threat, but a single encounter with them wiped out my (I thought) more experienced squad. Each comes with their own additional research options and such as well.

The game offers enough ‘shiny’ options to make you want to try again, but for beginners, at this point the hurdle to get into it may be a bit too high. I am honestly more looking forward to playing its remake now.

Final Thoughts

Okay, at some point we are going to be playing the 2012 remake  so I guess I can keep this section brief until we get to that point. Thing is, this game is, in a number of ways ridiculously hard. However, it is hard in the way that Prince of Persia was hard. Meaning after you lick your wounds you do tend to pick yourself up and start again… which is more than I can say for my experience of playing Gran Turismo 16 years ago.

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