UFO: Extraterrestrials PC
Published by: Matrix Games
Developed by: Chaos Concept
Release Date: Out Now
Purchase From: Matrix Games
It's difficult to come across a PC gamer that doesn't have fond memories of the X-Com games. The series is still regarded as a benchmark for tactical, turn-based strategy games. It's no surprise then that many have tried to copy the X-Com formula. Sadly though, many haven't come close although there are games such as the Jagged Alliance series, and its sequels, that took elements from X-Com series and made a different style of game. Some games have really attempted to mimic the X-Com experience. UFO: Extraterrestrials is the latest game to try and capture the look and feel of the original X-Com titles.
If you've played the early X-Com titles you'll be surprised at just how closely UFO: ET tries to not only capture the feel of those games but also the look of them too. Sure the storyline is a little different but the way the game plays is very familiar. This time we aren't protecting the Earth but a planet called Esperanza, a planet split into nine major regions that earthlings have colonized. Aliens are attacking and it's your job to see that their UFOs are shot down and the survivors, yes they always manage to survive the crash landing, are dealt with accordingly.
You'll begin the game in the Geoscape interface, which gives you an overall view of Esperanza, and from here you have to keep an eye on any spacecraft that enters the planet's atmosphere. You'll begin the game with just one base but you can build a base in each of the planet's nine major regions. In each base you can place a number of facilities such as energy plants, missile defence systems and laboratories. There are 20 different facilities in all. You'll also have to organise production and research, equip your soldiers and build and equip aircraft. You can also buy and sell items and transfer items from base to base. Sooner or later you'll have to deal with alien invaders. As soon as you're warned of an attack you'll have to set a fighter aircraft on an intercept course to shoot the alien ship down. Shooting the alien spacecraft down isn't enough though as you'll have to send your ground forces to deal with the survivors.
On landing on the planet's surface the game, which until this point has been running in real time, switches to a turn-based tactical affair. To begin with only the immediate area around your landed aircraft is visible and you'll have to move your units, one at a time, around the map to peel back the black fog of war. Naturally this is a tricky business as you never know what you're going to come up against. It's the tension that this part of the game gives which makes it so appealing. It's also a rather laboured affair having to move your units around in such a fashion. Personally I always liked the way your units moved in the Jagged Alliance series where the action was real time until an enemy was sighted and from that point it change to a turn-based affair until the enemy was defeated upon which the game returned to real time. Once the battle is over you'll return to your base where you can make preparations for the next attack and so forth.
Many fans of X-Com would simply have hoped for a graphically updated X-Com title. UFO: ET tries hard to be this but the game has its problems and those problems prevent the game from being more enjoyable than it is. Base management is a much simpler affair than in the old X-Com games and this will disappoint some. You can't recruit new soldiers when you want to, recruits arrive automatically and nowhere near as often as you need them to, so it's possible to have the bulk of your forces out of action when you need them most. It's rather annoying how clumsy your soldiers appear to be. Firing at aliens from point blank range can result in pathetic misses when a hit should be a certainty. This problem is all the worse early in the game and this makes the early stages frustrating. To make matters worse the aliens you'll encounter all seem to hit their mark without much effort. The AI is actually quite difficult and shows very little mercy. It's not uncommon to be hit by an alien you can't even see and this kind of feels like you're being cheated. There's not enough support for hotkeys and there are some instabilities, although the latest patch appears to have sorted out the worst issues here. We should also point out that the game's ending (which we are not going to describe) is actually quite disappointing and leaves you feeling a little deflated.
It's worth noting that the game doesn't come with a tutorial. Of course the developers probably expect X-Com fans to know what they are doing. This is no excuse for not including a proper tutorial however, as those who haven't experienced the original X-Com titles before will need to understand what needs to be done. The manual does a decent job of explaining all of the game's functions but, if there is to be no tutorial in the game, the manual needs to have a short walkthrough of the basics to introduce gamers to the flow of the game.
Graphically the game doesn't look as good as it should do. It's also rather disappointing you're stuck with a screen resolution of 1024x768. Most PC gamers are playing on TFT screens these days and few of them come with such a low native resolution meaning you're looking at a game that doesn't look as sharp as it should do. During a battle you'll notice that the units don't animate as well as they should. After a while you'll also notice how the tactical battle maps don't have much variety. I also feel the games interface, when outside of a battle, could have been much more user friendly and more aesthetically pleasing. You should be able to go from one information screen to another without having to back out of one first. Say you're on the research screen, to get to the production screen you'll first have to click the OK button at the bottom of the screen and then you'll have to choose the production button at the top of the screen. This might seem overly critical but over the course of many hours with the game this long-winded and old-fashioned menu system begins to grate.
There aren't any major issues with UFO: ET for deaf gamers. There are a couple of movies in the game and these aren't subtitled, which is unfortunate, but it won't prevent you from playing the game as all of the important information is shown in text. In fact during the main game there is no speech. All the warnings you receive are in text. Messages given at the end of each turn during a tactical battle are shown in text. All research information, economic information and mission summaries etc. are given in text so you'll be able to play the game without any real problems.
For X-Com fans there is a lot to like about UFO: Extraterrestrials although I doubt many will be entirely happy with the game. Personally I think it's a good game that could have been better. The aforementioned problems are all issues that could have been put right and had they been we'd now be looking at a game that was highly recommended. As it stands it's simply a good game that will please those who have the patience to endure the game's shortcomings and disappoint those who were expecting more.
UFO: Extraterrestrials does a fairly decent job of being an X-Com clone but there are many areas of the game that could have been far better and it certainly won't go down as one of the better games of its type.