Preview By: Ala Shiban
Many on this earth would associate aliens with the X-FILES and Roswell series, or Aliens vs. Predators movies, but there are also many a gamer that will always think of X-COM the minute the word “alien” pops up. X-COM: Enemy Unknown was the first game of the classic series with cult-following status; the game featured elements that a number of games today still lack. The storyline was built around an alien invasion, and your mission was to stop it. Though this might seem like the winner of the “Most Recycled Storyline of the Year” award, X-COM was one of the first to portray danger on a global scale, back when a mouse was still considered a revelation.
The X-COM universe featured addictive game play, fresh outlook on research, alien-studying, lovely base-building and simply superb tactical turn based action, but years have passed though...With time, the X-COM series started degrading, with less and less new innovative and exciting features being added, and at one point the series went as far as introducing a flight ‘simulator’ to hunt down alien aircrafts, needless to say, it wasn’t accepted all that well. Fast forwarding into the more recent future, the X-COM old time developer had initiated a new project, named Dreamland Chronicles: Freedom Ridge. The game looked promising and instantly called the entire X-COM fans out of their entrenched caves to a memorable rejoice for a history long forsaken.
With all the excitement and euphoria aside, the game got canceled, finally dropping into ALTAR Interactive’s lap. Following the transition to who will now be known as the final developer, the game was given a new name, UFO: Aftermath. Being an old-time X-COM fanatic and worshiper, I naturally accepted the task of previewing the copy we got from Tri Synergy, Aftermath’s North American publisher. Eager from anticipation, I popped in the preview CD, and installed the version we had received. Please note that in no way is this a near-finish copy: known existing bugs were noted in documents, as well as new ones that sprung around while we tested the game, though this is normal preview procedures.
The storyline in Aftermath follows the over-used alien invasion storyline, though this time it has a bit more twists and turns to it. The happenings take place after an immense attack on Earth forces by the alien fleets. Desperate with the notion of death and loss mankind darkens the earth, blocking the suns rays from penetrating the launched earth coating... life on Earth is almost eradicated. Surviving humans, though not many, crave revenge, calling for vengeance to those who had led to their miserable near extermination: this is the point where we pick up the buckles. UFO: Aftermath presents some new features, such as an alien life form spreading across the Earth: one of your duties will be to stop the silent threat, which could, by itself, consume the earth’s remaining human survivors.
Going past the overall easy to follow and comprehend tutorial I launched my first game, and to my surprise, I was presented with the “Earth View”, the classical X-COM-like ‘command panel’ where one could launch all their commands and strategic doings from. Aftermath follows a real-time pause-able path: it is without a doubt a Real-time game, but throughout most if not all parts of the game, you will be able to adjust the game speed as well as pause it. Getting into my first alien hunting mission, I was thrown into a dark city battlefield. The first thing you will notice is the 3D graphics: the game has ditched the isometric view that X-COM was known for, and went for an all-out 3D engine.
Looking at the game, my first impressions were rather mixed: the atmosphere was quite dark and threatening, with burned down houses, blown up cars with the little details taken care of here and there, though the graphics weren’t by all means as impressive as I hoped they would be, too little attention was given to the character models and alien presentation. Being an all-out 3D game, camera-work would have to be easy to manage, although being an easy to navigate game, many of the default ‘features’ are unbelievably annoying and confusing. For example, finding a new alien on the battlefield would automatically focus the camera on him with a slight annoying animation, which is highly unnecessary.
Game play wise, the real-time setting proved to be harder than I thought: I found myself pausing the game (as the developers intend us to) and changing my plans to more adequately fatal ones.
Conclusions and recommendations
This preview copy was an early copy, do remember that, I’ll be looking forward to seeing the final product (which in the time of writing this article, is nearly on shelves and you can expect to see a full blown review from one of my colleagues on Gamer's Hell soon): hopefully the developers tackled most the issues I’ve mentioned, and refined game play a bit.
My honest recommendation is to simply not compare the game to the X-COM series, as a lot has changed in UFO comparing to X-Com. Are the changes geared more towards the good side or bad side? As hard as that may sound, you might be disappointed by simply what you might come to expect from an X-COM worth sequel, and I’m afraid this might not be it. So stay tight, and read the review that will naturally follow up on this preview.