OK, so time to come clean about what I’ve been up to for the last week…
It all started with a conversation I had at work about 10 days ago. My work colleague (Who is a serious computer gaming geek) was telling me that he’s just bought a package of strategy games on STEAM, and was going through what it included. As he went down the list, he mentioned the X-COM series of games and I suddenly became seriously interested.
X-COM UFO Defense is my all time favourite computer game. It was produced in 1993, back in the days when a 486 processor was considered to be fast, but despite this it is still as good as ever.
You play the head of X-COM, an organisation which has been created and tasked to defend the Earth against increasing alien attack (a bit like S.H.A.D.O. in the Gerry Anderson TV Series UFO)
You do this in two different ways.
The first is at a strategic level. You manage the creation and maintenance of various bases throughout the world. You start with a single base, complete with a complement of a couple of Interceptors, a Troop Transport, some Troops, Engineers and Scientists and a bare minimum of equipment.
As the game progresses, you can build other facilities, research new technology (including alien tech) and manufacture new goods – anything from laser weapons through personal armour, heavy weapons platforms and even new fighter craft based on UFO technology.
However, the first role of your bases is to detect and intercept UFO’s entering Earth’s atmosphere. Once these have been intercepted and (hopefully) shot down, you can deploy your troop transport to the crash site in order to recover any alien artifacts.
This is where the second part of the game starts. When you land at a UFO crash site (or at a city that is being attacked – another type of encounter) the game become a tactical level, turn-based wargame.
You have a squad of troops, plus possibly a tank or 2 (Heavy Weapons Platform), and the aim of this part of the game is to kill or capture all the aliens in the area. The game area is an asymetric view of the landscape, and is varied depending on where the encounter takes place (city with buildings, desert, forest, farmland etc)
Each of your troops has several stats, which cover such things as shooting, throwing, morale, encumbrance and the number of Time Units (Action Points) that he has. Every action (moving, shooting, reloading weapons etc) require the expenditure of TU’s – very much the equivalent of a tactical miniatures wargame where you use Action Points to order your troops.
In order to complete a successful mission, you must explore the area in which you are in, and as I’ve already said, kill or capture any aliens you encounter. There are several different types of alien, from the archetypal ‘grey’ (called a Sectoid) to such things as Snakemen and genetically enhance super-soldiers called Mutons. This will usually mean that your squad will have to find and explore the UFO that you have previously shot down.
Tension during gameplay is usually quite high during this part of the game – full LOS and spotting rules are in place, so it’s quite possible to get surprised by aliens which ‘pop-up’ from behind cover to fire at you – and you never know what is around the next corner, or the other side of the door (although Motion Scanners help 🙂 ) As I said, this part of play is turn-based, so leave your troops in vulnerable positions without sufficient TU’s to react to the enemy and you may find that they pay the ultimate price for your lack of judgement.
Once all the aliens have been killed/captured, you recover various artifacts from the UFO and take them back to your base. These can then be researched and subsequently used to build/upgrade your own equipment.
The aim of the game is to discover what the Alien plan is for Earth, and find a way to stop it.
So why is this game so good? Well, the theme is just fantastic, and the gameplay is easy and intuitive – that’s not to say the game is easy! Even on the easiest of 5 settings, it provides a decent challenge and on ‘Super-human’ it is a complete swine!
The music adds a tremendous atmosphere to the game too – creating a very tense undercurrent during the tactical play especially.
OK, the graphics aren’t much to write home about in this day and age – very much from the pixel & sprite generation of graphic design – but the quality of the game shows through in the fact that the graphics don’t make a tremendous amount of difference to the game experience…you are so immersed in the actual gameplay that you cease to notice the now-dated look.
In short, this game has got everything – especially for the tabletop wargamer. A great theme, an immersive (and addictive) environment (just one more mission) and buckets of atmosphere, along with a good tactical skirmish wargame at it’s heart.
And at a mere £2.99 to download from STEAM, it’s an absolute steal.
As if I needed more things to distract me from painting…